Knittyspin: You like yarn, so make yarn

Layers of Texture: Cable and Crepe Yarns

Sometimes a 2-, 3- or regular 4-ply just won’t do. I want a meaty yarn, something that is full of texture on its own, but not crazy texture or an art yarn.

That’s when I spin cable and crepe yarns. Both are multiple plies, plied in two directions. Some spinners called them layered plies. They are both very round yarns with lots of surface texture.

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L: cable yarn, R: crepe yarn


A basic crepe yarn is a 3-ply yarn made with a 2-ply and a singles. The 2-ply is spun Z in the singles and over plied S. The single is spun S with enough twist to make a regular balanced ply and plied Z with the original 2-ply. The yarn looks bubbly when it’s finished. The single traps the 2-ply which pushes out between the singles as it untwists and expands on its second ply.

A basic cable yarn is two 2-ply yarns spun Z in the singles and overplied S in the first ply then plied together Z to finish. The yarn looks pebbly, like a bridge cable. On the second ply, the two 2-ply yarns lock together and bloom.

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L: cable yarn, R: crepe yarn

If you break apart cable and crepe yarns visually they look like this.
Cable yarn:

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Two 2-ply yarns with singles spun Z, plied S with lots of over twist, then plied together Z to finish.]

Crepe yarn: beauty shot

Make 2 yarns, an S-spun singles and a 2-ply with singles spun Z, plied S with lots of overtwist, then ply the two yarns together Z.

There are two keys to making wonderfully textured crepe and cable yarns: overtwist in the first ply and light twist in the final ply. Every time a crepe or cable yarn has gone wrong for me, the problem was in one of those two spots.

The first ply needs to be overplied. If your first ply doesn’t have enough overtwist, the yarn won’t pop into the delightful crepe or cable structure; it will just untwist and look like parallel yarns.

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L: double the ply twist, R: balanced ply

I put in double the ply twist I would use for a balanced 2-ply yarn in my first ply. I use a whorl a size or two smaller than the one I would use to make a balanced 2-ply. If you ply for a cable or crepe and realize that your first ply isn’t plied enough, you can always run it through your wheel again on the same setting, adding more ply twist. The first ply needs all of that twist because it will get untwisted on the second ply layer.

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Cable yarn with a loose first ply

I am always surprised at how little twist the second ply needs. I think part of it is that I’ve just plied the snot out of the first ply, but the second ply needs a very light touch. You will see when it locks into a cable or crepe structure. You can practice looking for the pop by doing ply-back samples while making your first set of plies.

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Cable yarn ply back sample

Here’s just how little twist I used for my second plies for the yarns in this article. For my first overtwisted ply, I went down a whorl size from the whorl I used to spin my singles. I figured out that a balanced yarn would take 3 treadle counts, so I put in 6 treadle counts to make it over twisted. For my second ply, I went back up a whorl size to the same whorl I used to spin my singles and used between 2 and 3 treadles to make my texture pop. That’s not a lot of twist.

If there is too much twist in the second ply, both your crepe and cable yarns will look smooshed with no texture at all.

Here’s a peek at the good bad and ugly of twist with cables and crepes.

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Cable yarns, left: too much second ply twist, center: a yarn with a good amount of twist in both plies, right: too little twist in the first ply

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Crepe yarns, left: too much second ply twist, center: a yarn with a good amount of twist in both plies, right: too little twist in the first ply.

Getting basic cable and crepe yarns under your spinning-skills belt is just the first step with these textured yarns. These are some of the most fun yarns to play with, mixing color and varying sizes of yarns in the plies.


designernamespacer Jillian Moreno is the editor of Knittyspin. She's on the Editorial Advisory board for PLY Magazine. She lives in a house packed with fiber and books.

Be warned, she's a morning person and is disgustingly chipper before 9 am.