When I was a youngster, and when I wanted more of a treat, Mom would ask "Haven't you had enough yet?" Well, really, wouldn't you think that if I had enough, would I ask for more? It was a very simple issue then -- I knew when I had enough, and when I still wanted more.
Now that I am older, and now that I have to decide for myself when I have had enough, and knowing that a lot of things are not good for us (me specifically) when taken in excess, the issue is much more complex. There are many more factors to consider, and it is harder to know when enough is enough.
And so now that I am spinning, my spinning teacher and the books I've read all warned me to be careful not to over-twist. But they never said how much is enough. We are told to put in "enough" twist in the yarn, and that it should be suitable for the intended purpose. Ah-ha! So now we have to know how we intend to use this yarn, and to know how much twist we are going to need. As we study further, we find out that the amount of twist will determine how soft this yarn will be, how well it will wear, the texture it will produce in knitting or weaving. This spinning thing is not as easy as I thought it would be!
When I first began spinning, and when I did a balanced ply, I found that my yarn was sadly very poorly plied, and very wimpy. I wanted a sturdy yarn, with good definition, and that didn't split for me when I was knitting with it. So I was sure to put in lots and lots of twist when plying. In fact, I was vastly over-plying -- but it did give me a yarn I liked. There was some kinking when in the skein, or when using it, but that was alright. Certainly, I can "set the twist" and it would be just fine.
So I have now decided it is time to do a study and find out how much twist we really need in a yarn. What effect does under-twist or over-twist have on our work? Does the twist really matter that much?
I have spun and knitted a couple of samples for you with singles, and with a 2-ply yarn. First, I used a single that had a moderate amount of twist (neither too loose or too tightly twisted) and have knit a swatch.
I then did another swatch with a single that had a lot more twist in it. I then washed and blocked the yarns with some tension to keep it straight, and it looked very nice and normal (no excess twist). You can see it here
The final swatch is a 2-ply yarn. I have part of it with a balanced yarn, and then with an over-twisted ply.
I remembered that many people have told me that you can block out your knitting, or that they will settle down once you have washed the pieces, or have "set the twist". So I did that. I soaked and washed the pieces together and then laid them out on a towel to dry. I patted them flat, and let them take the shape they wanted.
Here, you can see the first swatch with the moderate twist in a single.
It has retained its rectangular shape, and seems to be very much as expected.
The overly twisted single swatch really shows what can happen with a strong twist -- even though I had "set the twist"!
It biased badly!! It is nearly a diamond shape, and that is not what I wanted. The stitches themselves seem to be settled, but the whole piece has bent all out of shape.
The swatch with the plied yarn shows this dramatically.
The bottom, with overly twisted yarn, still is slanted, while above it, with the balanced yarn, shows a nicely-shaped rectangular piece of knitting. I think that I could have blocked the bottom section nice and straight, but I feel that it would all slant again when it was washed the next time. All of these washed pieces were simply laid out flat to dry; I did not pin them or stretch them in any way. It has helped somewhat in that the stitches are knit fairly tight, so there is not much room to move around.
I have a t-shirt that twists on me. That is, the side seams don't stay on the sides. There is a definite twist to the whole t-shirt; the body turns slightly to the right from the arms down. It's an undershirt, so it doesn't matter too much, except it is hard for me to accept that it won't hang properly! I can see how annoying it would be if it was an outer-wear shirt with seams that would not lay where they should. I would be constantly trying to straighten it, and it would just move back where it wanted!
This brings me to the question of what would happen if I blocked the twist out of the yarn, knit a garment and then sold it. The buyer would take it home, and eventually wash it. BROING!! It would twist all out of shape, bringing tears to a young mother, thinking that she had ruined her darling daughter's lovely little sweater! When in reality, it was not her fault at all, but the fault of the spinning. Should I warn her not to wash it?
I wonder whether many knitters -- or even many spinners -- are aware of the effect twist has on their knitting. They understand that yarn is made of twisted fibres (in some weird way), but that might be the extent of it. Are knitters aware that they put in Z twist with every stitch (throwers, or English knitters)? Luckily, most knitting yarns are S-spun, Z-plied to compensate for that. Do they know that they put in twist when taking yarn from the centre of the ball, and the opposite twist from the outside?
Now, does this really matter at all? Isn't knitting just supposed to be fun?