Yarn: The Low Down

Beginner’s Info: Part 2

The Reason Behind The Rhyme

Ultimately the goal of spinning is to create yarn. If you just like to watch things go round and round then go to the laundromat.

How do we create yarn? Well, let me give you the general concepts first, then later we’ll go into details about actually making it on wonderful things like drop spindles and spinning wheels.

You begin by spinning one long piece called a “single,” because it’s by itself. Once you’ve spun that you can either leave it and call it a single ply yarn, or you can spin another one and twist them together for extra strength, thickness, and manageability. This is called “plying.”

It seems pretty straightforward, right? Spin two things, then spin them together. But! There’s a little trick to make it work. When you spin something, your wheel or spindle turns in a certain direction. Clockwise or counterclockwise. (Or in the spinner lingo I’m still having trouble remembering, it’s “z” and “s” respectively.) Never switch directions while spinning a single or it will break.

The Basics of Plying

Now. Once you have your various singles spun (all twisted in the same direction) you spin them together with the twist going the opposite way. If the singles were clockwise, you ply them together counterclockwise. If you think this can’t possibly work, try plying a couple “s” twist singles together using an “s” twist. It’s nasty stuff. And, as a bow to tradition, singles are normally spun with a “z” twist. But use whatever works best for you.

So, does that make sense? Those are the fundamentals right there. Enjoy.

A More Controlled Yarn

Oh, you want to spin a specific weight of yarn? A specific texture? You want light and fluffy, not binder twine? Yes, that’s doable. You can take control of the finished product.

If you’re a beginner, start out spinning a two ply. It’s the easiest, and you can get your bearings quicker. The thicker or thinner you make the singles will effect the finished thickness of the yarn, as will the amount of singles if you decide to do a three, four, five, or however many ply yarn.

And the amount of twist you put into the singles will have a direct bearing on the finished feel of the yarn. When you ply something it actually loses some twist. A very tightly twisted single will loosen up a little, but not as much as one that’s been spun into a very soft single. There are math equations that will allow you to figure all this out ahead of time, but I prefer a much easier method.

It’s called “sampling.” (Perfect for those of us who taste food as we cook and only consult the recipe occasionally.) Take the fiber you want to use and spin a little bit of it. Maybe a single that’s three feet long. Reel it off the wheel or spindle — holding tight to the ends or some of that twist will escape! — and carefully let a longish part of it coil back on itself. Voila. There’s how it will look as a two ply. Or, if you want to sample for a three ply, fold the single up on itself until you have three strands running side by. Then give them a little finger twist in the correct direction and let them wind until they stop. There’s a three ply. If things still don’t look right, try using less twist or more, depending on what look you’re going for.

This is much more of an advanced technique. I didn’t begin sampling my yarns until I was well into at least my third month of spinning. If it looked like yarn it worked and I loved it.

For those of you who can’t stand those of us who taste food as we cook, the best place I’ve found the math explained is in a back issue of Spin Off magazine. (Fun publication. You might like a year or so of it for inspiration!) The article on twists per inch and wraps per inch can be found in the Winter 2007 issue. Page 11.

One Response to Yarn: The Low Down
  1. [...] touched on plying briefly in Yarn: The Low Down. Plying is spinning two or more singles together in a direction opposite to the direction you [...]

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