Mastering Stand-Alone Singles

I’ve spun stand-alone singles in the past, but it was always kind of stressful and scary. If you’ve ever had a dream (or experience in reality — no judgment!) where you find yourself in public having forgotten your pants, that’s what spinning stand-alone singles has always made me feel like. Exposed. That’s it — they make me feel exposed. Plying forgives so much — you can work out that section that had too much twist or coax your yarn into a nice balance by convincing it to play nicely with its other ply/ies or get that thick and thin to finish a bit more evenly when you’re plying it. Singles though, you’re laying it all on the line. There’s no second or third ply to hide behind. It just is. You’re out there. In public. Pants-less.

But after spinning the Spring Lamb skein I last wrote about I realized that for the first time ever really, I wasn’t really stressing while I was spinning. I was just shooting for relatively uniform low twist yarn. And it turned out. No really, it turned out! The finished skein was a nice balanced single. The question in my head begged to be answered: Was this a fluke, or had something fundamentally shifted in my spinning? There was only one way to answer that question — spin some more singles & see what happened!

And that is what I did.

I walked up to my stash and grabbed a braid of Three Waters Farm 85/15 Polwarth + Silk in the Hot & Sweet colorway…

 

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I’d purchased this braid in a destash sale and it was a little compressed, so I took a few minutes to open the braid back up. This is the “before” picture — you can see there’s not a lot of air in this fiber.

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If you have a compressed braid where the fibers are a little tight, don’t worry! It’s totally normal. The air often gets smooshed out of the fiber in storage if the fiber is handled a lot or packed tightly. It doesn’t take long and it’s super easy to fluff it back up. I just gently open it up width wise and then gently draft the fibers out a bit — not so much that you pull the fibers all the way apart and break the braid (unless you want to for handling or color distribution purposes), but just enough to let the air back in.

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In this photo, the left side has be “pre-drafted” (air back in — whew-hoo!) and the right still needs to be. Spinning it is a night and day difference. You can pre-draft fibers for plied yarns, too, but especially with singles, personally I want my fiber to be super airy and easy to draft so I can focus on how much twist I’m using and the diameter of my yarn. I pre-drafted the whole braid, breaking it a few times totally by accident. I did keep it all in the original color progression though, so I spun it as if it were left as one.

I spun away comfortably, anxiety and worry free. I got to the end of my braid and…

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Hey now! Those looked like some not bad singles… again!

The morning after I finished this braid I wound it off…

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Oh, I was feelin’ this braid — in the late January winter, these colors were not just calling to me, they were screaming my name.

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I think it turned out so nice.

 

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It is about a DK weight yarn at roughly 11wpi and 260yards and it is a nice, balanced single. Again!

 

So, was that well done stand-alone singles skein I last wrote about a fluke? I’m thinking no. Something has definitely changed in my spinning. Have I been studying how to make singles yarns? Not explicitly. But what I have been doing is spinning daily for a very long time. And while I was spinning all those yarns I was spinning every day for so many days and weeks and years, I was subconsciously learning how to exercise better control over my wheel, getting stronger with my drafting skills, gaining a more intimate understanding of twist, and how to make more uniform yarns. Through curiosity and attention to detail, I unraveled so many handspinning mysteries and in kind, I learned all the skills necessary to spin a really nice singles yarn. So, even though I wasn’t studying to spin a good stand-alone single, I was practicing the skills I needed every day, even though I wasn’t really thinking about that. And then one day, it seemed that out of no where I had the skills I needed and beautiful singles yarns were coming off my wheel. Of course, it wasn’t magic or luck. In fact, I’ve been working toward mastering the stand-along singles yarn for a very long time. I just wasn’t aware I was doing it.