Saturday, February 2, 2008

Yarn Plys

The number of plys a yarn has is NOT the size of the yarn. Yarns come in a variety of sizes and plys. Sizes range from Extra bulky to Lace weight. Most of the yarns we buy commercially come in two different weights: worsted weight and fingering or baby weight. These lie in the middle of the vast number of weights of yarns and are used for most patterns. The number of plys just means how many separate strands are used to form this particular yarn.

Why do we spin fibers into yarn? Why do we ply? How do we ply? There are answers to these questions if you just stop to think about them. A single strand of silk is nearly as strong as spider web and nearly as fine too. We spin fiber into yarn to make it stronger! Just think if we could spin spider webs into yarn. We could do away with the steel industry. The more strands we can put together just makes the whole thing much stronger.

If a person takes a locke of wool between their fingers and pull it a bit, it comes apart fairly easily. But if they then take that locke and stretch it so the fibers overlap some and put some twist into it, it becomes much stronger. Then taking several of these spun singles and re-spin them, makes them nearly unbreakable.

We spin the fibers in one direction making our thread. Then spinning the opposite direction to combine 2 or more plies makes a balanced yarn. I have been in a number of discussions lately on the best way to ply the singles to make the 2 or 3 bobbins of thread come out more or less even so there is not too much left over on one of the bobbins.

The method I use is not the preferred one, but is to my liking as it leaves no leftover singles at all. I use the ball winder, winding the singles fairly loosely. Pulling the thread from the center and the one from the outside and allowing it to twist together for neutral yarn, then tying it to the starter yarn on the bobbin, works for me. The ball must be held firmly so the yarn from the outside comes off smoothly and the yarn from the inside doesn’t throw too many kinks. I stick my fingers into the ball and wrap my thumb on the outside allowing the threads to pull to the wheel with a fair amount of tension.

The preferred method is to not worry about it if you have leftovers. Just spin some more thread from the same source. Take one line from each of 2 or more bobbins, allow them to twist together, tie them to the bobbin starter, and start plying the threads together.

Another method of dealing with the amount of singles is to make a Navajo ply yarn. This is loose chain from crochet using only fingers to chain the length of yarn. It will keep the colorways in the spun thread, but tends to be a bit “knotty” when working with it.

Now what to do with the small bits of singles that are always left over after finishing with all the source fibers? How about making a novelty skein from a bit of everything? This can be used for small projects.

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