I love hand spun yarn for many reasons, but the thing that draws me to it most of all is its twist energy. No matter what fibre preparation you use, adding twist as you draft gives life to your yarn in ways that no commercial yarn can do.I’ve talked about the technical aspects of twist energy in past posts, particularly in the Art Yarn discussions, so I won’t revisit twists per inch, etc. here. There are many, many resources, in books and on line, which explain how to add the twist you want to your yarn; you can be as technical (Mabel Ross, Alden Amos) or as free (that would be me and many other spinners) as you like with your twist count. The focus here is how to play with twist energy in your knitting.
The Queen of Twist Energy in singles yarn is Kathryn Alexander, who has spent her fibre career exploring what yarn will do when it’s highly energized. Kathryn loves to play Z and S spun yarns against one another to pattern her fabric. You can also vary your fabric patterns and textures by using yarn spun in one direction. In this photograph, I used Z spun Merino singles and alternated stockinette stitch bands with reverse stockinette. Neither resembles conventional stockinette:
My favourite scarf, shown here, is knitted in Merino/Silk singles, in garter stitch with occasional dropped stitches and small nepps thrown in just for fun:
The yarn was very tightly twisted and corkscrewed as I knit it. The scarf doesn’t look like much, butwhat I love about it are its tactile qualities. Every time I wear it, I find myself playing with the fabric, fondling the beads and generally enjoying its texture. It also has amazing elasticity:
When you work with energized singles, use them straight from the bobbin. (Winding them into balls virtually guarantees snarling, on your part and the yarn.) Use larger needles than you normally would for that yarn, because the yarn has to be able to move in the fabric and it will shift in the finishing. Stay with simple stitches, such as garter stitch, stockinette, seed or basic lace patterns; allow the energy to determine the look of your fabrics.
High energy yarns are not limited to singles. This little bag, knitted in 2 ply hand spun, naturally dyed Romney, was an attempt to make a durable bag which will withstand abrasion and hard use. I knit it in the round, twisting the stitches by alternating knitting in the back or front of the stitch. This adds strength to the fabric, which was then machine washed and dried:
If you want hard wearing, high twist yarns that don’t corkscrew, add the twist in increments. In this case, the Romney singles were spun Z once on my Ashford Traveller, at a ratio of 6: 1. I left them on the bobbin overnight to rest, then added more twist, carefully coaxing out any corkscrews, using my Majacraft Pioneer wheel at a ratio of about 8: 1. I followed the same procedure and re spun the yarn a third time.
Each colour was rewound on two bobbins for plying under tension. The process of adding twist to the 2 ply yarn was the same as for the singles. I wound the yarns into skeins and gave them a hot wash and rinse, with lots of hand agitation. The bag has a very hard hand compared to a typically spun Romney. It would be torment to wear a fabric from this yarn, but it’s perfect for a bag, or anything else requiring durability.
Playing with twist allows the yarn to do much of the work of producing interesting fabric. Adding and subtracting twist (because, of course, you can go the other way) extends the range of fabric you can knit. Besides that, twisting is just plain fun.