The Daily Skein

All the craft that’s fit to make.

Plying Advice January 7, 2011

Filed under: spinning — Cailyn @ 12:02 am
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I used to hate plying my handspun.  Plying adds strength and durability to a yarn, so it’s worth doing in theory.  I love knitting with a good two-ply yarn better than a singles yarn.  (Malabrigo Worsted or Crystal Palace Mochi are commercial examples of singles yarn.  Knit Picks Palette is a commercial two-ply.)  So, why did I hate plying and what changed my mind?


Lots of spinners dislike plying.  Most dislike it because it takes longer to complete the yarn (you have to spin twice the length of singles and double them up to make a two-ply.)  I don’t mind the extra time; what I disliked was that the finished yarn never turned out the way I wanted it too.


Now, when you’re spinning the singles, you’re supposed to pause occasionally and perform a “ply back test.”  You let the strand twist back on itself, producing a short bit of two-ply yarn- a preview of the finished yarn.  If the little bit doesn’t look or feel the way you want the finished yarn to look or feel, then you can change how much twist you’re putting in to achieve the right properties.  I do the ply-back test often enough and generally end up with a sample that I’m happy with.  If you’re smart, you clip off a good sample section and attach it to something near your wheel or spindle to remind yourself what you’re aiming for.  (I’ll admit, I’m usually not that smart.)


You perform a similar test on the plied yarn as you ply  (let’s call it a “twist test,”) but this time you don’t want the yarn to twist on itself.  You want it to hang down nicely straight.  If it twists on itself, that means you have too much or too little plying twist.  You want a “balanced” yarn that doesn’t twist when you’re finished.  An over-plied yarn can distort your knitted fabric.  I did this test too and adjusted my twist to achieve a balanced yarn.


But then why did my yarn always look under-plied and nothing like my pretty ply-back sample?  If I plied to the sample, the yarn twisted back on itself like crazy- theoretically leading to a poor knitting yarn and a waste of time and fiber (for me, anyway; you can do interesting things with over-active yarn, but it’s not my thing.)




Then I came across this post about good-looking two-ply yarns on Ask the Bellwether.


When you’re done spinning your singles, the standard advice is to let them sit for a few days.  This lets some of the twist energy go “dormant” and makes the singles easier to manage.  The other reason is that you never finish all of your singles at the same time (it’s more of a sequential activity,) so one single is always older than the other.  Letting them sit for a few days evens them out so that you’re not plying a fresh energetic single with an older dormant one.  You ply with stale singles, if you will.  But when you do the ply-back test, the twist is still new and energetic. See where I’m going here?


The ply-back test, which you used to figure out how you wanted the yarn to look, used fresh singles.  The twist test on the plied yarn uses stale singles.  So, as the Bellwether points out, if you insert just enough twist to get a balanced yarn when plying the stale singles, you’ll actually under-ply.  Every time.


Once I read that, I couldn’t wait to finish spinning some singles to try this out.  I plied to my sample (which had been made with the ply-back, fresh single) instead of to a balanced yarn.  The finished skein twisted something fierce, but I dropped it in it’s hot bath anyway.


IMG_0513  IMG_0516


It bled quite a bit (took three rinses to get the water to be only tinted purple!)  Yes, there’s another skein in there with it, which luckily was brown so didn’t get any dye on it.  I need to remember to always wash skeins separately.  I just know I’ll put a red skein in with something white sooner or later and then I’ll be sorry.


What came out of that sink, though, was beautiful.  The dried skein didn’t twist back on itself at all and I finally had a yarn that looked and felt right.  It knits up lovely.


113_5287  113_5375


I have since replicated these results with three other fibers:

113_5291  113_5364  113_5369


So, what have we learned?


Ignore the twisting skein.  Follow the sample.  The sample will set you free.


Spy Games December 17, 2009

Filed under: Knitting Projects,Musings,Sewing Projects — Cailyn @ 11:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I would like to tell you that my mysterious long absence was due to a secret mission for the CIA.  Sadly, there was no spying or espionage involved.  I’ve been very busy, mostly with cleaning and organizing and not knitting.  I’m not really enjoying the knitting project that I’m working on right now but I am determined to finish it.  I’m sure you know how that feels- it makes the project drag on so much longer than it should even if you’re knitting just as fast as normal.  I have also been weaning off my antidepressant and, well, it hasn’t gone well.  I’m tired all the time and irritable and I haven’t felt much like writing.  I’ve been working on this post for four days!  It would have been much more interesting if I were a secret agent.


While I wasn’t spying for the CIA (wink wink nudge nudge), I finished plying this handspun:


102_4630     102_4846  102_4849  


I bought the fiber right after my spinning class at the Sock Summit.  It’s dyed with real indigo.  Have I written about this before?  I can’t remember.  It’s 100% Blue Faced Leicester from a Verb for Keeping Warm.  The woman who sold me the fiber at the Summit was really helpful and friendly and I’ll be buying from them again!  I spun this on the handmade bottom-whorl spindle from the Sock Summit too, using a mostly short-draw worsted style of spinning.  I r.nsay mostly because this is very much a beginner’s yarn and I played a little fast and loose with the fiber.  I didn’t sample the fiber and I didn’t stop very often to see if what I was spinning matched what I had already spun.  Well, it turned out mostly consistent, although some sections are almost thread-thickness.  I had originally intended to make this a three-ply yarn so I was trying to spin the singles pretty fine.  By the end, though, I decided to just make it a two-ply yarn.  I didn’t have a very consistent amount of twist in the singles and I was sure that they were over twisted.  But when I plied them, I didn’t have to put in a lot of twist to make a “balanced” yarn.  This led to some problems plying… to get the yarn to look and feel nice, I had to over-twist during plying; the “balanced” yarn has hardly any twist at all in it.  I started over-twisting about halfway through.  Maybe I’ll knit something with it… maybe it’ll just be pretty yarn to look at.


One of the bedrooms in our house has a French door with glass panels instead of a regular door.  This room is technically my studio but that hasn’t stopped me from littering the rest of the house with projects, yarn, beads, and other detritus of the crafter.  When we have multiple house guests at once, the addition of an air mattress magically turns this room into an extra guest room.  As you can imagine the glass door is a little problematic from a privacy standpoint.  Since this situation only comes up a few times a year, the usual solution is a sheet hung over the door.  Efficient but ugly to say the least.  So I grabbed some over-the-door hooks, two short curtain rods, and some fabric (on sale!) and made a curtain for the door.


It was a very simple project.  I had originally intended to make the curtain a little wider and use two different fabrics, one on each side, but then I got lazy.  Possibly because I had already worked on one very time-consuming sewing project already that day.  I simply folded the fabric in half, topstitched various parts and hung it on the door.  Somehow the bottom is crooked despite careful measurements.  I’m going to pretend that the curtain is perfectly straight and it’s the door that’s the problem.  As an added bonus, the fabric looks really cool when the light from the room is shining through it.  And yes, the curtain is just a hair short width-wise.  Again, it’s the door’s fault.


102_4885   102_4889    


Other than that, there’s been the cleaning and culling of stuff (not the stash of course, that just got a major enhancement a few days ago.)  Books and old clothes have been donated, decorations have been put up, small kitchen disasters which resulted it pot roast gravy going everywhere have been resolved.  You know, the usual holiday stuff.  Also, this strange furry object on top of my yarn has kept me from knitting too: