Thursday, January 27, 2011

Avoiding yarn twist--why does it matter?

The two most recent posts touched on yarn twist and how to avoid it.  However, in a surprising twist (har!) an important point was overlooked. As MB wrote in the comments: "There's one detail I don't understand yet--why does it matter if the yarn twists?"

What a great question!

Yarn, of course, is twisted in its very nature--that's how it's made. Specifically, yarn involves imparting twist to overlapping lengths of raw fiber--the twist holds the fibers in place. In other words, yarn is twisted out of raw fiber--no twist, no yarn. The problem is therefore not twist itself, but too MUCH twist--overtwist as it is sometimes called.

Spinners, both hand- and commercial- have come up with clever, clever ways of restraining the power of the twist to the yarn itself, so that the twist does not cause problems in the finished fabric.  Yarn made of several plies (i.e., twisted, then countertwisted) is one familiar example.  However, sometimes these spinning strategies do not succeed, or sometimes we knitters inadvertently add excess twist to yarn by winding and re-winding yarn, center-pulling each time. 

The most obvious announcement of overtwisted yarn is when the yarn itself humps up, twisting and writhing in the stretch between the skein of yarn and the knitting.  

overspun yarn twisting and writhing

This sort of overtwisted yarn is usually dealt with by stopping every so often and letting the project dangle, slowly turning and turning, to rid the excess twist. 

Although this sort of overtwisted yarn is annoying, at least you know what you have and can take steps.  More often, overtwist is sneakier than this.  The yarn is overtwisted, yes, but not enough to announce itself in the yarn.  Instead, this sneaky kind of overtwist announces itself first when the finished fabric biases (slants). 

biased knitted fabric
Biased fabric is actually all-too-common.  Commercially knit garments often suffer this problem, and it is most obvious when you see sweater seams not hanging straight, but instead, spiraling around the torso of the wearer. Sometimes, not only do the seams spiral, but the entire garment is biased ("racked") also. Hand knit garments, sadly, can also suffer this problem.  

biased ("racked") garment with spiraling seams
It may happen that the yarn itself is overtwisted when bought, a sad state of affairs.  However, we can at least avoid ADDING to the problem, and that is why it pays to take whatever steps possible to avoid creating additional, excess yarn twist. The previous post indicates how to do this:  smoothly unspooling yarn from the outside of the skein or cake into which it is wound.  

(PS: Since the last post, I found a demo of a neat-o gadget which helps with smooth unspooling: a "yarn susan." The demo at the link does not mention the twist issue, but does clearly show what unspooling smoothly from the outside of a skein ought to look like.)

You have been reading TECHknitting blog on "avoiding twisted yarn--why does it matter?"


Sea said...

I have been having trouble with a "balled" yarn that "untwists" as you cast on!...tricky..I'm haing to stop every few sitches and re-twist to stop breakages occuring....The yarn is beautiful to work with thought...should I be centre pulling the ball?

TECHknitter said...

Ah--the famous untwisting yarn at cast on--long tail cast on, I assume? This is a common problem, because casting on does, as you say, untwist the yarn due to the motion of the cast on itself. However, if you try to solve this problem by center-pulling the yarn, you'll end up twisting the yarn you're planning to knit with, also. So, you might wish to consider casting on some other way . A waste yarn provisional cast on is pretty nifty and easy to use, and especially appropriate for a fragile breakable yarn.

Thanks for writing. TK

Mama Raye said...

I do something I learned from a gardening book a long time ago, for garden twine...put your yarn cake into a teapot and pull the outside strand (not the center strand!) through the spout. The teapot keeps the yarn from rolling away, and the yarn does not get twisted because you are pulling from the outside of the cake. Try it! You do need a teapot with a big enough opening for your yarn cake. Another plus: The teapot looks so darn cute sitting there next to your knitting chair.

grandma mary said...

Is it possible that the way I hold the working yarn to tension it will impart unwanted twist? I wrap it around my little finger and I can see that it gets twisted doing that.

C said...

Thank you for the detailed explanation! I realized that the biggest thing keeping me from converting to the yarn cake is the fact that the majority of my knitting is done during my commute. Love the "yarn susan" and Mama Raye's teapot idea, but neither would be practical on the train. I will have to do some brainstorming!

Liz said...

Since reading your post on twisting, I have started using a heavy brass candlestick for a "yarn susan". It sits on my side table and the yarn cake spins around easily - no more over-twisted yarn!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Grandma Mary--if the yarn is twisted when it leaves your little finger, and enters the garment like that, then I would think the answer to your question is "yes, the yarn can be twisted in the hand." As to whether this is significant, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Does your fabric bias? If so, find a different way to hold the yarn, if not, carry on as before!

Azalea said...

Re commuter knitting: Would the old idea of a hole in a plastic bag do the trick? (Put the cake inside, feed the end through a hole, or better yet, through the almost-closed zip top.)

For sit-at-home knitting: what about building a spindle spinner out of toy pieces, the same way as the Tinkertoy Swift <a href=">

New York Built said...

I knit from the outside of the ball, since I learned about twist from the great spinners and knitters on Men Who Knit who showed with exhaustive detail the problems and solutions.

The teapot idea and single tube solution forces you to break the yarn whenever you have an "issue". The yarn ball enclosures that open completely have been very good to my experience.

For home, I ended up choosing the toilet paper roll between two clamps (a $4 solution from Home Depot). The lazy Susan idea appeals to me more, but ye gods, a small, thin elegant solution must exist. I search further.

Puddytat purr said...

I've recently been investigating this whole twist matter myself - I came up with the ingenious decision to Sind a double stranded centre pull ball for TAAT socks.

This is when I discovered the whole twisting problem!

I then realised, as you explained that this is not a problem if the yarn is taken from the outside and was wondering about creating a Lazy Susan (I always come up with ideas after someone else *sigh*)

Are these available commercially or any ideas on how to make one?

Judi FitzPatrick said...

What great information you offer!

I've awarded you the Stylish Blogger Award. If you choose to accept the award you will find it here.

Thanks for sharing all of this wonderful information.

Peace, Judi

kmkat said...

Search for "yarn bowl" on Etsy and find a wide variety of them, prices starting @ $24 and generally in the $30-40 range. A frugal solution would be a large can with a plastic lid. Cut a hole and slit in the lid -- voila! Or cut a hole and slit in the side of a small cardboard box.

Okay, I am going to go do that right now. The Noro Silk Garden I am using for stripes in a hat is driving me NUTS with its twisting. :-)

MB said...

Great, thanks for the update!

merrilymarylee said...

Periodically I feel I should let you know WHAT A TREASURE you are!

TECHknitter said...

:) Thanks, Merrilymarylee!

Sara said...

I have two things to say on the topic of yarn twist:

First, WHICH SIDE of the yarn cake you pull the yarn out of matters. Take a look at your nice little illustration of the rolled-up tape-measure in the prior post. You've got it coiled up so that the free end on the outside points to the left, and as you pull from the inside, you get Z-twist in the tape. However, if you coil it back up the same way, and then flip the roll over so the free tail is pointing to the right, and pull the center again, you'll see that now you have S-twist. So, while pulling from the center always imparts twist, the direction of twist depends on which side you're pulling out of. (Also, there is no need to get in a bind over whether you should wind clockwise or counterclockwise -- if you want the opposite of what you did, you can just flip the completed cake over. Every ball is wound both clockwise and counterclockwise, depending on which way you're looking at it.)

Second, you can use this! If a yarn is perfectly twisted for your needs and style of knitting, awesome: pulling from the outside will work great. If it's overtwisted or undertwisted, however, you can use a center pull to address the problem. Suppose you've got yourself an overtwisted S-twist yarn -- arrange your cake so you're pulling the direction that imparts Z-twist, and you'll partially correct that and make the knitting more pleasant (arrange it the S-twist way, on the other hand, and it's Telephone-Cord City). Suppose you've got an undertwisted Z-twist single, which is wanting to come apart on you -- arrange your cake to add a little more Z-twist, and that problem should stop. And, of course, you can address overtwisted Z-twist and undertwisted S-twist by pulling from the S-twist side.

So, adding twist is (a) something you can control and (b) not always a bad thing.

Tallguy said...

I am so glad you have said this! I've been telling people the very same thing for years, and no one believes me. Now I see that others know the same things I have studied, and I didn't make it all up! Thanks for this explanation, and for getting the word out. Most people just don't care.

naomipaz said...

AI almost always am on the move with my knitting and crochet so I do need a center pull technique.

Thanks to Sara and Tallguy for pointing out the polarity of a cake of yarn.

Another thing which will impart or undo twist is friction.

I always wind yarn on a ballwinder and find that that will work best if the feed yarn is held with some tension, especially for lace yarn.

Of course this stretches the yarn.

So I figured out that you can use a core of waste yarn - grabby is best some kind of bulky boucle - and, depending on how much of the actual yarn you want to wind, use 1/2 to a whole 50 gram quantity of waste yarn, which you can use over and over again.

Once that's been wound, attach the actual yarn you want to wind with a slip knot (if it comes undone create the slip knot in the opposite non-intuitive direction and it will remain intact) wind up the yarn applying the necessary tension and then take all of it off the winder.

THEN, take the waste yarn core and wind it back onto the winder and you have a cake of yarn with a very roomy center.

When using the center pull, you can decide if the yarn should pull out of the top or bottom of the cake or you may find that it doesn't make that much difference because it isn't being compressed by the yarn around it.

Yes it will eventually need to be rewound because it becomes really floppy, but so what.


wildwind96 said...

This post is so very timely. I am finally at a point in my knitting (4 years and 8 sweaters later) where I am starting to analyze my fabric. I am overtwisting my knit stitches and my knits do tend to bias. I was starting to fret that I was making a catastrophic knitting error...grateful for all the posts here and excited about taking a closer look at how I cake and pull my yarn! This is exactly the information I needed to take my knitting to the next level, happy happy knitter...

TECHknitter said...

Glad to hear you are finding the blog useful! Thanks for writing. Best, TK