Reverse twist and ply experiment

In a sale, and on a whim, I bought a kilo cone of ecru superfine weight 100% wool that was described as ‘reverse twist for weaving’. The price was such that it was worth the risk as an experiment with potential for dyeing.

When it arrived it was very crisp singles and had quite an overtwist, already twisting back on itself. I analysed the twist by capturing one end in a paperclip and untwisting one inch. As I had anticipated it was spun with an S twist, which is the reverse of what it would normally be; commercial yarns are usually Z spun and then S twisted, as are most hand spun yarns.

From this analysis, when untwisted right back to raw fibre I reckoned it to have been spun at about 24-26 TPI. I decided I would try plying 2 ends through my spinning wheel with Z twist, so wound 30 grams off the cone on a ball winder in preparation for making 55-60 grams plied yarn.

However, the maximum ratio I have on my Wee Peggy wheel (which was the wheel I had in use at that moment) is 1:7, and despite working a short draft length and loosening the take up I couldn’t match the ⅔ TPI (about 16) needed to balance the yarn. So I ended up with a 2 ply yarn that was pretty lively and hung in a spiral. But I was not finished!

Just to see what happened I knitted the plied yarn in a tube on a knitting machine, then washed and dried the resulting knit.
The stitches sloped severely to the left, which meant that the yarn needed less S twist, but as I was unable to remove the S twist at that stage I needed to add more Z twist to the yarn. I worked this out thanks to the excellent information on this subject by Alison Daykin and Cath Snape at Beechwoodcrafts

Before retwisting I decided to hand paint acid dyes onto the knitted tubes and set the dye in the microwave. That was a fun evening.

The tubes of plied, knitted and painted yarn.

Next I confirmed the hypothesis of the yarn needing more Z twist by studying the yarn under a jeweller’s loupe. The fibres were not running straight along the plied yarn, but were at an angle. After manually adding more Z twist to a one inch, isolated section of the yarn the fibres seemed lined up along the yarn. I checked how much twist I had added to achieve this and it was around 8 TPI.

So that was my next goal, another run through the wheel at 8 TPI, Z twist.

To preserve the colour changes and make a rounded and thicker yarn I decided to chain ply at the same time as adding the 8 TPI. I hoped this would be balanced enough to work on a knitting machine.

After a few metres it’s coming up at about 15-16 wpi, so a light DK/4 ply which may work on my standard gauge, but if not should be good on the old Knitmaster 250 which is a slightly wider gauge. I am also doing this second, chain ply on my Ashford E-Spinner for speed and am plying straight from the knitted tube.

Chain plying on the E-spinner

To achieve the 8 TPI I have set the speed dial to around 2 o’clock (which is approx 960 rpm on my E-spinner) and let 2 inches of yarn through per chain at the rate of approximately 60 chains per minute. The rhythm can be adjust, whilst the 8TPI is maintained, by combinations of: changing the speed of the spinner, making more or fewer chains per minute, or letting more or less yarn through for each chain. One solution would be:. 40 chains per minute, and 3 inches per chain.
Happy plying.

All plied together

So now the yarn has been hanked, washed and dried it’s only got a tiny bias when it hangs. I think this will knit fine! I have the wet hank a slapping and twanged it a few times but left it to dry without any weights. I think this will be very springy, strong yarn so may use it for socks.