Balanced, or full of lies?

March 12, 2016

A balanced yarn is one where the energy of the ply twist evenly counters the energy of the singles twist, and when two ends of the yarn are brought together, the yarn will not twist back on itself in either direction. Many new spinners are often taught that a balanced yarn in the goal because a yarn with too much twist energy in either the singles or the plying will cause their knitting to bias in one direction or the other depending on where that excess twist energy is. What many new spinners aren’t taught though, is that their yarn may be lying to them.

When we bring two ends of freshly spun length of singles together and let it ply back on itself, this shows us what our yarn will look like as a balanced two ply based on the amount of twist in our singles. Let three or four or five strands of singles twist back on themselves and you have an example of what your yarn will look like as a three ply, four ply, or five ply yarn.

Twist energy is a funny thing though. After a few days of resting on the bobbins, some of that twist energy will go dormant and your singles will deceive you. When you begin plying you might notice that it takes much less ply twist to balance out the twist energy in the singles. Don’t believe what this yarn is telling you. It lies. If you put in enough ply twist to match the ply-back sample you made when your singles were freshly spun, your plied yarn may twist back on itself now and look terribly unbalanced. Don’t believe what this yarn tells you either, because it’s lying too.

Are we under plied, over plied, or just right?

When you finish your yarn and give it a soak, the dormant twist is reactivated. In that first example above where the plied yarn appeared balanced, the reactivated twist in the singles from the soaking process will show once the yarn has dried, and the skein will not hang straight. In the second example, the singles twist that is reactivated during the soaking process should even out most of what initially looked like too much ply twist, and your skein should hang mostly straight when it is dry.

These freshly plied skeins look a little over twisted, but after finishing they hung almost perfectly straight.

It is also possible to force balance in your yarn by weighting it when it hangs to dry, but I don’t recommend this at all because this yarn is also lying to you.

A balanced yarn is an admirable goal, and a knitted garment that biases in one direction or another is something we all probably want to avoid, but keep in mind that it takes a significant amount of extra twist energy to create that biasing. There is a range of ply twist above and below that balanced state where it won’t make a noticeable difference in your knitting, and there are many reasons reasons you might want more or less ply twist in your yarn depending on how it will be used.

Under plied
Over plied
DING DING DING DING DING!!!<br />We have a winner!

To find out how much ply twist I wanted in my yarn from all that brown roving, and since I had an ample amount of it (not to mention that some of it has been on the bobbins for months) I created some sample skeins of about ten yards each. I already had a pretty good idea of how much ply twist I needed based on yarn that I had made from the roving before, but I figured it would still be a good idea to sample anyway. Each sample skein was plied with a different amount of twist from underplied to overplied, and then each was soaked and hung to dry. As I expected, the yarn in the middle, between the obviously underplied sample and the slightly overplied-but-still-not-bad sample was exactly what I had in mind.

So based on my notes of what flyer ratio I used and the number of treadles per plied length (keeping those kind of notes about your yarn is ALWAYS a good thing) I set out to ply the many bobbins of singles to match this sample. It has been a slow process and so far I have only completed six skeins. It takes almost an hour to fill one of my Lendrum bobbins, and I don’t like to start unless I know I have enough time to finish filling the bobbin, so I have been confining my plying sessions to the weekends. There just isn’t enough time on weekday mornings to fill a bobbin, and my weekday evenings are often filled up with other activities, like entertaining and being entertained by a energetic young pharaoh hound who is just as excited about the warmer temperatures as I am. No problem though. It took me quite some time to finish spinning almost three pounds of singles. I’m in no hurry to get them all plied.
That’s it for me this morning. I’m hoping to get at least one or two bobbins filled up before it’s time to head off to Trumpet Hill for a class that I’m teaching. Have a great weekend!

Halo loves playtime outside. Can you blame her?


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