How do I spin thicker plied yarns?

There are at least three factors that affect the thickness of your plied yarn.

First, if you want a thicker plied yarn, you can increase the number of plies. The picture here shows exactly the same single (spun from CVM top) in, from bottom to top: a balanced 2-ply, balanced 3-ply, balanced 4-ply and balanced 5-ply.

2, 3, 4, and 5 plies from the same singlesIf you look closely, you'll notice that the 3-ply seems almost as tight as the 2-ply. In part, that's because a balanced 3-ply from the same single as a 2-ply will end up with a steeper twist angle, i.e., it's more tightly ply-twisted, so it squeezes in the singles a bit more. If I were actually spinning for a 3-ply, then, I might use less twist, so my 3-ply twist angle would be similar to my 2-ply's twist angle, and thus get a thicker 3-ply yarn (see method 2).

In general, the more plies, the thicker your plied yarn. How do you ply more than 2 strands? For 3 strands, you can run each one between the fingers of your hand to control them (4 fingers = 3 gaps). For more, it's a bit more of a wrangling session, but you can run two strands through finger-gaps so you have 4 or 5 running up (or more!) and then use the other hand to keep them plying together.

But, really, who wants to keep adding plies? I would hazard to guess that you want a thicker plied yarn, and you don't want to take even longer to get to it than your default two- or three-plying.

So, let's move on to the second way to get a thicker yarn. This one is interesting to contemplate (and do! but more on that in a second). See the picture?

2-ply with less twistWhat I did here was put less twist in the thicker yarn. Both singles have exactly the same amount of fiber drafted into the yarn as twist enters. In both, but more closely monitored in the thicker one, I'm spinning without squeezing the yarn -- a "modified woolen" technique (since to be pure woolen, I'd need to be using roving and potentially actually doing real long draw ... u-huh. I wanted to make this do-able!)

So, I'm doing two things here to get the 2-ply thicker: spinning woolen-style, i.e., not squeezing the newly spun yarn just pinching to draft fiber from the combed top, then releasing to let twist up, and re-pinching to draft more out. And I'm putting in less twist.

How do you put in less twist? On a wheel ... treadle slower, or move to a larger flyer whorl (or both!). On a spindle ... twist your spindle at a thicker part of the shaft, or rotate it more slowly (if you thigh roll, try a finger-flick, which is usually slower).

Up to now, I've always drafted the same amount out ... my "default draft" if you like. However, the most obvious way to get a thicker plied yarn might be this third technique: draft more fiber into your yarn.

2-ply drafting moreThe picture shows the balanced-two plies resulting from having thicker singles. At the bottom is the default size from before, and moving up each one, I've drafted out more roving (thicker drafting triangle) for the twist to move into so that the singles are thicker.

How do you draft out more fiber? I've noticed that many, many spinners have a default amount of fiber they draft. When I teach people to spin thicker yarns, I start by handing them pencil roving and have them spin without drafting at all. Almost everyone stumbles at this ... they automatically fall into drafting by default! But with focus and practice, they can control their hands and stop the drafting.

This is an extreme, however -- once you can spin without drafting, then you can attempt to spin while drafting less -- leaving more fiber in your drafting triangle to become yarn.

With a wheel, you can also change its settings to help your automatic drafting contain more yarn in the drafting triangle: increase draw-in by increasing the tension on the drive band, and for scotch-tension or irish-tension wheels, increase the tension on the brake band as well. This will make the fiber move out of your hand more quickly, giving you less time to draft.

Moving to a larger whorl also helps you draft out more fiber in a larger drafting triangle, since to make yarn at a slower speed, you need a wider diameter yarn.

On a spindle, use a heavier spindle and spin it more slowly to encourage a larger drafting triangle.

Whew! Got all that?

I'd love to hear if you try any of these, and how they work for you. We so often think about spinning thicker singles, but seldom consider how to spin thicker plied yarns. If there's something you do to spin thicker plied yarns, I'd love to hear so I can try it too!

Thanks, and happy spinning!


dawn said...

I tend to get too thin in my drafting unless I consciously remind myself what thickness I want the singles. So I mostly use method 3 as you described, especially with top. But, especially with carded roving, I also find that less twist makes a puffier/thicker yarn. Still, I have to continually check the thickness of my singles, every few wind-ons (I'm a spindler)

I was also very surprised when I did my first 3 ply and found it no bigger than my 2 ply. I had purposely spun the singles thinner thinking that, with three of them, I'd need to make them thinner to get the same weight yarn. Wrong! The 3 ply singles nestle in closer together and create a more "compact" yarn, it seems.

thanks so much for the informative post..and with fantastic pictures!

Cara said...

I just discovered your blog today, and I'm finding it interesting and informative--thank you!
As for the method of moving to a larger whorl to get more fiber into the yarn, I tried this somewhat by accident in a spinning class a few days ago. People were letting me try their wheels, since I'm a new spinner and don't have one yet. I was using a Journey Wheel, which was way too fast for me to keep up with drafting, and then I switched to another wheel with a low ratio. I was still in frantic mode from the Journey, and I ended up with this huge, thick (but surprisingly even) yarn. It's a cool trick--I'll have to remember it for when I want to do that on purpose!

jenknits said...

I've been trying desperately to spin thicker and just can't seem to get it thick enough. I was going to resign myself to the fact that the fiber just didn't want to be thicker. I'm working with a merino cross that's not superfine but still pretty fine. I carded it with about 25% tussah silk and I'm trying to spin a bulky worsted 2-ply. I can't seem to get more than fingering weight 2-ply and I was just sure I was letting in more fiber in the drafting zone. I'm wanting to make gauge for a certain sweater or I wouldn't be trying to hard. That said I've almost decided to just let the fiber decide what it wants to be and make that sweater out of something else.
Loved the post! It came on just the right day for me.

Amelia, belle of The Bellwether said...

@dawn, @cara, @jenknits ... Glad you found it useful!

@jenknits, on the fiber ... yeah, some really want to be drafted finer. When that's happening, try moving to a larger whorl (slower twist entry with the same treadle speed). For some reason, the slower speed seems to let the fibers draft a bit thicker. I have found that I'm slower, spinning a thicker single with a fine wool like merino, than if I left the wool to its own desires. But probably still faster than 6-plying it back up to the thickness I want!