Have you ever looked closely at the twist in any of your yarns when you're knitting? You might notice some are twisted tightly, while others barely look twisted at all.
Yarn twist -- or the way the yarn is plied -- isn't just something spinners do to make the yarn pretty. In fact, yarn twist actually helps hold the yarn fibers together. Twist can be very important factor when you're choosing yarn for specific projects, such as cable knitting.
Taking a closer look at types of yarn twist can also help you think more carefully about your yarn choices, especially when yarn texture comes into play. Here are a few ways yarn twist can affect your yarn, plus reasons to pay attention to yarn twist.
Up close and personal with the yarn twist of Cascade Alpaca Lace yarn
How much yarn twist?
So how do spinners determine how much twist to put in a yarn? Yarn twist depends on a few things:
How you want the yarn to look
Do you want a yarn that has a bit of a halo, like mohair typically has? If so, you'll want a looser twist that allows those little fibers to fly freely. Check out the Cascade Alpaca Lace yarn pictured above. The yarn is twisted enough to keep the 100% baby alpaca together, but the twist is loose enough that some of the fibers can hang out a little and give it a warm, fuzzy texture.
The amount of yarn twist might also depend on the weight of the fiber. Fine wool, for instance, might need a little more twist because the fibers are thinner and need more help sticking together. A bulkier, coarser wool, on the other hand, might already stick together without much twist. Check out the Álafosslopi Icelandic Yarn below. This is a bulky-weight yarn and 100% of it is wool, so the fibers do a nice job of sticking together without much help from a twist.
Bulky-weight Álafosslopi Icelandic Yarn
What the yarn will be used for
Notice how coarse rug yarns have more twist in them. That's because the yarn needs to be sturdy. If the yarn did not have a lot of twist in it, imagine what that rug would look like after you walked over it for a few days. It would be a fuzzy mess!
Why yarn twist matters
There are a few reasons to pay attention to yarn twist. There are many different ways a yarn can be plied, and these differences can cause stitches to lie in different ways. Have you ever compared swatches of stockinette stitch that come from different yarns? If you have, you may have noticed that if the yarns are twisted in different ways, the stitches may also lie in different ways. That's because the variety of yarn twists contributes to the variety of yarn textures that you can knit with.
Those differences in yarn twists are even noticeable in cables. As Patty Lyons explains in her Explorations in Cables class, yarn cables can look completely different depending on what type of yarn you're using to knit them. A yarn with a lot of twist, for instance, might result in a cable that's totally different from a yarn that doesn't have a lot of twist. Choosing yarns based on twist can go a long way in helping to determine the texture and even the style of your finished knitting project!
When substituting yarns, it's important to pay attention to yarn twist because it could affect the amount of yardage you use. Let's say, for example, that your pattern uses a yarn with a loose twist, but you'd like to substitute it with a yarn that has a tighter twist. You'll actually need more yarn because the tightly twisted yarn is going to knit up tighter than the loosely twisted yarn.
Yarn twists can also affect the way your yarn drapes. A loosely twisted yarn, for instance, has more movement than a tightly twisted yarn. For that reason, the loosely twisted yarn will have more drape to it. Think of it in terms of the rug yarn I mentioned earlier. Rug yarn is tightly twisted so that the fibers don't pull apart and move as much. Loosely twisted fibers, on the other hand, have more room to breathe and move.