Spinning Tuesdays: Knitting with Handspun – Ply Twist

So, I’ve finished spinning my Tour de Fleece singles, yay!

Now it’s time to ply. Easy thing right, just ply?

Ply twist is another piece of the knitting with handspun puzzle. It can make a big difference to your finished knitted fabric, both to the look and drape.

Here are the three samples I did for this particular yarn. One is slightly under plied, one is balanced and one is over plied.

Single, slightly under plied, balanced, over plied

The color change in the yarn may make it a little harder to see the difference in the yarn, so lets look closer

under plied, balanced, over plied

I measure my ply twist by measuring bumps per inch. I lay my plied yarn next to a ruler and count the number of bumps. For the three yarns above the under plied yarn has 4 bumps per inch, the balanced 6 and the over plied 10. If you want a much more accurate measurement, measure twist angle.

For me measuring bumps is quick, and most of the time an ish measurement is all I want.

The under plied yarn is pretty floppy, I don’t like how it feels or looks, even as a yarn. The balanced yarn is ok, it would work. I really like the look and feel of the over plied yarn. It’s not crazy over plied, like I’d over ply for socks, I just let it get rounder looking than the balanced ply.


I knit small 15-stitch, stockinette samples of each yarn, using a US #6 needle.

Bottom to top: under plied, balanced, over plied

They look a feel very different to me. The gauges for stitches to one inch are: under plied – 3.75, balanced – 4  and over plied 4.25.

I love how the color is much more blended in the over plied sample, the under plied looks much more marled.

The feel of the over plied is denser, not really in a stiff way (but if I kept twisting the ply it would get to stiff pretty fast) in more of a durable way, they way I would want a sweater yarn.

Here’s a closer picture:

Top left, over plied; top right, balanced; bottom, under plied.

This is so exciting to me! It makes me think about a  design with different ply twist in different spots for drape or color control.

What do you think?  Does this make you curious enough to experiment with ply twist?


Please, no one point out that my gauge is wrong for the Tappen Zee that I want to knit.  Ack. I’m going to keep swatching with different needle sizes and may try a tiny bit more ply twist, but I love the yarn as it is. I may monkey with the math of the pattern or I may have to choose a different sweater.

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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

14 thoughts on “Spinning Tuesdays: Knitting with Handspun – Ply Twist

  1. Felicia from sweetgeorgia

    I love your experiments, Jillian. I like the overplied yarn and how it looks too… but in the knitted sample, it looks extra textured. I wonder if this is just the photo, or if it’s for real. If you were knitting a cabled sweater, say, would you pick the balanced or the overplied?

  2. Jillian

    I would use the overplied. It’s rounder like a three ply, which is gorgeous for texture. Maybe for next week I’ll do some plain colored sample and different stitches.

  3. Patti

    Thanks for the side by side swatches! I just tried plying for the first time yesterday, and have been wondering how it’ll look knit up. Of course, I have an example of all three within 30 yards of yarn, but it’s good to know how each will knit up for later on (when I hopefully have longer lengths and more even plying!)

  4. Lotsofhermies on Rav

    Wow! I never knew plying could make such a difference in your yarn. I will have to keep that in mind now when I spin and ply. I have to say your experiments are better than a book on spinning a lot of times. Thanks for the great information.

  5. Renee Anne

    I think all three yarns have their uses. I think for what you’re planning to make, the over-plied is perfect. My very first handspun is under-plied (and thick-n-thin) and I think I’ll eventually use it for a hat of some sort. I think it would work well as a hat because it’ll serve it’s purpose and I won’t feel bad about how crappy my handspun yarn is in the first place 🙂

  6. Kate

    This is so seriously cool. It never even occurred to me (I don’t know how!) that how I plied my singles could change the look of the yarn!

  7. Robin F.

    I don’t spin but this lesson has been invaluable to me. It changes the way I evaluate yarns. Thanks so much.

  8. Caroknox

    I love to spin softly and then overply a bit to get that lovely strand of pearls look in the 3rd yarn. But I have to say that as much as I don’t care for the under plied in the skein, I kind of like it in the knitted swatch. I like that the knit stitch V’s are tilted – one very narrow leg and one wide. It gives a definite vertical element to the swatch that I wouldn’t have expected. Wouldn’t that be a cute hat?! Thanks, Jillian!

  9. Kimberly

    Thank you so much for sharing this info and the photos. I have always just spun merrily away at my fibers and never really thought about what differences the amount of twist could make when plying. In the last couple of years, I have gotten more serious about knitting and trying to spin a particular type of yarn, so this information is fabulous!

  10. Caitlin

    I don’t know anything about spinning (yet–class next month) but I find this fascinating. I loved how you showed us the results of using the differently plied yarns. So instructive.

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