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Putting it Together – The Art of Plying

One of the last steps in spinning yarn is plying. It’s putting together two or more strands of spun singles to create the final yarn.

As a beginning spinner, plying always scared me. It was this thing, that if you messed up, ruined all the work you did in spinning, or so I thought. Turns out, plying is one of my favorite things to do. It can make yarn more colorful, whimsical, or very perfect and structured.

There are so many options when it comes to plying. There are singles, two-ply, three-ply, and so on. The number of plies you choose should be based on what you want your finished item to be or look like.

Not only does plying balance your yarn and give it color and structure, it also makes the yarn stronger. Each ply adds an additional layer of strength, and, as with any project, the number of plies used fit specific needs.

So, let’s break it down by plies:

Single-Ply or singles are just that, a single spun fiber. Single plied yarns are best when looking for some stitch-definition, however, one of the drawbacks of a single-ply yarn is that they tend to be weaker and can often “pill” when worn in your final object. Use single ply yarns for things like cowls and Mobius scarves. You’ll want to avoid items that would pill, such as sweaters and also avoid those high-abrasion articles such as socks and mittens.

Two-ply yarns are created by taking two singles, which can be the same color, two different colors, a single-plied with thread or even silk. Two-ply yarns are best suited for items you want to look homemade or for lace items. I spin most of my yarns two-ply and use it for mittens, scarves, shawls, hats, and blankets. I like the homemade, more rustic look of the two-plies, but I’m also a lace spinner and love how the two-ply yarns bloom in a lace pattern.

Three-ply yarns can be made by plying three singles together, or by using the chain-ply method, which only uses one single bobbin at a time. Three-plied yarns are best suited for socks, mittens, gloves, and sweaters. If you’re holding a two-ply, and a three-ply yarn side-by-side, you’ll notice the two-ply is more “flat” in structure while the three-ply looks more round in structure. Again, remember the more plies there are, the stronger the fiber will be.

Four or more plies are used for bulky, warmer items in terms of yarns, and note that rope is made very similarly and uses approximately 20-plies of stronger fiber.

Plying is sometimes known as the “balancing step” in creating yarns. When you spin, generally you spin your singles with your wheel or spindle moving in a clockwise direction. To ply, your wheel or spindle is moving counter-clockwise, which in essence, balances the yarn so there is no twisting.

So, how do you get the most out of your plying? First off, when you spin your singles, you want to make sure they are even and not over-twisted. When plying, the same holds true. You want your ply to rest without any twists when held out about three inches from the orifice.

Those new to plying, and often spinning, have the tendency to treadle fairly fast. My key piece of advice to spinners is to slow down during the plying process. You want your plied yarn to have structure, but not too much energy.

My biggest piece of advice to those new to plying, as well as those who have been plying for a while is to have fun, experiment with color and texture, think about what you want your finished piece to look like, slow down, enjoy the process and ply away!

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