Using singles

The other week I asked you on my Facebook page and Instagram for inspiration for upcoming blog posts. I got lots of brilliant ideas. One of you asked me to write about spinning and using singles that will remain singles, what to be watching for and whether I spin singles differently depending on the end use.

Singles yarns have a beautiful simplicity to them. What you see is what you get – nothing is hidden between plies, all you see is meter upon meter of wool softly spun like cake icing straight out of a tube. A stitch knit with singles yarn is usually clear and well defined. With singles it is possible to work with colours in a way that isn’t possible with plied yarns. If I want my yarn to change colours I just attach a new colour to my yarn. I don’t need to do anything extra to achieve this, like chain-plying or trying to match colours from two singles as I ply.

Spinning singles

I have spun lots of singles yarns on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. The techniques is slow, something I enjoy. At the same time it is fast – I don’t put very much twist in my singles and when I am done there is no plying step.

I love spinning singles on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. I get a good overview of the yarn and my hands cooperate to spin as consistently as possible.

Traditionally, Navajo weavers spin singles for weaving Navajo rugs. Whenever I want to spin a singles yarn, and especially if I want to spin a bulkier yarn than my default fingering weight, I turn to my Navajo style floor supported spindles. From my position behind the spindle I have a good overview over an arm’s length of yarn at a time and my hands cooperate through the tension in the yarn to achieve a yarn that is as consistent as possible.

Using singles

So far I have used these singles as weft yarns in weaving projects – a curtain, pillowcases and a shawl, all spun on floor spindles. Weaving with singles works out very well. They help creating a light and warm fabric.

Lately, though, I have used singles in knitting projects too. I have written quite a lot of posts about my project with Icelandic wool where I have spun a low-twist singles Lopi-style and lightly fulled yarn and knit an Icelandic-style sweater.

However, singles yarns have energy in them and there is always a risk of a biased fabric when you use singles for knitting. There are ways to reduce this risk, though:

  • A low twist will reduce the risk of biasing. It will however increase the risk of breakage and pilling.
  • Fulling singles will stabilize them. They will be stronger, less prone to pilling and less likely to create a biased fabric. A fulled singles yarn will also be less prone to splitting during knitting.
  • A balanced knitting stitch will reduce the risk of bias. Rib, broken rib, moss stitch or garter stitch are examples of patterns that are balanced.
  • Knitting with two singles spun in different directions is also a way to avoid bias in the knitted fabric.

Cecilia’s bosom friend

As it happens, I have a brand new pattern in the Spring 2022 issue of Spin-Off magazine, where I am using singles. The pattern is for a bosom friend or Hjärtevärmare (heart warmer). The knitting technique is tuck stitches, beautifully and elaborately explored and described by Nancy Marchant in her book Tuck stitches – sophistication in hand knitting.

In the pattern I work in different ways to take advantage of the benefits of singles and to reduce some of the risks associated with singles. In fact, In the pattern I use all the suggestions in the bullet list above.

Low twist

One of the reasons I love spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is that I can control speed and twist on a whole different level than I would on a spinning wheel. I am the captain of the twist ship. Through the connection of the yarn between my spinning hand and fiber hand I have full control of the twist – everything that happens in the yarn transmits to my hands and they have the opportunity to respond with appropriate action. For every arm’s length of yarn I spin I check the twist by slacking the yarn. Fine-tuning is just a twitch of my fingers away and at a speed where I am in control.

Low twist singles for Cecilia’s bosom friend.

Fulling

Even if the twist in my singles is low, there is still undoubtedly twist, which means energy, which means a risk of a biased fabric. By this I mean that the singles yarn won’t stay still if you leave it – it will squirm and move because it is not balanced like a yarn that has been plied into balance – two singles spun in one direction and then plied with the same amount of twist in the other direction.

My solution for balancing the singles is to full them lightly. I dip them alternately in hot and cold water until I see that they tighten up a little. The result is a balanced yarn that is a bit more durable and presents a nice roundedness. The yarn also doesn’t split when I knit with it.

The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.
The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.

The yarns for the shawl was my first try at fulling singles and I haven’t experimented with the technique before, so this is just the way I chose. I am sure there are other methods for this too. You can read more about the process of fulling these yarns in this blog post.

Balanced knitting stitch

This is a very fun part that you can play a lot with. A stockinette fabric consists of one stitch only. If you knit a square in garter stitch the edges will roll. Other stitches, like garter stitch, moss stitch and ribbing has a combination of knit and purl stitches, either over the row (like ribbing), between rows (like garter stitch) or both (like moss stitch). A square knit in any of these structures will not roll in the edges. By balancing the structure like this you will get a fabric with a reduced risk of bias caused by an energized singles yarn.

I chose a broken rib stitch for Cecilia’s bosom friend to avoid bias. The edging, ties and tassels are knit with a 2-ply yarn.

In Nancy Marchant’s book Tuck stitches she sorts her stitch dictionary (or stitchionary as she describes it) of tuck stitches into stockinette, ribbed, broken rib and semi-ribbed fabrics. I wanted a fabric that wouldn’t bias but also not be as elastic as a ribbed structure, so I chose a pattern that was categorized as a broken rib to base my design on.

Knitting with two singles spun in different directions

All patterns in Tuck stitches are based on a two-colour design. As I was thinking about this and worrying about bias I realized that I could spin the different colours in different directions. This too would prevent biasing. If you have been with me for a while you know I am an advocate for switching hands, and this is what I did – I spun one colour clockwise with my right hand as spinning hand and the other colour counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand.

The two colours and directions look lovely in their simple singleness and the tuck stitch pattern.

More about the pattern

The shawl is fully reversible with different and equally lovely structures on the “right” and “wrong” sides. The grey yarn comes from a sheep with different shades of grey. I have taken advantage of this and spun the grey yarn in sections of different shades.

Cecilia’s bosom friend.

I love how the singles yarns get full exposure in the pattern. Nothing is hidden, any thick or thin spots get as much attention as the even parts. A whole shawl is held together with just single strands of yarn. Isn’t that a beautiful thought to rest your mind in?

I’m using singles only for my Cecilia’s bosom friend pattern. Screen shot from the pattern page on Ravelry.

Before I created the sharp version of Cecilia’s bosom friend I made a prototype that I gave to my friend Cecilia. Will you be knitting a bosom friend for yourself or a loved one?

Get the Cecilia’s bosom friend pattern and read more about the story behind it in the spring 2022 issue of Spin-Off magazine!

And oh, if you have been curious about the secret project that led to the blog post A pattern process back in September, I can now ease your suspension: The Cecilia’s bosom friend shawl pattern.

Happy spinning!

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2 Replies to “Using singles”

  1. Always a joy to read your blog! This one is chock full of information. I am spinning some of my breed’s primitive type wool on my Navajo spindle. It’s an American heritage breed and there’s a lot of variability within the breed the fleece and even the lock. The Gulf Coast Native. I have lived on the Gulf of Mexico most of my life and the only breed I could in good conscience keep here in high humidity and temperatures was a landrace breed formed by this very place! I tend to spin fingering weight but have spun bulky on the Navajo Spindle. It’s a challenge to spin a low twist single on the Navajo Spindle. I will ply or full the cop I have and spin a little thicker and low twist single. This wool may be perfect for this experiment!

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