Balanced ply in hand spun yarn

I was asked recently what balance means for hand spun yarn. 

What is a balanced ply? 

Balanced ply is when a yarn is twist neutral, i.e. the twist in the singles is balanced by the twist in the ply, the yarn has no tendency to twist.  A yarn doesn’t have to have two strands the same thickness to be balanced. Exotic art yarns can be balanced, though a singles yarn is never really balanced unless it is felted.

You can’t really tell if a skein is balanced until it is finished. By finished I mean steamed or washed in warm water.   Over time the twist in the yarn becomes dormant, so a singles that sits around for a day or a month or two, will look like it has less twist than it has. When it is plied it may hang straight and look as if it is balanced but when it is washed any twist in the singles is ‘reactivated’ and it may not have enough ply twist.

How can you tell if a yarn is balanced? 

If a skein of yarn hangs straight – AFTER if it finished, it is balanced.

If it has too much twist it hangs with a Z twist, if it has too little twist it hangs with an S twist. 

I remember it by thinking  “It twists in the direction that needs more twist.”  so if it hangs with an S twist it needs more S twist. If it hangs with a Z twist it needs more Z but as you can’t add more Z twist, you have to take out S twist.* 

These three skeins demonstrate this. I took a balanced skein, split into three,  added more S twist to one section, took twist away from a second one, and left the rest as a balanced yarn. I re-skeined them all on a the same niddy-noddy, steamed them and hung them up.

  • Left, over-plied skein hangs with a Z twist 
  • Centre,  balanced skein hangs straight 
  • Right, under-plied skein hangs with an S twist

What you may also notice is that although the skeins were all wound on the same niddy-noddy, they are different lengths. A skein with more twist will be slightly shorter and have more bounce, this is irrespective of whether it is balanced or not but that is a discussion for another day. 

Does it matter if a skein is balanced?

 It depends what you wish to do with it.  For weaving it is not important, for crochet it is  usually not a problem. In knitting it can ruin a garment, depending on what stitch you use. Moss stitch, garter stitch and lace work are usually ok, but stocking stitch tends to slant. 

The above three skeins were each knitted into a stocking stitch swatch below

What can I do about it?

If your yarn is over or under-plyed it is fairly straightforward to rectify.

If it needs more S twist put it through the wheel again with the wheel turning anti-clockwise to add more S twist, for removing S twist turn the wheel clockwise.

How much more twist to add is challenging, I usually advise to have your wheel set on a low ratio and just add 2 -3 treadles per draft length.

Hope this is useful. if you have any topics you’d like to ask about let me know

(*If you spin your singles S and ply Z the way it hangs still tells you which way you need to adjust the twist) 

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