Thursday, February 2, 2017

Knitting with Single Ply Yarn

Sunapee Shawl, knitting with single ply yarn, knitdesigns by tian

So, my friend Barbara came up to me the other day after yoga class and whip out a couple skeins of yarn out of her purse (like you do!).

This is not an unusual thing that happens after class. Doesn’t this happen to you too after a relaxing shavasana, having yarn shoved in your face? Of course, it does! The only difference this time was that there weren’t any needles dangling from the yarn and she’s didn’t have that dejected look on her face as she says, “I don’t know what I did, help me fix it”. This day was different.

On this day, Barbara had a different question. She was at an estate sale in a neighboring town and found some yarn (jackpock, right!) for super cheap that she had to get. It was a bag full of yarns of varying weight, brands, odds and ends. Some were 100% acrylic, which Barbara likes to knit with for charity projects and her grandkids. In the pile of yarn, she discovered there were some mystery skeins of yarn with no ball band that were single ply yarns.

She has no idea what to make with the single ply yarns. She wasn't familiar with working with it previously and wanted to know what she should knit. What is this type of yarn good for?

Now, let’s be straight. You know me. I don’t think you should do anything. The truth is, you can knit just about anything you want as long as it works for you. The fact of the matter is that it’s just yarn. After reminding her of that little tidbit and reassuring her that she was in fact capable of working with the yarn, I gave her some suggestions for projects that might work to best show off the beauty and unique characteristics of the single ply yarn.

So, maybe you are in a similar position as Barbara. You picked up a beautiful skein of single ply yarn on sale (geez, who can pass up a good sale? not me either) and now it’s just sitting in your stash because you are not sure what to make. Maybe, you’ve heard from other knitters that single ply yarns are weak and break easily, they’re lumpy and bumpy, and that they pill like crazy. Sure. All these characteristics are accurate, sometimes. These are all accurate characteristics of single ply yarns, but not all single ply yarns are the same.

What to think about when knitting with single ply yarns? Single ply yarns:

1)    have fantastic stitch definition and are great for showing off textures and stitch patterns,

2)    can be weak and easily break apart,

3)    can be inconsistent; plying tends to smooth out these inconsistencies and add strength,

4)    tends to pill, a lot.

Like I said, all those characteristics are true for single ply yarns, but all those characteristics are not true for all single ply yarns. Make sense?

So, here’s is the question again. What to knit with single ply yarn? The truth is, you can knit just about anything you want. Just be mindful of what the end product will be used for and how much wear and tear the piece will endure over its lifetime.

Understanding the characteristics of the single ply yarn you’re working with will help you to figure out what project will work best to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of the yarn. Sure, there are techniques you can use to combat the negatives of the yarn, so don’t be turned off by what can be considered a negative.

What did I recommend to Barbara to knit?

I gave her a couple options for consideration.

First, take advantage of the stitch definition. Because her yarn was a variegated sport weight of about 350+ yards, I recommended a simple shawl like my Hampden Hills Shawl since she is a beginner. The stitches will just pop on that shawl. Hats and cowls are also great to knit up using single ply yarns.

Sunapee Shawl, Knit Picks Chroma fingering, knitdesigns by tianFor a more advance knitter, I would recommend the Sunapee Shawl. The yarn when blocked will bloom beautifully over the lacy section. Guess what? I found a ball of a single ply yarn in my stash (Knit Picks Chroma fingering in Confetti) and I’m making a Sunapee Shawl for myself. Already I am digging the stitch definition on the stockinette section. I can’t wait to see how the lace section turns out.

Second, to address the issue of pilling, there are a few things you can do. I recommended to Barbara that she make a project that will not wear through easily or high friction garments and accessories. For example, I wouldn’t recommend socks because these are hard wearing items and under most circumstances will not hold up.

Personally, I don’t want to see her fail. I don’t want to see her disappointed if socks that took her months to make get worn through after a few wears. Of course, there are things she can do to help prevent wear and tear, like using reinforcing thread. But like I said, even though she has been knitting for a long time, she’s still very much a beginner knitter and putting in that much time into socks and having them bust a hole only after a few wears would turn her off from sock knitting, maybe all knitting forever. So, I try to keep that in mind.

Sunapee Shawl, Knit Picks Chroma fingering, knitdesigns by tianI also recommended for her to avoid garments what will see a lot of friction, like mitts and sweaters with sleeves where the underside of the sleeves will rub against the side of the body and pill like crazy. Yes, for an experience knitter, this is not a problem. Just use a gleaner or razor to remove the pills. But that’s a lesson for Barbara at a later date. But I know you and you want to knit a sweater. Go for it. Just be cognizant of the needle size you will be using. Use the recommended needle size on the ball band or even go down a size to make the fabric less loose. Swatch. And wash and abuse that swatch to see how the fabric holds up. The thing that causes pilling is the loose fibers in the fabric having lots of room to rub around with each other. Knit a bit tighter, not so dense that the sweater can stand up all by itself, but the fibers ae close and not able to more around freely.


What got me into thinking and understanding about yarn and their construction was learning how to spin my own yarn. I was able to learn how to create yarn that works for different circumstances.

If you are interested in learning about spinning and yarn, check out:



Alright, so I want to hear from you.
Do you knit with single ply yarns? If yes, what do you make? If no, what is holding you back? If you don’t even think about the number of ply in a yarn, I wanna know that too. Please share your experience so others can learn. Leave a comment below.
If you have a friend that you think would enjoy this post, please email them this post.

Thank you so much for reading and helping to spread the word.

Until next time... Stitch on

A rising tide lifts all boats

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* The negatives and positives of single ply yarns, and suggested patterns.

** The charity {The Weekly Yarn} is supporting for February is ACLU, to celebrate Black History Month. A portion from total profits from Ravelry sales will be donated at the end of the month.
*** Are you an aspiring knit and crochet designer needing more help figuring our where to start? Unlock your Inner Designer: How to start designing (course + workbook) is available for immediate download on Etsy. Get your printable PDF copy here. 

Are you an aspiring knit and crochet designer needing more help figuring our where to start?

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