When we spin thread or yarn, we add twist to loose fiber to lock it together. This twist pulls the fibers closer, and the microscopic scales on the hairs rub against each other, catching and holding. To create beautiful yarn, you must understand twist.
First we spin the “singles”. You can actually knit with singles, but they are inherently unbalanced. They twist up on themselves, get tangled easily, and have energy that will change the shape of your finished product. If you knit a square with energetic singles, you end up with a parallelogram. Letting them sit on the bobbin or washing them “sets the twist”, evening it out across all the yarn and locking it in place. I’ve spun nice fat singles from cria wool, washed the skein and dried it stretched out, and ended up with a great yarn, but most spinners ply their yarn.
The amount of twist in your singles determines what your plied yarn will look like. You can preview your finished product by allowing the single to twist up on itself. The more twist you have initially, the tighter your ply will be. I like a tight ply, because looser ply looks rope-y to me. To ply one or more singles, you hold the singles in the hand that normally holds the loose fiber, and you spin the wheel in the OPPOSITE direction. Your goal is to have a balanced yarn when you finish, where the amount of twist you put in to the single while you spun to the RIGHT equals the amount of twist you used when you plied it to the LEFT. Though I check my yarn often as I ply, the moment of truth comes at the end when you are holding the skein. If it hangs in a loose circle, you’ve got balanced yarn, if it twists…fail.
Last night I spun and plied the yarn on the left. I intend to ply that finished yarn with the finished yarn on the right, producing a 4-ply cabled yarn. But since both yarns are balanced now, if I just plied them together I’d have an unbalanced yarn that is twisty and hard to work with. Before I can ply them, I actually have to add more twist to both, “respinning” them so that when they are combined they will lay flat. The most important thing to keep track of, other than the amount of twist, is the direction. For this yarn, the direction of spinning will be:
-Spun singles to the right
-Plied to the left
-Re-spun to the left, adding more twist
-Cabled (4 plied) to the right
Do any of those steps in the wrong direction and you either get a tangle, or more likely, the yarn just comes apart in your hands.