Learn about yarn ply and how it contributes to the look and finish of your crochet or knitting projects. Ply is often confused with yarn weight, primarily since some countries and manufacturers use "ply" to indicate their yarn's heaviness or lightness. Ply refers to the number of strands or fibers the yarn has. Three-ply yarn, for example, is composed of three single strands that are twisted together.
What is Yarn Ply
Yarn ply refers to the number of strands twisted together to make your yarn. Ply or plied yarns are created when two or more individual strands are twisted. 8 ply yarn, also called DK yarn, is formed when 8 strands are combined.
Yarn Ply and Yarn Weights
Worldwide, yarn ply is often used to describe how thick or thin a yarn is which is not always technically correct. For example, a 4 ply yarn can be thicker than a yarn with 8 plies if the single strands were thicker to start with. To counteract this, the Craft Yarn Council developed a standard yarn weight system comprising of numbers starting at 1. While this system is gaining popularity, the UK and Australia label most yarns with a ply number. Here is a general comparison chart:
What is Plying?
Plying is a term derived from the French, Latin, and Greek verbs plier (to fold), plico (to bend or fold), and pleko (to braid or twine), respectively. It's a process involving twisting and combining strands or fibers to produce a different type of yarn.
Let's look at yarn ply and the different plying methods used by yarn manufacturers or spinners.
Different Methods of Making Yarn Ply
The method of yarn plying used by manufacturers depends on whether they want to produce a handspun, machine-spun, or a special type of yarn. That said, here are four of the most common methods used today:
- Chain or Navajo
Regular Yarn Ply
This plying method is common for handspun yarns and involves utilizing a spindle or a spinning wheel. The spinners will take the strands of fibers, ensuring they're kept separated using their fingers or tools to prevent tangles and better tension control. They then thread them through the spindle's holes or a specially carved piece of wood.
Chain or Navajo Yarn Ply
Chain is another plying method for handspun yarns and is perfect for both dyed and undyed fibers since it won't affect colorwork. The producers will create a 200mm or eight-inch loop through the leader end's loop as if they were crocheting.
Then, they'll twist the strands together in the opposite direction. Doing so in the opposite direction will ensure the strands don't get tangled or loosen quickly.
Once there's only approximately 76mm or two to three inches of strand remaining in the loop, the spinner pulls through the loop a new, 180mm or seven-inch yarn loop and then continues spinning. They'll repeat the whole process until they've plied all the yarn.
The main advantage of this technique of yarn plying is the spinners can match thin and thin spots, producing a smooth yarn.
Machine Yarn Ply
For machine-spun yarns, the method of plying them is almost similar to the regular yarn plying method. The difference is that the machine gears are responsible for the intake control. Thus, the yarn strands will have similar tensions and lengths.
Special Yarn Ply
This plying technique results in yarns or a yarn ply with "special effects" or the so-called novelty yarns. A good example is, twisting a soft, thick fiber or strand against a twisted, thin fiber or strand. This means the strands can have different strand tensions, sizes, and more.
The process usually involves three strands: the core or base, effect, and binder. The base is responsible for the yarn's resulting strength and structure, while the decorative detail is thanks to the effect strand.
The effect can be a loop, knot, and the like. Lastly, the binder will hold the base and effect strands together from the name itself.
The Different Yarn Ply Twists
Later, you will come across two common types of twists, so it's best to have a good understanding of each of them.
Aptly named, the fibers' angle in a Z-twisted yarn resembles the letter Z because the manufacturers spun them clockwise. The resulting Z-twisted yarn is best for making left-handed twills.
With the angles resembling the letter S, the fibers or strands of S-twisted yarns were spun in a counter-clockwise direction. They're the perfect yarn for making right-handed twills.
Advantages of Plied Yarns
Plied yarns have lots of benefits over unplied yarns, but some of the most notable ones are as follows:
- More Durable
- Consistent or Balanced
- Efficient Structure
Plied yarns can withstand stretching, weight, abrasion, or friction better than unplied yarn. The durability of the yarn gets enhanced further through plying because of the additional twist direction and layer. The more twists there are, the more the fibers are bound together and better tension and pressure distribution.
Additionally, they create a structure that covers and protects most individual strands or fibers from light, wear and chemicals that would otherwise damage the yarn or your project.
Consistent or Balanced
Definitely, you won't always need balanced yarns, but they are always a breeze to work with. They also lie smoothly when crocheted, woven, or knitted and resist tangles better.
Plied yarns occupy more space because of the opposing twist's pressure. As such, the yarn will open up while maintaining its strength, so you would need less yardage of yarn when weaving or knitting with plied yarns.
Yarn Ply Types
Now that you're familiar with the basics of plying, here are some of the most common types of yarn plies that you will come across when purchasing one:
- Single Ply
- Two Ply
- Three Ply
- Four Ply
- Chained or Chainette
- S-on-S Plied
Single Yarn Ply
Aptly named, singles are yarns with a single twist. It has a round shape, can flatten easily, and has a one-direction motion that can lead to knit bias. It's also an unbalanced yarn, so it can pill and break easily. Thus, you shouldn't use singles when knitting or crocheting items that often get exposed to wear and tear, such as gloves and socks. Nonetheless, they will allow you to fill the available spaces, giving the resulting fabric or project a cozy feel and a cohesive look. You'll also be able to produce bright and smooth stitches that are free of shadows. Lastly, singles are usually the foundation of the multi-plied yarns, discussed below.
With two strands or singles wound around each other, the two-ply yarn has a signature wavy edge without any unfilled gaps. This feature and the fact that the fibers have more twists make it a more balanced and durable type of yarn. It also has a textured, organic, and toothy appearance. The two plies push away from each other, so you'll notice lots of visual movement on the knitted, woven, or crocheted item's surface. It's the perfect yarn ply for blending borders of color variations or colorwork and lace knitting.
With the individual plies twisted and the extra twisting to ply the fibers together, the three-ply yarn boasts a high level of strength. It appears rounder than the two-ply in cross-section but less round than the singles yarn. It creates even fabric and placid and smooth stitches since they line up perfectly on the surface. This plied yarn is perfect for crafting socks, gloves, and other items exposed to damaging elements.
Not only is the four-ply plus rounder and stronger than the last three types of yarn ply, but it's also denser. It gives textured cables and stitches a better structure, making it perfect for making toys, hats, and blankets.
Cabled Yarn Ply
The cabled yarn is made of multiple plied yarns plied together, so the soft, short, and delicate fibers have excellent protection. It's resistant to pilling, but the fibers are controlled, giving it a rustic look. You'll also usually find this yarn made of wool fibers. It is the perfect yarn ply to consider when you plan on using textured stitching patterns like the seed stitch or moss stitch.
Chained or Chainette
Contrary to the previous yarn plies discussed above, the chained yarn isn't twisted. Instead, the fibers were chained or knitted together like an i-cord. The yarn has narrow plies, and the strand resembles a mesh. It's mostly made from plant-based fibers or silk, so it's inelastic and smooth. Choose this type of yarn ply for accessories, garments, and items you want to be made of heavy fabric.
Also known as millefiori and multi-thread yarn ply, the yarn has ultra-fine, S-twisted single plies of fiber that are further plied together using an S-twist instead of the traditional Z-twist. This process ensures manufacturers can produce fine yarns perfect for commercial knitwear and handknitting.
The resulting yarn is airy, light, bouncy, well-behaved, and sleek with a high level of twist, so the fibers get strongly caught up within the yarn's body. Since the yarn is usually made from treated or superwash smooth wool fibers, the scales won't lock together and felt. Thus, the knitted, woven, or crocheted item will be less prone to pilling. It also ensures that the yarn and the resulting project can stretch and relax easily when washed.
Yarn Ply - In Conclusion
Your newly gained better understanding of yarn production and different types of plies will surely make a significant difference when knitting, crocheting, and weaving. The ply type will contribute to the yarn's durability and weight and stitch definition of your resulting item.
It goes without saying that the more plies the yarn has, the more durable it is and the heavier your resulting item will be. Similarly, yarns with multiple plies will produce more well-defined stitches. Thus, the yarn ply or plies you choose to use will affect how your project will feel, look, or even wear if it's a garment.
So, choose according to your needs and the projects you plan to accomplish your pattern. Good luck and happy crafting!