handspun · spinning · yarn

calling all the singles!

I may never spin any yarn, ever again. Any yarn, that is, except singles. Oh, and maybe corespun. But not any other yarns ever again. Singles only from now on!

I have to confide something to you. I actually wanted to learn to spin back in 2008 because I wanted to be able to spin singles yarn. That was my primary motivation and of course, I wasn’t successful the first time so I gave up and my wheel collected dust until April 2014. After asking my spinning friend and teacher that summer of 2014, I have continued to practice and I am starting to obtain the results I want after many hours at the wheel.

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Singles yarn is just that: Singles. Singles yarn is not referred to as ‘single ply’ or ‘single plied’ yarn because it hasn’t been plied. It is just a single.

Again, another skill and technique of spinning that takes practice, patience and persistence. Is it worthwhile to continue pursuing to learn to spin singles yarns? Absolutely.

I have definitely found there to be a learning curve around singles spinning for sure. For me, spinning with the intention of making a singles yarn is very different from spinning singles with the intention of plying. How so, you may be wondering?

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First, for a singles yarn, I spin thicker. Singles yarn can be as thick or thin as one would like for the intended purposes of the finished yarn but I find more planning goes into yarn intended to be plied. When my intention is to ply, I tend to sample more, compare different spinning styles (ie. worsted versus woollen, short backward versus from the fold, etc.) and decide on specifics for the finished yarn (ie. socks versus shawl, sweater versus toque). Other than whether I am going to spin thick or thin yarn, I tend to spin my singles yarn with a short forward worsted or semi-worsted draft (ie. pinch, pull forward, let go to let the twist in, repeat) for even or consistent yarn. There is nothing for my singles yarn to ply against, so I like it to be as ‘perfect’ or ‘near-perfect’ as possible. For me, there is a big difference between singles yarn and thick n’ thin, which is a textured yarn for different purposes.

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Second, every fibre within the combed top or roving only goes through my hands once. With plying, the fibre travels through my hands two and even three times – think Navajo-plying when making the loops. Minimizing this time leads to much faster spinning. There is a reason there are spinners out there who only spin singles yarns. At the end of the finished bobbin, the only step left is winding onto the niddy-noddy and finishing. Because I tend to spin slightly thicker for singles yarn, I can finish a 100 gram braid in about an hour and a half, even with my slow treadling feet that I use for singles.

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Above :: Sweet Georgia Yarns’ February Fibre Club, Superwash Targhee in The Big Leap, spun as sport-weight singles. Total yardage 280 yards/113 grams, 1124 YPP, S-twist, 5:1 on Jumbo flyer {Lendrum}.

Below :: Sweet Georgia Yarns’ Polwarth + Silk in Bourbon [discontinued], spun as heavy fingering singles. Total yardage 323 yards/113 grams, 1297 YPP, S-twist, 5:1 on Jumbo flyer {Lendrum}.

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Which brings me to treadling and speed! Third, I set my wheel up to minimize interruptions when spinning singles. I use my jumbo flyer, largest pulley (ie. smallest whorl ratio, which in this case is 5:1), and keep my treadling feet slow, slow, slooow. Minimizing interruptions means that one entire 100 gram braid fits on my jumbo bobbin. If needed I can fit 200 grams, which is lovely for a larger project.

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When I talk about keeping my treadling feet slow, I draft twice per full revolution of the drive wheel. This means that I have roughly 2.5 twists per inch in my yarn. I suspect that it would actually average out to about 3 twists per inch over the entire skein if I were to sit down and study the yarn but still, that is not a lot of twist. In fact, that is almost none. As soon as I let the tension go on my singles prior to finishing them, they begin fall apart slightly. The angle of twist is roughly 17º and given a hard yank, one can pull the singles apart quite easily. But the bounce and sproing due to this low twist angle is so worthwhile!

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Lastly, finishing is a wonderful thing! Superwash fibre is not my favourite for making singles. I have had disasters in the past. Without adding enough twist, the slippery fibre just falls apart. After putting so much effort into spinning yarn, having it fall apart when knitting just feels terrible. The superwash Targhee from February’s fibre club through Sweet Georgia Yarns, however, has made amazing singles. I am actually tempted to spin some more singles from SW Targhee. The crimp and bounce of this yarn just worked perfectly for singles. I’m really looking forward to knitting with it. On the other hand, I spun the Polwarth + Silk singles, finishing them by alternating between boiling hot and ice cold water to slightly full them, and they are much tougher. I have a yarn that will still probably pill over time but is much more stable when yanked on. For singles, I think I will stick to non-superwash wool but I am so glad to have had the opportunity to expand my perception of what I thought was possible.

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To finish these particular singles, I used some Eucalan samples that were recently sent to me for review and as usual, I loved using the gentle soap wash to finish my yarn. I love that I don’t have to rinse out Eucalan after washing. The lavender scent was subtle and lovely, one of my favourites. Per usual, I am smitten and continue to be a loyal customer of Eucalan. I will be sponsoring a giveaway of Eucalan in the group on Ravelry in the coming months, so stay tuned, and until then, I will continue to update you as I work through my samples!

Until next time,

– R.

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