Adventures in Twist, Pt. 1

Posted in spinning by tchemgrrl on April 3, 2010

I’ve recently been getting interested in the effect of both singles and plying twist on a final knitted product. This all started as a series on conversation on the spinning groups on Ravelry, where some people were insisting that the best yarn for particular knitted applications was one that was overplied. Concerns were expressed about the ability of overplied yarns to knit up to a non-biased fabric, and the response was a frustratingly vague “try it to prove it to yourself”.

Well, I just can’t abide by a gauntlet thrown down in challenge like that.

I’ve tried to find relatively scientific discussions of twist, or plying, or whatever in the past, but the examples I always find are always so different in grist or fiber or whatever that I have a hard time separating those factors from the factors being discussed. Or maybe it’s just because I personally can’t play with the yarn. Either way, I just haven’t been able to buy whatever conclusions are made. So I decided that it was time to do this myself.

I tried to get as scientific about this as I could without killing the fun. (As a scientist, though, I admit that my personal limit for “not killing the fun” is probably way farther out than a normal person’s. Your mileage may vary.) I decided that, for now, I would focus on 2-ply yarns spun Z and plied S, for knitting. I spun low-twist, medium-twist, and high-twist singles, and for each of those conditions I made a balanced and an over-plied yarn. So 6 samples all together. I measured the twists per inch (tpi) and twist angle after the fact, but to start with, I just made what I considered to be “low twist” or “over-plied” (I’ll show the numbers in the next entry). The low twist singles had the minimum amount of twist to get the yarn holding together on a 38g spindle, the medium twist yarn was my standard yarn, and for the high twist I just added an extra twirl of the spindle beyond my standard yarn.

As I mentioned above, I gave some thought towards eliminating as many variables as possible. I used the same fiber for all of the samples–a medium-soft commercial Corriedale top, to which I added an occasional tuft of gray wool/silk added in for contrast, so I could see the amount of twist more clearly. I spun the singles to a comparable thickness, about 20wpi, on my 38g Ashford student spindle, and washed all of the plied yarns in a little hot water. I didn’t calculate the yardage for each yarn with a lot of detail–I just spun for about an hour or until I got bored, then plied whatever I had. This left me with anywhere from about 4-10 yards of yarn for each of the 6 samples.

I also knit them all up on a size 5US needle with a very similar pattern–a cable with stockinette, ending in a few rows of 2×2 ribbing. I wanted to see what the yarn looked like and felt plain, how its stitch definition was displayed in a pattern stitch, and how elastic it was. The size of these swatches varied a bit, as they were partly based on the yardage I’d spun, but overall they were pretty similar, about 3×4 inches or so.

Results later, this entry was getting wayyyy too long.


One Response

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  1. Lynn said, on April 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Awwww. We have to wait for the fun part.

    Spin-Off did a feature on overtwisted yarns a long time ago. One of the interesting things is that the yarns behave differently depending on how tightly they are packed in knitting or weaving. I remember some weaving examples where a simple tabby fabric with a close weave biased and rippled, but a looser fabric with overtwisted sections had a really interesting crinkle stripe pattern. I’m curious to see how your knit swatches came out.

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