Posted in crochet, Yarn

Twists and Plies — Part 2 of 2

In the previous post, Twists and Plies Part 1, you read about twists as it pertains to yarn and how it affects crochet stitches. Another consideration is the ply of the yarn. As the yarn strand comes off the spinning wheel or machine, it is twisted to make it stronger or thicker. A yarn is plied when two or more strands are twisted together. These strands are twisted in the opposite direction than the way they came off the wheel. This means that if the original strand is twisted in a clockwise direction  (Z twist), then the strands are plied together in a counter-clockwise direction (S twist). The opposing twists keep the strands together.

In the US, the number preceding the word “-ply” indicates the number of single strands of spun yarn that are twisted together. Some countries use it as a shorthand for the overall thickness of the yarn. As we will see, a large number of strands does not necessarily make up a thick yarn. Plying strands together can create a whole new look to the yarn with the addition of textures and colors. The addition of more strands enhances durability and sometimes weight. Many yarn enthusiasts can tell from the number of strands in the ply how well the finished item will turn out.

There is even a different shape to the yarn when looked at in cross-section, and this shape can affect stitch definition. Some examples include singles =roundish but flattens easily; 2-ply = oval, soft stitches; 3-ply = rounder but does not flatten.

Fingering weight singles

2-ply chunky weight

3-ply in chunky, worsted, and sport weights

There are more types of plies like 4-ply, 5-ply and multiples; there is chain ply – also called chainette —  and cabled ply. Multiples generally are spun from very fine yarn in an S twist, then pairs of these are spun in a Z twist. Finally, the pairs are spun in 2s or 3s in another S twist. Even though these contain multiple strands of fiber, the overall weight is reduced because it starts with very fine yarn and includes a lot of air space. A single of the same size would consist of solid fiber instead. Chain plies are used with fibers with little elasticity, such as silk, linen, bamboo, and other plant fibers, because the construction gives the fiber a bit of stretch.

4-ply in worsted weights

Yarn with multiples, 12 altogether.

Cotton Classic with a chain ply which allows the cotton to be more elastic than a cotton like Sugar and Cream which is a 4-ply.

As you can guess, singles are much more likely to show signs of  weakness–you can pull the fiber apart from itself. They are susceptible to pilling and wear.  3-ply yarns are perfect for projects that get a lot of wear and abrasion, like socks. A recent trend has been to use yarns that are not plied at all but the strands simply lay next to each other.

Unplied yarn, left Red Heart It’s A Wrap, right Katia

Posted in Crochet Technique, Yarn

Twists and Plies: Part 1

Have you ever heard it said that a yarn with a tight twist makes for better crochet stitches? Read on to understand where that saying comes from.

One consideration when choosing yarn is the ability of the yarn to keep its shape within the stitches themselves. This is not the same as keeping its shape within the fabric, like with how drapey or stiff the fabric is. Rather, does the yarn hold up when creating each stitch?

Some yarns create flimsy stitches, regardless of the size hook you use. Other yarns create stitches that just stand up and salute. Most of the time, this can be attributed to the twist of the yarn. The image of the single crochet fabric above shows neat stitches, but if you look closely, you can see some separation of the yarn fibers indicating a lightly twisted yarn. Why is that, and how can you tell when purchasing yarn?

You may have heard the term “Z twist” or “S twist,” especially from spinners. Most commercial yarns are twisted in an S shape, that is, they are twisted in a counterclockwise turn. Z twist yarns are twisted in a clockwise turn.

If you are a right-handed crocheter, you make your yarn overs in a clockwise manner, and this has the effect of untwisting your S-twist yarn. If the yarn twist is very tight, the effect of untwisting is less noticeable, but if the twist if very soft, your yarn will become quite flat. This is why choosing a yarn with a tight twist will create crochet stitches that are very clean and pronounced. As you may have guessed, left-handed crocheters don’t have the same issue since they do their yarn overs in a counterclockwise direction.

The image with 2 yarns shows fairly common yarns with a moderate twist. The white yarn is a little fuzzy so the twist doesn’t show up well on camera.

These two moderately twisted yarns hold their shape during a yarn over.

The blue yarn has a very soft twist, as you will see in the next photos.

The image on the left shows what happens to the blue yarn with the soft twist during a normal yarn over. See how the yarn becomes untwisted and flat? On the right, the yarn is wrapped over the hook in the opposite direction and shows that the yarn stays twisted because of the direction in which it is wrapped. Right-handed crocheters don’t normally wrap the yarn in this direction, so the stitches end up being flattened.

If you want to test the twist on your yarn, take a short length of yarn and attempt to untwist it. If the strands come apart easily, it is a light or soft twist. If it takes a few turns to get them apart, that is a heavier, medium twist. If you have to have a third hand to get them to stay untwisted, that is a tight twist. If there is nothing to untwist, read Part 2 — the discussion on plies.