Quick Tips on Twist


Paula J. Vester

November 2003


It is sometimes hard to explain to new spinners why even though you can spin yarn tight and fine, that there may be times you may not want to do that. Why is it that sometimes your thread feels good and sometimes it doesn't, even though you are using the same fleece, and the yarn appears to be the same general diameter?

Crimp, twist and size are all related once the thread is spun. Sometimes we cannot even determine the crimp, because the fibers have been prepared for us and we never saw the original fleece. Twist is something measurable, but do we want to bother? Size is also a subjective thing - it looks like "lace weight" to Margaret, but I call it baby yarn; sport weight and double knitting weight both look the same to me, and bulky yarn to Annie is not necessarily the same thing as bulky to Janet. And then you buy the sample cards and different companies call their yarn different things; what should a person do?

I still say, "if the yarn does what the spinner wants it to do and feels the way a spinner likes, then it is right"; but let's look at crimp, twist and size and talk about how you can control them and create the yarn you like using this information.

As for crimp; if you start with a fleece, you can look and measure and count (or estimate - I don't plan to start counting my crimps, every time, ed) the crimps per inch. Make notes; general info you have gathered about crimps per inch for fleeces you have known and loved. Here are some general counts: Corriedale - 5 crimps per inch; Lincoln - 2cpi; Merino - 11cpi; Polwarth - 8cpi; Romney - 4cpi; Border Leicester - 2.5cpi. You can see how different Merino and Romney are, and yet we often see the two yarns spun about the same. The bounciness of the particular wool is related to the crimps per inch - the more crimps, the more stretch and return the wool has. You may have seen that yourself when winding skeins of Romney and Merino and removing them from the niddy noddy. To utilize that crimp/rebound ability to its fullest, your yarn should resemble in twist the crimp formation of the wool. Your plied or finished yarn should have about the same number of twists per inch as crimps per inch.

So, sometimes you spin up a merino wool and the yarn is very bouncy and you love it, and sometimes you spin up the same wool, but it doesn't feel as nice, you might look at the number of twists you have (or have not) put in the yarn. Vary that and you may see a change in your yarn.

You can spin a very fine yarn with very little twist - it just takes practice - but most of us increase twist the fineness of the spin. You might want to try reducing the twist, even in your fine threads, if you are using a more coarse wool. Tip: work your hands quicker or move to a larger whorl (horrors!!, doesn't a smaller whorl indicate a better spinner? NOPE.).

Personally, I don't like a plied yarn that has a very loose ply - indicating the twists per inch. It looks like I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing, But with some wools, it may improve the way the yarn feels if I were to try spinning it that way. Don't keep your eyes on me at meetings to see if I am busily counting and treadling and counting - you won't see it. I tend to lean toward the zen of the spin, and probably always will. But I do go with the concept that some yarns were meant to be spun thin and some were meant to be spun thick - not all wool is created equal. Some sheep were just born to be carpeting. If you are in a place in your spinning where you want more control, then maybe it is time to play and experiment - not for a project, but for a concept. Have at it and good spinning.