Twist Experiment Results!

After a weekend of ungodly tooth pain (not cool), a total and complete showering of love and generosity from my friends and family (awesome), an indescribable circus show (odd-but-cool), and a couple of really silly hats (a bridal-shower-ribbon-tophat-extravaganza and a bachelorette tiara), this Monday has been rather a rude and exhausting return to reality. But no matter! We’re going to perk ourselves up with some KNIENCE! (Ahem. Knitting science…of course. You like it.)

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Twist experiment yarns.

If you remember, our experiment consisted of spinning 4 yarns:

  1. Normal 2-ply yarn, with singles spun clockwise (Z) and plied counterclockwise (S),
  2. Normal 2-ply yarn, with singles spun counterclockwise (S) and plied clockwise (Z),
  3. Opposing ply yarn, with one S single and one Z single plied counterclockwise (S), and
  4. Opposing ply yarn, with one S single and one Z single plied counterclockwise (Z).

For  quick summary of S & Z twist, check this blog post out. Basically, the letters represent the direction of the angle of the twist in the yarn (the middle bits of each letter match the way the yarn spirals) and S twist yarns are the commercial standard. Our objective was to determine if and how the direction in which a yarn is plied affects the way it knits up. For reference, I knit ‘English’ style, where I ‘throw’ the yarn around the needle in a counterclockwise motion (when viewing the needle from the tip).

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Experimental swatches!

I knit each yarn on the same size needles (US 6) in the same pattern: 7 ridges garter stitch, 10 rows stockinette, and little bit of lace ribbing just for fun. There were some rather obvious differences during the knitting itself and a few more that became clear after blocking. I’ll go through each yarn and swatch one by one.

1) Normal 2-ply, with S twist (plied counterclockwise):

IMG_6449This yarn was the least remarkable to knit, which probably makes sense since it’s similar to how most commercial yarns are spun. Nothing in particular stood out about it, honestly. (But as we say in science: zeroes are data, too!) The yarn was around a worsted weight, measuring in at 10 wraps per inch on my wpi tool, somewhere between 10 and 12 wpi on my spinner’s control card, and 700 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 4.6″ wide by 5.5″ tall with a gauge of 4.5 sts/in and 10.0 rows/in in garter and 4.5 sts/inch and 7.0 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric feels both cohesive and fluid at this gauge and the ribbing seems relatively elastic, the yarnovers fairly distinct.

2) Normal 2-ply, with Z twist (plied clockwise):

IMG_6451This swatch doesn’t look much different from the first. However, while knitting, I noticed that the yarn did indeed slightly unply due to the way I wrapped it around the needle (counterclockwise).

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See how for some of the stitches the plies look nearly parallel, rather than twisted?

However, unlike the impression I get from the way twist is talked about, I found this slight unplying to be more pleasant to knit. The first swatch felt kind of ‘meh’ while I was knitting, while this one was decidedly pleasurable. The yarn felt more relaxed to work, which I suppose it was with the untwisting. Like the first 2-ply, this yarn was a worsted weight, measuring in at 11 wraps per inch on my wpi tool, somewhere between 10 and 12 wpi on my spinner’s control card, and 750 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 4.4″ wide by 5.2″ tall with a gauge of 4.3 sts/in and 10.0 rows/in in garter and 4.5 sts/inch and 7.0 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric felt similar to the first swatch, but the yarn was a bit finer and more consistent so the stitches were more even.

3) Opposing ply, with S twist (plied counterclockwise):

IMG_6453I noticed two major differences between the opposing ply and normal 2-ply yarns straightaway: the opposing ply yarns were far more elastic and fluffier/thicker than the normal 2-ply yarns. This, I’m sure, is due to the excess energy that was all wound up in the single originally spun in the ply direction, while the other single was somewhat unspun during plying, allowing those fibers to relax and poof up as their energy was released. The most interesting difference became apparent after blocking: the stockinette portion of the swatch was biased to the left! It would be more obvious if the section were larger but if you look closely you can see how the stitches all lean leftward. This is another artifact of excess energy in the yarn. The S-twisted opposing ply yarn could be classified as a chunky weight, measuring in at 8 wraps per inch on both my wpi tool and spinner’s control card, and around 400 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 5.0″ wide by 6.3″ tall with a gauge of 4.0 sts/in and 9.0 rows/in in garter and 4.0 sts/inch and 6.0 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric is much thicker and sturdier than the previous swatches, as the yarn was thicker and knit on the same size needles.

4) Opposing ply, with Z twist (plied clockwise):

IMG_6455This yarn had many of the same characteristics as yarn #3 except for one distinct difference: after blocking, the stockinette portion of the Z-twisted yarn biased to the right! This was really exciting because I’d only ever read about energized yarns and how they affect fabric, and never intentionally spun one before to see it happen firsthand.  Like the previous yarn, this one could be classified as a chunky weight, measuring in at 9 wraps per inch on my wpi tool, between 8 and 10 wpi on my spinner’s control card, and around 450 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 5.0″ wide by 5.8″ tall with a gauge of 4.0 sts/in and 10.0 rows/in in garter and 4.3 sts/inch and 6.3 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric was much thicker and sturdier than the normal 2-ply swatches, but also seemed much neater and more cohesive than the S-twisted opposing ply swatch.

Conclusions:

  1. Opposing ply yarns are super duper bouncy, elastic, fluffy, and fun. I like them.
  2. Opposing ply yarns will bias either left or right in plain stockinette stitch.
  3. Opposing ply yarns made with the same singles as normal 2-ply yarns will be much thicker than normal 2-ply yarns when finished.
  4. I noticed a slight unplying of Z-plied (clockwise) yarns as I knit them.
  5. I prefer the look of my Z-plied swatches for both normal and opposing ply yarns. My stitches seem neater and the fabric looks smoother and more cohesive.

Interesting note: of the 10 people who commented on how they like to spin their yarns, 7 people plied Z, 2 people plied S, and 1 person plied S for all fibers except linen, for which she switched directions because it is standard practice for linen to be plied Z (which I do remember reading somewhere else but cannot find a reference for it at this time). For the curious, I used the Spinning Daily yarn standards (pdf) to compare wpi to gauge, etc. I also just came across this blog post detailing a different kind of twist-related experiment that I didn’t even touch on here.

Overall, an interesting exercise, no? I’m glad that most of my wheel-spun handspun yarns are plied in the Z direction, now that I think my fabric looks nicer with Z-plied yarns. Although the commercial standard is S-plied and my spindle-spun yarns tend to be S-plied, too. I’ll have to pay  more attention from now on to see if I can spot any real differences while knitting S- or Z-plied yarns in larger projects.

Have you paid attention to how the twist of your yarns affects your knitting?

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6 thoughts on “Twist Experiment Results!

  1. What a detailed experiment! Thank you for posting this! I am still a beginner to spinning and never knew why so many people insisted that I had to spin clockwise and ply counterclockwise. Seeing your variations allows me to know I can choose different ways to twist the fibre in order to get some fun yarns. I knit continental style so I would love to see if spinning S and plying Z would make it more or less interesting to knit with 😛

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  2. Very cool! I’ve noticed that some yarns seem to un-twist when I knit them, and it’s neat to see how it was spun might be part of that.
    And I love when science and knitting/spinning come together. 🙂

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