Feature: Get Warped. Free weaving tutorial using singles yarn by rigid-heddle loom expert Liz Gipson
Get Warped: The Singles Life
“You can't weave with singles” is something I hear from time to time, but it's just not true. I'm so passionate about this subject that I'm going to write about it twice. This column is devoted to tips for using commercially available singles, and the Winter 2016 column will be a special issue for handspinners, for they have magical powers to create energy that can be transferred to woven cloth.
A singles yarn is a single strand of twisted fiber. You hear them referred to as a “single” or as “singles”. Both are technically correct and the “s” doesn't always connote a plural. Plied yarns are made from one or more singles. Hence they can also be called “one-ply” or “single-ply”. “Ply” here is used as a noun, meaning “a single thickness of yarn”, not as a verb meaning “to twist together”.
Singles retain the character of the fiber from which they are made, impart softness, and show off color in unique ways. Most singles will develop a halo over time as a few of the fibers work their way loose from the twist. This gives projects made from singles a soft look. Singles are a nice way to use wools that are on the long, strong side of the spectrum, such as mohair, Romney, and Lincoln.
These yarns often demonstrate a phenomenon called “tracking” in woven cloth. Tracking is when plain weave cloth develops diagonal ridges. These ridges are caused when the yarn skews in the direction of the twist. The overall cloth doesn't skew due to the nature of the woven grid, just sections within the cloth. Tracking is hard to predict. When it occurs, it gives the cloth a twill-like look and adds to its character. In the photo below, the yarn in the swatch on the left demonstrates a higher degree of tracking than the swatch on the right.
Singles offer some unique finishing options. Depending on how much twist there is in your singles, the fringes may naturally twist together in the opposite direction of the twist—in effect, plying themselves! If washed vigorously, the ends puff up. I often use knotted fringe to finish off my singles, giving them a vigorous wash, then trimming the fringes short, forming little puff baubles at the ends of my work, like you see below.
Singles are not as strong, nor as hardwearing, as plied yarn. I use them primarily in accessory projects such as cowls, scarves, hats, shawls, and mitts.
The same yarn-building rules apply to singles as for all other yarn types. You have to match appropriate fiber type to yarn construction method and marry that to the way the yarn will be used. You can't expect a fine wool like Merino to hold up when spun into a bulky, slubbed, or thick-and-thin yarn, but it can certainly become a dreamy, fine, laceweight single that will weave up beautifully. A longer-stapled wool with a bit more body can make a softly textured singles slub yarn that lends character to your project.
The two yarns used in this column's project are prime examples. The Skinny Single speckle-dyed yarn from Hedgehog Fibres has a beautiful base of finely spun Merino yarn. Manos Clasica is handspun in Uruguay from Corridale wool. Corridale is a cross of Merino and Lincoln Longwool. These sheep produce a medium-fine wool with a long staple length that, while soft to the touch, has enough tooth to hold up as well as a singles-textured yarn. The added benefit of being kettle-dyed and exposing the yarn to steam, is that it ever-so-slightly felts, giving this yarn its incredible depth of color, imparting strength, and giving it a unique look when it is worked up.
Tips for Weaving with Singles
- Test for strength. This test is exactly what you would do with any other warp yarn. See my previous column on Selecting Warp Yarn – and this video on how to perform the pinch and pull test. The video demonstrates the strength and weakness of a variety of singles and plied yarns.
- Check for abrasion resistance. Singles are more prone to shredding than plied yarns. To test for abrasion resistance, take a length of yarn and rub it back and forth on the edge of a table and notice what happens. You should see a slight halo develop. This is what will happen when you weave with this yarn. A light halo is fine, however, if the yarn shreds or fiber starts sloughing off, this yarn isn't a good choice for warp.
- Use a low-profile shuttle. Because the yarn is only twisted in one direction, it is easy to untwist the yarn if you rub it repeatedly in the opposite direction of the twist. Consider using a boat shuttle for fine to medium weight yarns. The smooth shuttle will glide over the warp without rubbing it. For bulky yarns, use a stick shuttle longer than your warp width and take advantage of the sides by winding the yarn in a figure eight along the edge. This will allow you to pack more weft on the shuttle while keeping the shuttle profile low.
- Advance often. Because of the effect passing the shuttle back and forth has on the yarn, you want to advance often to frequently change the area where the shuttle rubs on the warp.
- Be mindful of your selvedges. When placing the weft, I have a tendency to pinch and twist the base of my weft angle. The pinch is a good practice to make sure you have a nice crisp turn, but the twist can cause problems. I'm a spinner and I use this little twist to keep the drafting triangle open – it's just habit. I have had many spinners in my classes who are wondering what they are doing to shred their selvedges. Almost always, they are untwisting their yarns inadvertently.
Now that I have been waxing poetic about the beauty of singles, I'll offer up a project to highlight their beauty. This project also brings our pick-up lessons full circle, by showing you how to mix and match warp and weft floats (warp floats were covered in Spring + Summer 2016 and weft floats in First Fall 2016). This cowl takes advantage of both the front and back of the cloth and highlights the speckle-dyed, fine singles and the textured kettle-dyed bulky wool.
Pattern: Hybrid Bias Button Cowl
A short warp paired with a windowpane structure is super-duper fun to make.
On the face of the fabric—the side that faces you while you are weaving—the bulky yarn frames the pane of skinny yarn, while on the back, the weight placement is reversed.
By sewing both ends together and only one edge, you can easily create a cowl with a hidden pocket that shows off both sides of the cloth.
photos: Liz Gipson
Width: 6.5 inches/16.5 cm
Length: 31 inches/78.5 cm with a 5 inch/12.5 cm fringe
Laceweight, speckle-dyed singles wool, 1,829yd/lb (23 wpi); kettle-dyed, bulky wool singles, 630yd/lb (9 wpi). Shown in Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles (100% Merino wool, 400yd/3.5 oz skein); color: Budgie.
Manos Clasica Wool (100% handspun Corridale wool, 138yd/3.5 oz skein); color: Mallard.
rigid-heddle loom with at least a 9-inch/23cm weaving width
size 10 rigid heddle
12-inch/30.5cm pick-up stick
3 shuttles (2 for weft, 1 for scrap yarn to spread warp)
Warp: 105yd/96m skinny, 37yds/34m bulky
Weft: 75yd/68m skinny, 30yd/27m bulky
Warp Ends: 63 skinny, 22 bulky
Warp Length: 60 inches/152.5cm (allow 18 inches/45.5cm for loom waste and take up, some of this is used for fringe)
Width In Rigid Heddle: 8.5 inches/21.5cm
PPI (Picks Per Inch or the number of wefts in an inch): 5 bulky border; 11 pattern
Warp the loom following the project specs. I prefer to use the indirect method that utilizes a warping board when threading warps that use single or odd-numbered groups of yarns. If using the direct method, you can cut and tie at the warping peg and apron rod. When I do use the direct method of warping odd-numbered warp ends, I use a rather odd method of threading, moving the threads around in the rigid heddle instead of cutting and tying. I recently wrote a blog post about this.
Regardless of the warping method you choose, center the project for 8.5 inches/21.5cm. Be sure that you start and end in a slot for the pattern to work.
Thread the loom as follows: 1 bulky yarn in a slot, 3 skinny yarns in a hole/slot/hole, ending in a slot. (See column on warping for a refresher.)
Place the pick up stick
When using a pick-up stick, you only want to pick up threads in the slots. These threads move freely, making them easy to manipulate. The threads in the holes are restricted. If you pick them up, you will be unable to get a clean shed.
To make sure you only pick up the slot ends, place the rigid heddle in the down position so that the slot threads are up. Pick up all the bulky warp ends.
Wind one shuttle with a smooth scrap yarn, one shuttle with the skinny wool, and one shuttle with the bulky wool.
Start by weaving about 1 inch/2.5cm of scrap yarn to spread the warp evenly. End on a down shed, so the project starts on an up shed.
Open an up shed, and using your bulky weft, insert your first pick, leaving about a 4-inch/10cm tail. Press into place, then change sheds. Tuck the new tail and pass your next weft into this shed. Press into place. Continue weaving 6 more picks for a total of 8 plain weave picks.
Weave 40 inches/102cm of the pattern as follows.
There are 4 heddle placements in this pattern:
Up: Rigid heddle in the up position.
Down: Rigid heddle in the down position.
Pick-up stick (weft floats): Place the rigid heddle in neutral, then tip the pick-up stick on its edge to lift the picked-up threads above the warp.
Up and pick-up stick (warp floats): Place the rigid heddle in the up position and slide the pick-up stick to the back of the heddle.
See Get Warped's 2016 Spring + Summer and First Fall columns for more info.
The pattern is woven over 6 picks. All picks are woven with the skinny weft except pick-up stick.
2. pick-up stick (bulky weft)
5. up and pick-up stick
You will leave the bulky yarn active as you weave, carrying it up the edge of the cloth. To do this, treat it the same way you would the selvedge: if the selvedge is down, pass the working weft over the non-working weft. If the selvedge is up, pass the working weft under the non-working weft.
End with 8 picks of plain weave in the bulky weft.
Remove the cloth from the loom. Remove the header. Using an overhand knot, tie 4 warp ends together, snugging the knot at the base of the cloth. (See Winter 2015 for info on removing the cloth from the loom and tying knots). You will have 1 bulky and 3 skinny yarns encased in each knot with the exception of the center knot that has 2 bulky yarns in it.
Fill a bathtub with warm water and a quarter cup of no-rinse wool wash, such as Soak. Lay the cloth flat in the tub and swish gently. Allow to soak for 20 minutes. Gently remove the fabric and press the water out of the cloth. Lay flat to dry.
Lay the cloth on a flat surface with the right side facing up — the side facing you on the loom. Fold the cloth in half without twisting so that right sides are facing each other. Turn on end 90 degrees, so that the top end is lined up with the left edge of the bottom end (A). Although it appears the fabric is twisted like a mobius, it isn't. Pin in place on sides A and B.
Using the bulky weft yarn, a running stitch, and an embroidery needle, sew the solid blue plain weave borders to the other end of the fabric. One border will be facing you, as shown here, and the other border is on the back. Start at the bottom left corner, and sew along edge A, and around the corner and up the right edge of B. Then turn the corner and sew just the blue border along the top where the solid white line is.
Switch to the skinny yarn and sew edge C into place.
Needleweave the ends into place. The skinny yarn is more likely to work its way free so you may want to change directions a few times to secure it. If needed, you can reinforce this edge with a second row of stitching. You will have one open edge that forms the top of the pocket.
Using a sharp pair of scissors or a rotary cutter and a self-healing mat, trim the fringe to 5 inches/12.5cm.
The cowl is reversible. You can wear it with the pocket facing in or out. The back naturally folds when you slip your head through the loop, decreasing bulk at the neck and exposing both sides of the fabric.
ABOUT THE DESIGNER
Liz Gipson is a lover of yarn and that from which it comes – namely the mills and fiber-bearing critters and plants. She is the author of the newly revised Weaving Made Easy and has four video workshops for rigid-heddle weaving published by Interweave. She is working on a new book, Handwoven Home, due out in the spring of 2017.
Curious about the warped side of yarn? Visit Liz's website Yarnworker, for know-how and inspiration, or hang out with her @yarnworker on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Ravelry.
Pattern & images © 2016 Liz Gipson. Contact Liz