Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 14 May 2012

Spin to Knit: Small Experiments in Twist Direction in Knitting Yarns

Knitters sometimes find that their yarns untwist as they knit.  This can occur to varying degrees, depending upon whether a knitter works Continental or Canadian/British style, how the yarn is spun and plied and the direction it’s taken from the yarn package as you knit.

I find that commercial yarns untwist when I use them, but I don’t have that problem with my hand spun.  I set out to investigate why this might be by sampling a favourite commercial knitting yarn and my own hand spun wool.

To begin, let’s avoid knitting style terms such as Canadian/British, American and Continental.  These terms mean different things to knitters.  Besides, there are many ways to manipulate yarn with knitting needles, both culturally and personally.  For this discussion, I’ll be talking about whether or not I wrapped the yarns:

·         Clockwise around the working needle or

·         Counterclockwise around the working needle

My swatches are worked flat over 21 stitches, with a border of 3 garter stitches around stockinette.  Each section has 21 rows of stockinette fabric.  In each sample, the bottom section is worked with the yarn wrapped clockwise (Z); the top section is knitted with the yarn wrapped counterclockwise (S).  You can click on the photographs for a more detailed view.

The first 3 samples are knitted from Custom Woolen Mill’s 2 ply wool yarn, a softly spun S spun/Z plied yarn which is popular for knitted soakers and longies.  The fabric knit from this yarn is slightly irregular, fulls well and softens dramatically when washed.  As are many commercial yarns, this one is spun and plied opposite to the direction I use in most of my hand spun yarns.

The yarn for Sample 1 was taken from the middle of a centre pull ball (my preference).  The bottom section, worked in my usual counterclockwise (S) wrapping style, gives me a loose, irregular fabric.  The yarn untwisted as I worked and the stitches are uneven.  When I switched to wrapping my yarn clockwise (Z), the stitches appeared more consistent, and felt firmer.

Sample 2 (bottom) shows what happens when yarn is taken from the outside of the ball in a clockwise (Z) direction and wrapped counterclockwise (S). The top portion is taken clockwise (Z) and wrapped clockwise (Z).  The stitches in this swatch seemed more consistent to me than those in Sample 1.

Sample  3: Here the yarn comes from the outside of the ball counterclockwise (S) and is knitted (S) in the bottom section, then Z in the top section.  The fabric seemed more consistent than that in Sample 1, but less than Sample 2.

I washed the samples together in hot water with dish soap and fulled them (agitation, rubbing, but no dramatic temperature shifts).  The swatches were dried flat, unpinned:

The variations among samples are apparent when they're placed side by side. The yarn colour is more accurate in this photograph. 

The finished gauges are as follows, with the first set of numbers in each row being the bottom section gauges and the next set the top section gauges:

·         Sample 1: 4 stitches/6.5 rows per inch; 5 stitches/8 rows per inch

·         Sample 2: 4.5 stitches/7 rows per inch; 5 stitches/7.5 rows per inch

·         Sample 3: 4.5 stitches/6 rows per inch; 5 stitches/8 rows per inch

My final sample is a Z spun, S plied yarn from a Romney roving, fulled severely in the yarn (hot and cold water baths, agitation and whacking).  This swatch (in progress) shows how the yarn untwists on the needle when I wrap the yarn clockwise (Z):

My conclusions? Twist direction and the direction you throw your yarn do affect your fabric.  The samples show why it’s not a good idea to switch knitting styles mid-project.  What you do from there is your choice.  The loss of twist and its effects may not concern you.  If they do, you can compensate by changing how you throw your yarns, by switching needle sizes for firmer fabrics, by adding or subtracting twist as you spin and ply or by changing your twist direction when you spin. I discovered that my knitting style maintains the twist direction in my handspun yarn, subtracts it when I'm using many commercial yarns and that I can tighten my gauge considerably by changing my yarn wrapping style, along with changing needle sizes.

The most important lesson I take from this?  This small experiment in mindful knitting reminded me how minor actions affect outcomes in our knitting or our lives.  Being mindful is not about changing anything, but changes do come whether you are mindful or not.  How you handle the changes, whether you ignore them, resist them or choose to work with them is up to you.

Whew! Are we dizzy, yet?



  1. Yet again you have certainly given me a lot to think about. Wow! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading my endless babble about string!

  2. I'm confused. Doesn't the yarn wrap around the needle the same way if you throw with your right or left hand? If not, the stitches are twisted on the needle with the rear leg in front, no?

  3. Yup. That's why I specifically talked about the direction the yarn is wrapped, rather than throwing or using left or right hands. The stitches are twisted on the needle the way I wrap, which makes no difference as long as I straighten them out on the next pass.
    If you "pick" your yarn, instead of throwing, there can be a difference in direction, as well.
    I took this approach because I saw so many styles of knitting when I taught classes, some of which were unique to a specific knitter. (There are also quite a number of ways to knit on the European Continent, I discovered. There's also Peruvian knitting, etc.) Each method worked, as long as the stitches weren't twisted in the fabric.
    I'll show you what I mean tomorrow night.

  4. Hm, very interesting! I occasionally have problems with fabric biasing, but I find that almost everything evens out with a good wet-blocking. It's more of an annoyance while knitting it, honestly.

    1. Yes, fabric will bias if it is highly twisted and if the stitch structure supports it--stockinette loves to bias and some stitch patterns are designed to slant. Minor biasing does block out.

      I was curious, though, about all the comments I've read and seen on videos regarding yarn movement and twist. I'm not sure I'm much concerned about it.

  5. so interesting. I'm now spinning left and plying right as I knit "continental" but I'm anxious to do samples with my plied silk and see what the outcome is. Fascinating. important to a positive outlook.

    1. Although meditation has no "goal," I've found that practicing mindfulness improves many things, including my spinning, just because I pay closer attention to what's happening in the moment.