Knittyspin : - Winter 2017


Feature: Knittyspin



Spiraling Out of Control

Any time I wear something spiral plied, there are oohs and ahhs and someone always asks how it’s made and is it hard? Spiral plying looks cool and is dead easy.

I feel like with my spiral plied and knit or woven yarns, I’m getting the biggest bang for my buck timewise, because it’s quick to do and looks much more complex than it is. I love when that happens!

Strauch Finest Motorized Carder and Louet Corriedale ready for batt making
Thick and thin spiral plied yarn; knitted left and woven right.

Spiral plying is the type of plying you did when you first started spinning and your teacher probably told you were doing it wrong. But no, you weren’t wrong; you were advanced, already on your way to making sexy yarn.

A basic, balanced 2-ply yarn asks that you use two singles; usually the same size, held under equal tension and apply the twist equally (they are held at the same angle when entering the ply).

Will these three colors make a heathered batt?
A balanced 2-ply yarn has plies of the same size, held at the same angle and tension

A basic spiral yarn changes the tension and the twist angle equation. One ply is held straight and under tension, like a core yarn. The second ply is held under almost no tension and between a 45-90 angle to the taut ply. The little, angled ply wraps or spirals around the straight and taut ply like a snake. That’s it, that’s spiral plying!

This batt is more semi solid than heather
A spiral ply, 2-ply yarn has one ply under tension and one ply under little tension and at a 45-90 degree angle to the ply under tension. The yarns in these photos were already spiral plied and finished. I un-plied them to take these photos, which is why the spiral ply already looks crimped. It also shows how much that ply spirals around the core ply.

I set up my wheel a little slower, with a little less take-up than a regular 2-ply. I don’t want an overplied spiral. It loses its poof. I work a spiral slower than a regular 2-ply. I like to feel as though I’m feeding the spiraling ply onto the core ply. I don’t rush it.

That is all there is to a spiral ply. You can monkey with the amounts of tension between the two plies. The more contrast in tension, the more extreme the look of the spiral is. Try different angles of entry into the ply with the spiraling single. A more extreme angle makes a denser spiral. These two little things make a big difference to the look of your yarn; take some time to experiment.

Where spiral plying gets interesting is in using different colors and different-sized plies. Here are some samples:

This batt is more semi solid than heather
Big photo, left to right, plies the same size and different colors (also the smaller photo top), plies the same color and different sizes, and plies different colors and different sizes (also the smaller photo bottom).

Two plies the same size but different colors: You can really see the spiraling when the plies are different colors. The more contrast between the colors makes the spiral more obvious.

Two plies the same color but different sizes: When the plies are different sizes the texture really pops. I spin my fatter single woolen and my thinner single worsted, which adds even more texture.

Two plies of different colors and sizes: This is where it really starts to get interesting. With these two plies, there is both the color contrast and the added texture of the different-sized plies.


Up until now I’ve just been working with solid fibers. What happens when I throw in some variegated fiber, you ask? It’s a party, plain and simple.
Look at all of those colors intermingling in happy heathered harmony!
Left photo: solid core and variegated spiral . Right photo: variegated core and spiral.

Hand-painted fibers always bring the fun. Using a solid color for the core ply brings a long run of color to the spiral yarn, but it also marls. If you pick a bright core and gentler-color variegated fiber, it can take away the nuances of the handpaint.

Using a the same hand-painted fiber for the core ply and the spiraling ply blends the colors more. The contrasts are usually less and it is harmonious and visually interesting yarn.

Heather batt, left and semi solid batt, right.
Thick and thin spiral yarn, left with the same fiber for the core, right, with a semi solid fiber for the core.

And my most favorite spiral yarn – thick and thin (or slub) variegated single spiraled with a fine yarn. I use either a semi solid or the same fiber as the core ply. I love both of these equally. Because of the thick and thin spiral, the core shows less uniformly. It looks like flashes of color, when it is a solid or semi solid, so it’s less likely to overtake a handpainted fiber color-wise.

When using the same fiber as the core for this yarn, I always spin it with a worsted draft. For the thick and thin ply, I spin woolen. The contrast in draft creates a contrast in the tone of the colors. Even though the colors are the same, in the worsted-drafted ply, the colors are deeper and it really adds a richness to the overall yarn.

I knit fairly plain cowls and hats out of thick and thin spiral yarn, and people are so happy to wear them. These are the yarns that knitters, who aren’t spinners, think are complicated. They may even want to buy some from you.

Now being a lazy and adventurous spinner, I know I don’t have to use a handspun yarn for the core ply in any of these yarns. There are many times I use sock yarn. Just know that ply will always show in your yarn for good or bad. It’s not like core spinning where the core is completely covered.

So I go for extra sparkles and extra bright, but not white or beige. That core ply, like the core for core spinning, is the backbone of your yarn. It is what gives your yarn most of its strength and elasticity. So choose wisely, spiraling grasshopper.

Take the time to play and sample, try different fibers and combinations. Using leftover fibers from projects and classes will give you a great spiraling palette. On your mark, get set, spiral!


designername Jillian Moreno is the love child of Willy Wonka and Hildy Johnson. She wrote the best-selling spinning book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want.

She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she basks wantonly in her stash.

Pattern & images © 2017 Jillian Moreno. Contact Jillian