Spinster’s Corner • 2 – Chained Plying

chain plying on a wheel
chain plying on a wheel

Chained plying, also known as Navajo plying, is a technique whereby you are creating a 3-ply yarn out of one  long  length of singles.  Chained plying is a great technique to use with hand-dyed rovings with long color runs, as it will allow you to keep the colors in the singles fairly separate and discrete.  This technique will allow you to create self-striping yarns like the one featured in this edition’s “One Fish, Two Fish Hat” pattern.

In essence, you are simply creating a finger-looped chain of singles and then applying twist to them to create what appears to be a 3-ply yarn.  This also allows you to use just one bobbin to spin all your singles, and ensures that you will have no wasted singles, since you will continue to ply them until you have used them all up.

Some things to think about before you start spinning:

  • Since you are spinning singles that will be combined in 3 plies, keep in mind you will want to spin fairly thin singles unless you want to create a bulky yarn.  Each single will comprise approximately one-third of your final plied yarn.
  • Since you can control where the color changes start and stop by where you make your loops, you may wish to simply draft this roving from one end to the other (rather than stripping off thinner sections of roving, which will make the stripes much shorter) in a continuous fashion.
  • Because you are taking a length of yarn, and basically folding it back on itself in thirds, any variation in your singles will be magnified – or at least magnified more than if you were spinning a traditional 3-ply yarn with singles coming from three separate bobbins.  Try to spin the most consistent yarn you can, and you’ll be happier with the final results.

To begin, we’ll assume that you have spun a bobbin’s worth of singles.  These are the ones I spun for the One Fish, Two Fish hat:

chain plying

I spun my singles with a worsted style, inchworm technique, and put just a little bit more twist into the singles than I would have for a 2-ply yarn.  I find that the chained-ply technique will unwind your singles slightly, so I try to compensate for that a bit.

I then set up my wheel to ply.  I put the bobbin on a lazy kate to my left-hand side.  Normally I use my left hand to control the twist entering the fiber and use my right hand to draft.   Set yourself up with the bobbin on whichever side you use to control the twist normally.  You will be plying the singles in the opposite direction from which they were spun (i.e., if the singles were spun Z (clockwise), ply them S (counter-clockwise), or vice versa).  Use the largest/slowest whorl you’ve got available, or at least one that is one size larger than the one you used to spin your singles.  You’ll want to treadle very slowly, particularly at the beginning while figuring out what to do with your hands.  This will help counteract overtwisting, which is a common problem with this technique.

chain plyingNext, you’ll want to have a length of waste yarn attached to the bobbin, and create a loop in the end of it.  That’s the loop on my thumb and index finger of my left hand in the picture to the left.   Through this loop, pull the end of your singles off the bobbin, and then make another loop in the end of your singles.  That’s the loop you see on the fingers of my right hand.  (In this photo, I’ve got the bobbin in my lap, but once I’m ready to ply, I pop it onto my lazy kate down on the floor to my left.)

Now we are ready to start plying.  This is a little bit like learning to rub your stomach and pat your head simultaneously.  It will feel odd and a little discoordinated until you get a rhythm going that suits you.   I use my right hand to reach thru the loop in the singles and grab a section of singles yarn.  I use my left hand to hold back the twist that the wheel is putting in to ply the singles and, once I release the twist from that point, I then use my left hand to smooth the singles into place in the plied yarn.   The below video shows the process in action.

Once you’ve gotten proficient, you’ll be able to create great 3-ply yarns using this method.  A few other things to think about with regards to your finished yarn, that you can play around with to achieve the results you want in your plied yarn:

  • Sometimes a small hole is created at the point where the yarn is folded back on  itself.  Spinning very even singles will help to diminish this, but I also like to give the yarn about a half-turn of extra twist with my left hand (or the one controlling the twist) as I let the twist enter the yarn, pinching it as I do, to help decompress this area for a smoother yarn.
  • This technique is also great for spinning up single-colored or more monochromatic yarns, so don’t limit your self to just hand-painted fibers.  (It’s very helpful if you are someone who happens to have most of your bobbins filled with various projects, as you only need two: One to spin the singles on, and one to ply back onto.)
  • Remember that, depending on your knitted gauge and type of project, what seems like a long run of color in your yarn may not wind up being a large stripe in the finished piece.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment!  This technique is very versatile and lends itself to a lot of different yarn looks.  You can try spinning singles with a lot of different scraps in one section, and then alternating those with a more solid color to get an interesting knitted or woven effect.
  • Have Fun!

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