Spinning Tuesday: 2 Ply or 3 Ply for Cables?

I’m spinning and knitting and fair amount of my holiday gifts, all accessories because I’m not completely crazy.

Right now I’m working on a scarf for my father-in-law. It will have a cable running up the center of the scarf. The same cable that will be on my mother-in-law’s mittens. They will notice and they will get misty over it. I know! Just the type of folks you want to spin and knit for.

For the scarf I’m using some New Zealand gotland. It’s commercially prepped roving. I want the cable to be smooth so I spun it worsted (don’t faint). I want the cables to pop so I spun it 3-ply.

I’ve always heard and read that a 3 ply makes a nicer, more defined cable. I had some singles left after plying my 3 ply (because my bobbins never match up), so I plied the leftovers 2 ply, and knit cables with 2 ply and 3 ply yarns.

Here are the pictorial results of the, Cables: 2 ply or 3 ply ?, smackdown

The yarn:

Gotland 2ply front, 3 ply back

I was really struck by how much hairier the 2 ply is than the 3 ply. They were spun exactly the same. The 3 ply seems to trap and tame the fuzziness of the gotland.

The swatches:

I used a six stitch cable crossed every 8 rows for both swatches. I used a needle one size bigger for the 3 ply swatch.

2 ply swatch

A nice cable, fuzzy but clearly a cable that pops even with the halo.

3 ply swatch

What a difference! Even taking into account that the yarn is bigger by one ply, that is a meaty cable. The rounder yarn makes that bad boy stand up and wave.

2 ply swatch left, 3 ply swatch right

Here they are side by side. I would use the 2 ply cable for a softer look, like on a slouchy beret or a soft looking sweater, but the 3 ply is the look I want for my scarf.

2 ply and 3 ply from the side

Here they are shot from the side, the 3 ply is definitely a crisper cable.

I love experimenting and swatching. It always makes me excited all over again about spinning.

Do you have any cables in your upcoming projects?




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Jillian is the​ author of the best-selling spinning book Yarnitecture. She is the editor​ of Knittyspin and Developmental Editor for PLY and PLY Books. She kinda loves this spinning thing and wants everyone who spins to love it too, so she teaches and writes a lot. She knits, weaves, and stitches and tries to do as much of it as she can with handspun yarn. She's always cooking up all kinds of exciting and creative things combining fiber arts. She likes her mysteries British, her walks woodsy, and to spend as much time as she can laughing. Spy on her on her website jillianmoreno.com

7 thoughts on “Spinning Tuesday: 2 Ply or 3 Ply for Cables?

  1. Bonnie

    Those pictures are great! I agree that the 3-ply looks a lot better for that cable. I’ve just started Lily Chin’s Reversible Cabled-Rib Shawl and am having trouble with the giant, 24-stitch cable. I think I’ve decided that putting the 12 stitches on a stitch holder THAT CLOSES rather than a cable needle will save me from a lot of frustration. The stitches kept falling off a regular cable needle, and the cable is too large to do without moving the stitches to a new needle/holder. Onward!

  2. Heatherly

    according to Janel Laidman, 2 ply the plies pull against eachother, but once you add in a 3rd they flow together instead of “fighting” and the contact points for rubbing against eachother and fuzzing are minimized.
    so for a more HARMONIOUS scarf, i would do 3 ply.

  3. grammiesknits

    I am currently knitting a cabled sweater for my Mother-in-law out of Plymouth Yarn Jelli Beenz. I chose it because I wanted a slightly verigated look which the light to dark blues provided and a bit of white added. I know it’s best to use a solid with cables, but they are showing up nicely. But the biggest reason was because she cannot do her own laundry any longer and I wanted the yarn to hold up well with machine washing by someone not committed to care for delicate knits. It is a three ply, but halos like your 2 ply. I think that is happening because the 3rd ply is a nylon??? Interesting test swatchs. I am a beginner spinner and I am going to try your experiment also. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Meg

    one of my first spin projects was (totally OCD) a 3ply for a Celtic cable sweater from IKK circa pre-2000. 3-ply definitely rocks!

  5. Leta

    I have taken the Great American Aran Afghan out of time-out. Trying to speak nicely to it when it behaves, in hopes of a better response from positive reinforcement.

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