Every yarn starts with a strand of twisted fibres we call a single. The way we spin that single determines the character of the yarn, whether we use the single without plying or we ply it with other singles. The degree of twist we use, the amount of fibre we spin into the single, and the spinning technique we choose all contribute to the structure of our finished yarn. And when we spin a yarn to use as a single, we need to consider the impact of each of these factors.
Sometimes it feels wonderful to sit down with my wheel and just spin, but most of the time I like to begin with an idea of what kind of yarn I want to make. Knowing whether or not I plan to ply changes some of the things I do when I spin. Singles used for plied yarns usually need to be made with more twist to compensate for the untwisting that happens when we ply it with other singles in the opposite direction. A yarn that I intend to use as a single would be deliberately spun with less twist to prevent it from coiling while I work or making my cloth bias. We can always change our mind and ply a yarn that we spun to use as a single, but most of the time it is tricky to use singles that were spun to be plied as stand-alone yarn. (For more information on how the twist in singles affects different types of cloth, see my article Plies and Whys: Singles.)
There are lots of ways to make a great singles yarn; I’m going to walk you through the way I like to do it.
All images by Michelle Boyd.