Wednesday, May 01, 2013


With all due respect to core spun yarns, plying is critical to the appearance, strength, warmth, and durability of yarn.  Why then, in modern spinning culture is plying considered a second rate procedure?  Spinners that have many beautiful, expensive spindles, use toilet paper rolls as storage/plying bobbins and a shoe box with knitting needles as a lazy Kate.

Sorry, but singles do not feed smoothly and evenly off of  a toilet paper roll on a knitting needle stuck through a shoe box. The result is less even plying.  A smooth, even flow of each single is required for good plying.  This is not a noticeable issue working with a few skeins of low twist woolen singles for 2-ply worsted weight yarns or even 4-ply DK yarns.  However, if one is making fine sock yarns or warp for a large weaving project it quickly becomes an issue.

Alden Amos is craftsman that knows how to ply, and is honest enough to tell his students and readers the truth.  Alden's Four Great Principles of Plying work.  However, Alden does not want to scare spinners off by telling them that they need a lot of expensive tools for plying.  That is my job.  (On the other hand, he has never been bashful about selling a lot of expensive tools for plying.)

Good plying tools are as essential as good spinning tools.  Instead of buying that third spinning wheel, use the money to get yourself some really good plying tools.  Get or make a good lazy Kate, with bobbins that fit, so that they turn smoothly.  (Along the way, you are likely to discover that you need a good bobbin winder.)

If you are working with fine or high twist singles, then they are much better behaved if they are blocked before plying.  Blocking singles prior to plying can result in much less over all effort, and much better yarns. With high energy singles, Alden's principle of rewound bobbins is an understatement.

Blocking can be accomplished by running the single through a steamer under tension.  Such a device can be made from a "T" of  PVC pipe attached to an inexpensive clothes steamer.  Less energetic singles can simply be wound onto reels, then washed and dried on the reel or the "Shaker Rocket Ship". This will take the combing/spinning oil out of the yarn and allow extended storage.  Here are some currently in use at the Tulip Patch:
The pointy thing, holds reels for winding off.

After washing and drying, singles can be wound into skeins for storage or put on plying bobbins.  I have also started using pirns as cores for winding cones.  More docile singles can simply be wound into center pull cakes for storage.

Now, comes the point of this post. Very fine singles are still a challenge to ply, particularly if you are doing 6 or 10  or more plies.  When working with large numbers of fine plies, consistent and uniform tension can be achieved with a tension box of the type used by weavers for warping sectional beams.  
I  use one made by AVl.  The one above by Leclerc is simpler.  For a spinner to buy, there is some sticker shock, but they are easy to make, once you have the idea - dowels between 2 reeds or raddles.

I have mine about 6' from the spinning orifice, and use DRS controlled twist insertion.  I allow twist to occur  as the singles exit the tension box. The result is fast uniform plying even when working with fine, high energy singles. 


Holin said...

I've never known any experienced spinners who used a toilet paper roll, knitting needle and shoe box as a Lazy Kate unless they are teaching a group of children. I also have never met anyone who considered plying to be a second-rate activity. The spinners I know understood very quickly that a balanced ply can make or break your finished product - literally. Even a beginning spinner soon learns that an unbalanced ply will lead to undesirable distortions in the final fabric. Currently there is a great deal of interest in working with energized singles because of the textural possibilities of the yarn, but this doesn't mean that spinners don't ply or don't ply well. I have read more than once that most textiles were woven with singles, not plied, yarns - hence the need for ironing to reset the twist after washing.

On the other hand, I have spindle spun up fine yarns and wound them into balls, then put each ball into a separate bowl, and plied using another spindle. I won Best of Show at the Los Angeles County Fair with a three-ply yarn done in just this way, so I must have done something right. On my wheels, I find that my lazy Kate works just fine. When I'm spinning very fine yarns, I find that if I let the singles "rest" on their bobbins for a few days before plying, they tend to be pretty relaxed and will ply nicely without twisting about. I don't find a need to steam the singles before plying, and I just spun up some nice Targhee warp yarn that was very soft but held up beautifully for a scarf made on a rigid heddle loom. I think it also depends on what kind of fiber you are spinning - I wouldn't feel the need to worry as much about the strength of yarn spun from a longwool breed because the length of the fibers, and the lack of crimp and scales on the fiber. The length will add strength, and the smoothness of the fiber compared to, say, Merino, minimizes fraying and breakage when the warp is under tension and is being passed over by the beater. Longwools, even softly spun,are quite suitable for warp yarn.

Remember, Aaron,, our ancestors spun some dynamite, ultra-fine yarns without all the high-tech goodies. A tensioning device can be handy, but if the plying isn't done in a consistent manner, it doesn't matter what tools a spinner is using. I use the same length of draw and a consistent number of treadles for each draw length as I ply - the number of treadles being dependent on how tightly or softly spun the singles were - to achieve a balanced yarn. It takes common sense and a feel for the yarn, but it isn't rocket science.

Aaron said...



I was set off by some threads on Ravelry, and people saying, "You can use toilet paper rolls and knitting needles in a shoe box."

I do not know what you mean by "fine yarns". For me, (wool) "fines" are 60s to 80s (32,000 ypp to 45,000 ypp / 180 wpi - 200 wpi singles). I call singles in the 40s to 60s range "mediums". What is the grist/wpi of an ultra-fine wool yarn?

Yarns for hosiery (and gloves) require a lot of twist. The classic hosiery twist was 17 tpi. On a 40s (~150 wpi) this is a high energy single that is easy to spin from a wool like Suffolk (60 count).

I have many miles of such singles left over from last summer. Making 12-ply for gloves from these singles inspired the use of the tension box. It works.

I use DRS to insert consistent twist into the ply.

At a grist of 1,600 ypp in the plied yarn, there is change in the effective diameter of the spin bobbin as it fills.

Thus, the concept of gang flier whorls to change DRS as the effective diameter of the spin bobbin increases is very useful.