Today Stringtopia is happy to host guest blogger Sarah Anderson with an educational post about twist and singles, part of the Spinzilla Blog Tour!
Sarah is the author of The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs
, and one of the finest all-around spinning instructors working in the field today. Without further ado, here she is!
Twist and Singles
Mention “Twist and Singles” to a non-spinner over 50 years old and they may visualize something like this…. These 1969 singles playing the game, “Twister” are fresh and active with quite a bit of energy…
The mental image of a spinner, of course, will be completely different.
As many of us plan and prepare for the week of Spinzilla, we dream of the projects we will make with our many yards of yarn. Much of my yarn will not be plied, but will remain as singles to be sized and woven into exciting and active fabric. Abby was kind enough to allow me to hijack her blog to post about Twist and Singles yarn, and to possibly persuade you to consider making some of your Spinzilla yarns into active yarns for weaving!
It’s all about Twist
Twist is the glue that holds together most of our yarns. In traditionally plied yarns, the twist energy is balanced out when plying — while active yarns remain as singles and are full of energy. Twist can be spun in one of two directions. The wheel can turn to the right (Z twist yarns) or to the left (S twist yarns).
It may be simple, but it doesn’t hurt to have tips to help you remember:
- When you write the letter Z you put the pen to paper and go to the right just as the wheel does when you spin Z. Of course, writing an S you go to the left just as in spinning.
- When looking at a Z twist singles the angle of twist will lean to the right just as does the center stroke in the letter Z. The angle leans to the left in an S twist yarn just as does the center stroke in the letter S.
Consistent diameter is the key to consistent twist in your yarns. Counting treadles works well to keep track of twist when you’re adding twist to existing yarns. Staying with the same whorl size throughout a project and a consistent spinning style is also good for basic active singles. Try to spin for one project to completion — or at least one yarn type or skein to completion, so it is consistent throughout. Once the singles is sized, it’s difficult (without sampling) to tell if your twist was the same in different skeins until you have used them and washed the fabric. You could end up with fabric that makes and unintended abrupt change partway through as you switch to the next bobbin’s yarn. You won’t even see the difference until the fabric is washed.
Why size your yarn? Sizing coats each strand of the yarn and captures the twist, keeping it under control and consistent throughout the skein. Twist, like water, wants to travel to the point of least resistance — the thing parts of the yarn. Sizing is sort of like sedating active yarns: it presvents twist from traveling around or escaping from the cut ends. Many people who knit or wave with active yarns don’t size them and find other ways of dealing wth active twist. I prefer taking the time to size yarn because I’d rather spend a little extra time at the beginning to avoid fighting twist throughout the whole project. Knitting with active twist yarns drives me up the wall and it took a few projects before I started experimenting with sizing. Now I never knit or weave with unsized active yarn except for small swatches.
I have found that I really like using xanthan gum for sizing my yarns. (It can be found anywhere they sell gluten free baking supplies) The yarn stays fairly soft (unlike with laundry starch) yet holds the twist well. It has no scent and even if you don’t separate every strand while drying, it doesn’t damage the yarn. I’ve heard of using other stiffeners like tapioca or Knox gelatin. Anything that doesn’t stain, washes out easily, holds the twist and isn’t too stiff will work. I hit on xanthan gum and found my answer so haven’t experimented further.
It works best to mix this sizing with a blender because xanthan gum instantly thickens when it comes in contact with liquid. Start with 4 cups of water in a running blender. Add 2 tablespoons xanthan gum through the top hole in the lid and continue to blend until you have a consistent gel.
This makes a lot of sizing! I divide up what I won’t use right away into Ziplock sandwich bags and toss them in the freezer. When I want to size more yarn it’s easy to thaw out a bag. You don’t have to mix up this much at a time but I find that if I try to do less in my 2 quart blender, the powder can blow up onto the sides and just stick. You may find a way to avoid this but I haven’t tried too hard because I use quite a bit of sizing. Maybe a smaller blender….
Applying sizing to yarn is a little messy but you get used to it. I do it in a dishpan in the sink. Get your skein wet and then hand squeeze out most of the water. It needs to be a bit wet to dilute the sizing so it can spread throughout the skein. Put some sizing on the skein and gently work it into the yarn then squeeze off the excess and straighten out the skein for drying.
After applying the sizing, I use 1-1/2 inch PVC pipe and weighted bags for tension while drying. As the yarn dries, spread the strands and move them around.
After sizing and drying a skein, I either wind the yarn into a tight, hard ball (a lump of wool or scrap yarn makes a solid center base to start with) or wind it onto a storage bobbin. This step of tightly winding the sized and dried yarn helps to further straighten out any kinks or twists in the singles. This step is most important with higher twist yarns.
The prospect of making woven fabrics that feel as if they were knitted with drape and elasticity has sucked me into weaving in a big way. When you are weaving with yarns that will activate when washed, remember to leave space for them to move. This scarf is woven quite loosely but when washed, the sizing is removed from the active purple yarn, the twist is released and the resulting fabric stretches in all directions. The scarf on the left is unwashed – on the right is washed. It feels amazing and even though it is made in simple tabby, the fabric is interesting.
Most of my weaving with active yarns has made use of very simple weave structures (tabby and simple twills) Twills have longer open lengths of yarn that allow the energy to manifest. This Birdseye twill in many colors looks like a party.
If you aren’t comfortable spinning all the yarn for an active yarn project, you can use your spinning wheel to “activate” or “energize” a commercial yarn and then size it. Just be sure you are consistent in how much twist you add for each yarn.
The fibers you choose for active yarn projects make quite a bit of difference. Wool works well to hold and then kick back twist. Silk and silk-like fibers such as rayon or bamboo suck up the twist and they need a lot more twist to make the fabric surface buckle. Blending wool with these other fibers helps but even with some wool added, these yarns will need more twist to get the same effect as you would get with wool alone.
Fine wools will produce fabrics that are soft and have elasticity but you’ll get more definition in knitting stitches with a medium wool that isn’t as fine. Try out small amounts of your fiber and make swatches. It’s the only way to know for sure what your fiber, amount of twist, twist direction, knit stitch and gauge, woven pattern and sett and whatever other variable will look like in fabric or garment.
Making samples with active yarns is not only educational, it’s addictive. With all the possible variables (S, Z, thick, thin, colors, knitting, weaving, crochet) it would take a lifetime to even make a dent in the pool of possibilities.
Being able to spin the yarn you want (or turn commercial yarn into the yarn you want) is one of the best things about being a spinner. We have choices. We are truly fortunate!
– Sarah Anderson