Yarn Detective: Twist and Knitting Style, Part 2

After Kay and Ann hit go on my post about yarn twist and knitting style, the questions poured in.

You are into twist! Maybe you should learn to spin—I know someone who could teach you.

There were a bunch of questions, but they broke down into two main queries.

One is about working from a center pull ball and the direction in which the yarn is wound.

The other question was about every other knitting style that exists: “I knit this way, does it tighten or loosen twist?”

Yarn cake holder is from Hansen Crafts; it spins like butter.

Yarn twist is just one part of getting gauge and getting the fabric you like.

Whatever You Do, Swatch

Right here at the beginning I want to say, please swatch. Please learn to accept swatching (and re-swatching) as the best tool to get the knitted fabric and gauge that you want.

Bribe yourself if you have to, but swatch. My latest bribe was adding BritBox to my TV lineup. Please don’t ask me to leave the house, because all 200 seasons of Midsomer Murders are on there, plus Jimmy Perez doing his tortured detective thing on Shetland. I will be swatching forever.

Knitting from a Center Pull Ball

Readers asked: if I wind my yarn cakes the other way and knit from the center, will the yarn twist loosen instead of tighten as I knit?

Yep. However, it depends how you knit. For me, a picker, when I wind my cake turning the handle clockwise, and knit from the center, it tightens the twist in my yarn. When I wind my cake turning the handle counter-clockwise, and knit from the center, it loosens the twist in my yarn. Winding in a counter-clockwise direction also loosens the ball holder peg in the center of my ball winder, and peg and yarn cake go flying across the room.

You can see this effect in the top two swatches. The top left swatch is a clockwise wind and the top right swatch is a counter-clockwise wind. But the bottom swatch, the one that’s perfectly in the middle of the other two size-wise? It’s knit from the outside of the cake, which results in the least twist change while the yarn spools from the cake. It’s why I knit from the outside of a cake.

Does Your Style Tighten or Loosen the Twist?

The second question readers asked was some variation on this one: I knit in the X, Y, or Z style—does it tighten or loosen my yarn twist?

Here’s the scoop: it all depends on the direction you wrap the yarn around your needle.

A wrap over the top of the needle loosens twist.

A wrap under the needle tightens twist.

S and Z Twist

Let’s take a little twist side trip. Just a quickie—we’ll drive through Dairy Queen on the way back, I promise.

See this cute little piece of yarn?

Where strands are plied together there is a line that leans in one direction. That leaning line tells you the direction the yarn was plied. Most yarns, including the yarns I talk about in my posts, are plied this way.

The individual plies are spun clockwise; when they are plied they are spun counter clockwise.

The counter-clockwise twist makes a line that leans left. In spinning we call it S twist because of the direction of the line in the body of the letter S. The single yarns are spun with Z twist because of the direction of the line in the body of the letter Z. (Spinning fun fact.)

It doesn’t matter what direction the yarn is going when it’s knit. Even if the yarn is upside down (like in right photo), it is still S ply twist. (Someone always asks that question.)

Back to Twist and Knitting Style

When I throw (English style) both knitting and purling, the yarn goes over the needle. This twists the yarn in a clockwise direction, thus loosening the yarn’s twist.

When I pick (Continental style) in knitting, I scoop the yarn under the needle, twisting it counter-clockwise and tightening the yarn’s twist. When I pick, purling in the regular way, the yarn goes over the needle, loosening the twist. In the end it may balance out in my knitted fabric, but to me my knitted fabric looks rowed out, loose in the purl rows, and uneven.

I also combination knit, because for me it’s the speediest method. When I combo knit I pick, scooping both the knit stitch and the purl stitch. The motion I make to make the scooped purl stitch twists my yarn tighter and seats the new stitch twisted on the knit side. On the next row, I knit through the back loop to untwist the stitch.

You can see in these swatches that as I change my style the swatch gets tighter. Top to bottom: throwing (English), picking (Continental), and combination knitting.

If you want to know if you are adding or subtracting twist, study how you knit, more specifically how you wrap the yarn as you are making each stitch and how that twists the yarn. The more you study your own knitting the easier it is to make decisions about yarn.

That’s Not All, Folks

I hate to tell you, but I do like to be honest most of the time, adding or subtracting twist is just one thing that can affect your gauge.

There are a host of things I’ve learned to look into if my gauge is off, in addition to my twist. It’s why I’ve learned to love swatching. Maybe these factors affect your gauge, too.

Here’s my list:

I don’t tension all fibers the same.  I barely tension toothy wools, but I tension slippery or soft fiber much tighter.

The material of the needles I’m using is also a factor: wood or bamboo needles always give me a tighter gauge.

Stress is a big one. When I had a corporate job I knit so tightly that I learned to automatically go up 2-3 sizes from the recommended needle size. Since I’ve left the cubicle, I knit so loosely that I have to go down 2-3 needle sizes.

Mood affects my gauge too—what happens to your knitting when Mr. Darcy stalks across that misty field or runs into Lizzie in his sodden shirt?


Next time you’re trying to get gauge, wouldn’t it be nice to have Jillian Moreno with you?
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Categories:   Knitting