Monday, April 23, 2012

Single ply yarns.

Actually, the name is misleading. Because plying is, by definition, strands of fiber wrapped around each other, single ply yarns should really be called "not plied yarns".

But anyway.

Here is our culprit:
It is simply a column of fiber, loosely twisted together. Unlike a plied yarn, which is several of those columns, twisted around each other:
That's a two ply yarn, one ply of blue and one ply of green.

What holds yarns together, ultimately, is friction. The twist of the yarn holds the fibers together, and the friction of them rubbing together keeps the yarn from pulling apart. The more twist, the more friction, the stronger the hold, the stronger the yarn. (Unless you overtwist to the point the fibers break, but that's not today's problem.) A single ply of yarn simply doesn't have enough friction to hold itself together under stress.

That flaw explains all the problems that single ply yarns have: The pilling, general weakness, and other abrasion issues are all because there's not enough twist/friction to hold the fiber in place. That's the reason single ply yarns are 'splitty' to knit with, too.

Yes, the structure of knitted fabric CAN help hold the fibers in place. But that means knitting so tightly that any softness in the 'hand' of the yarn (how it feels) is lost. See this?
Size two/2.75mm needles. It's still flexible, of course, but it's not the soft fuzz-fest that most people imagine when they first handle a single ply yarn. (Madeline Tosh, I'm lookin' at you.) This is going to be a scarf; single ply yarns are only good for low-abrasion projects like this. Socks, to be worn inside shoes, will be destroyed simply by rubbing on the shoes.

If single ply yarns suck so much, you ask, why am I knitting with one? Well, hell! Look at that color shift! I couldn't resist. But it IS splitty, and quite annoying to work with.

Why do manufacturers keep making them, then? Well, think about it. Plying adds another entire manufacturing step to the yarn making process. It uses a lot of power. Power costs money. Basically, twist is expensive. That explains not only single ply yarns, but all these under-twisted commercial yarns on the market.

If you're still interested in this topic, try "The Knitter's Book of Yarn" by Clara Parkes. She explains all this and more, in fascinating detail. :)

Now, I'm gonna go spin. I've got this glorious merino/nylon sparkle blend from Frabjuous Fibers and I can't wait to see it finished. Which means plying.


Kitsune said...

So, to solve this problem, couldn't one just buy two skeins of said single ply yarn and then ply them at home?

Louiz said...

That reminds me, must put that on my birthday list!

Donna Lee said...

But there are some singles that are so beautiful that they just can't be resisted. I have a pair of mini mochi socks that I love, despite they're penchant for pilling. They're soft and feel so good on my feet. I know their time is limited but I love them anyway.

Jennifer Crowley said...

Also, I think single ply yarns get a lot of people because the hand of them in the skien is very soft. No matter how much I try to explain that more often than not, "soft" yarns don't wear as well as coarser yarns (either because coarser yarns have longer staple lengths, or are more plied). It's fine to use an underspun or single ply yarn, you just have to be aware of the drawbacks.

Me? Give me a good plied yarn any day.

Amy Lane said...

Okay-- I still don't understand how mini-mochi stays together quite so well, because that's what I thought too... but no, it actually makes a decent sock yarn. puzzles the hell out of me!

Kayleigh Garner said...

If you full the single well, almost to felting, it will hold the yarn together better allowing you to use a looser knitting gauge :)

Anonymous said...

I hate knitting with single ply but it's my favorite to crochet with. It gives the stitches a smoother more elegant look and the structure of the stitches strengthens the yarn a lot.