Plying Yarn

Two Ply Yarn

Spinning and plying can be quite technical.  Some spinners will measure twist angles and count twists per inch.  My experience has been start out slowly.  You are building your skill set with each yarn you spin.  Don’t get too caught up with all the details when first learning.   This should be enjoyable, not stressful.

Plying is done by putting your singles onto a lazy Kate, lining  up your singles and putting them through the leader of your bobbin. I set the tension to where the yarn is almost being pulled from my hands.

Lazy Kate with Two Singles

With the tension set, separate your singles by placing your fingers in between the singles.  For a two ply I place my index finger between the singles, for a three ply I use my index and middle finger.

Holding singles making a two ply yarn

Your thumb  adds tension to the side of the index finger, while your remaining fingers hold the singles  near the heel of your hand.

When it comes to plying you will be removing twist from your singles as you will be spinning in the opposite direction.  This is why you will want more twist in your singles than you want in the final yarn.  For example 15 twists per inch if the final yarn is to have 10 twists per inch.  (1.5 times the twists desired is a good rule of thumb for spinning your singles)  Again in the beginning I would not get too hung up on this, but it is very worthwhile to know and likely something you will look at as you gain experience.

Comparing Spun Single to a Control Card

When I spun my singles I used a regular flyer with a 10:1 ratio.  This means the flyer will spin ten times for each rotation of the wheel.  Meaning for every treadle on an inch of fibre there will be 10 twists.  I also used a piece of prepared yarn as a sample.  I did ply back tests periodically and compared my yarn to the yarn sample.   This helped to determine the thickness as well as the twists per inch desired.  If you choose to use a piece of prepared yarn as a control card, you can periodically pull yarn from the bobbin to compare.

When  learning to ply your goal will be a consistent, balanced yarn. As you gain skills you will purposely add more twist to say a sock yarn for longevity.   There are a few steps I found helped me with this.

1.  Let your singles rest for a day or so.  Freshly spun singles have
quite a bit of energy making them a tad uncooperative.

2.  Set the lazy Kate slightly behind you and a couple feet away.
I like mine set at a 90 degree angle to my hand holding the

3.  Set the draw in tension on your bobbin high.

4.  The hand holding the singles should be slightly pulling away from the orfice, creating even tension on each single. Keep this hand in the same spot throughout spinning.  Mine is generally a foot from the orfice. Now spinning in the opposite direction you spun your singles count 4-5 treadles a few times over 12 inches or so of the singles length.  I hold my singles in my right hand and the left hand controls the twist entering the yarn.

Balanced yarn made from two singles
A balanced Yarn Hangs Without Twists

5.  Pull some yarn from the side of the bobbin, and let it hang
down. If it hangs straight without twisting you likely have
the  correct number of treadles  for a balanced yarn.  Look
at the yarn, does the twist look like the fibres are going up and

Balanced yarn the twist runs up and down
Single twist runs from bottom left to upper right
Left: fibres run up a d down in a balanced yarn Right: See the angle of the fibres in the single

When spinning a balanced yarn if the fibres slant the same direction as the singles, add more twist.  If they slant the direction of the ply remove a treadle count to get less twist.

Balanced Yarn

6.  By keeping your hand in the same position and completing the same number of treadles you are on your way to a consistent yarn.

Things That Can Go Wrong

  1.  Uneven Twist
Inconsistent Tension with One Single Wrapped Around the Other
Uneven Twist

This occurs when the singles are not held with equal tension.  Instead of a yarn of the singles evenly wrapped, the yarn appears to have one single spiraling over the other.  If you catch this right away it can be corrected.  Place your index finger between the singles and push your finger toward the orfice.  Now pull back equally on each single and let the twist enter the yarn again.  This should fix the problem.  As your bobbin begins to fill increase the draw in tension.  I have found tension is your friend when plying.

2.  Pigtails

Pigtail When Plying Yarn

Pigtails are created when a single plys back against itself then gets wrapped along with the other single.  This creates a small piece of yarn protruding from your main yarn.  If caught in time one can address the issue the same way we corrected the twist in item 1.  If not discovered until the end, it is best the cut that portion of yarn and remove during your knitting.  I would not just cut off the pigtail  as then the yarn would then  have a weak spot.

To avoid pig tails, let singles rest before plying, increase tension of the bobbin and pull back from the orfice with more tension.  I have found it sometimes helps to move your lazy Kate further away from you.  If it is still an issue you may need to stop plying and quickly put your singles through the spinning wheel in the opposite direction you spun your singles to illuminate a bit of the twist.

When you are first spinning it is common to want to complete a two ply, as you are anxious to see the final product.  Using a three or even four ply may even out your yarn more if the singles are a bit inconsistent.

Balanced Even Twist 2 Ply Yarn
Balanced Even Twist 2 Ply Yarn

The key to becoming a consistent spinner is practice. When learning something new we often compare ourselves to others.  Advice from more experienced spinners is valuable.   If you are comparing your yarn to commercial yarn or that made by an experienced spinner, you are not being fair to yourself.  Keep samples  of your first yarns.  They are great to have as a comparison, allowing you to see how far you have come as you spin your yarns.

A video of plying has been posted to our YouTube channel Murlo Discovery Channel to help you as well.

Until next time, happy spinning!