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Home » GATE Study Material » Textile » yarn structure & properties

yarn structure & properties

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yarn structure & properties

yarn structure

"Yarn" is a general term that I use to refer to that string stuff you use to knit with. When I use the term "yarns", it is because I am referring to all the different VARIETIES of yarn. Boucl�, DK, chenille, slub, etc... I believe the same applies to "wool" (meaning fleece) and "wools" (meaning all the types of fleeces out there, not just sheep's wool). It is strange, I know, and I don't even know if it is grammatically correct, but that's how I (and many other singular folk) talk about it.

Yarn is what your garment will be made up of when you have finished your project, and it is important to know the properties of the yarn you are using, for it will be these properties that will affect the ultimate look and feel of a garment.

A lot of important information about a particular skein, hank or ball of yarn can be found on the label, which is often found in the form of a collar or band around it.  Here you will learn fiber content, weight, type of yarn, washing instructions, and approximately how many yards or metres of yarn you have.  There will also be a dye lot number, which is important. Yarn is dyed in lots, or batches, and these batches differ slightly from one another, although they are considered to be batches of the same color. Buy enough yarn to complete your project, usually a skein more than the pattern asks for, so you can complete a single garment from a single dye lot.

Hopefully, you have read the section on fibers, and know that different fibers have vastly different properties. But it is not the fiber alone that will determine the look of a yarn, and how it will knit up. There are many different methods for turning fiber into yarn, and many different treatments applied to fibers that can change their initial properties.

Yarns spun from "filaments" are generally smooth and shiny. This is because filaments are continuous strands of fiber that can be many miles long, if we are talking about extruded, synthetic filament fibers.  The only natural filament fiber is silk, which can measure over 1500 yards/metres. Filaments are often cut into shorter strands for spinning.

Shorter lengths are referred to as "staple". Staple lengths range from fibers that are 1-2 inches (angora rabbit and chiengora) to fibers that are several inches long (Egyptian cotton, Merino wool). Longer staple will spin into smooth, lustrous yarn, and it tends to be softer and more sought after than its shorter staple counterparts. Longer staple also lends strength and resilience to a yarn. Yarns made of short staple will tend to have a fuzzy appearance, and is generally blended with a strong fiber, like a synthetic filament fiber, to give it strength.

Sheep's wool is divided into two categories when referring to the resulting yarn, depending on the length of the fibers and the way they are handled before spinning: "worsted" and "woolen". Worsteds are spun from longer, combed fibers, so the resulting yarn is smooth and firm. Woolens are spun from uncombed wool, and is fuzzier and not as strong (Icelandic Lopi and Shetland yarns). Both kinds are desirable types of yarn, used to create different effects in the finished garment.

So how does one go from a handfuls of fuzz and fiber to yarn? The answer is "spinning". There are many different methods to spin fiber into yarn, but basically, the prepared fluff is drawn out and twisted using a spindle or other spinning device, such as a spinning wheel, or the industrial equivalent. The twist lends strength to the yarn. The twist can be a "Z twist" which runs upwards and to the right, formed by spinning the yarn in a clockwise direction. The "S twist" is formed by spinning counterclockwise, the resulting twist runs upwards and to the left. The twist in the yarn for Z and S runs in the same direction as the diagonal used to form these letters!

When the yarn is first spun, it forms a "single". These singles are often "plied" together to form 2-ply, 3-ply and 4-ply yarns. Plying makes the yarns stronger, and more uniform. Each ply is a single, and these singles are generally plied together using a twist that is opposite to the one used in the initial spinning of the strands. That is, a plied yarn that is a Z twist is made up of single strands that have been spun with an S twist. The heaviness, or weight, of the resulting yarn depends not on the amount of plies in the yarn, but on the thickness of the singles. Two fat singles will result in a yarn much heavier than a 4-ply made of very fine ones.
Silver Bar

Yarn Weight: Yarn thickness is often referred to as "weight" and it ranges from the very fine "fingering" weight or "baby" yarn, to the "bulky" and "chunky" yarns. In between there are many different terms, and their definitions are guidelines, for people use the same term to define different weights of yarn. Also, people in different countries will use different terms to describe their yarn, so a fingering weight (USA) yarn from the UK will be labeled 4-ply.  I will try to define these terms here to the best of my abilities, but the different resources from which I did my research also have differing points of view.

Laceweight, or 2-ply/3-ply: Although some sources say differently, generally speaking, 2-ply/3-ply yarns are very fine, almost threadlike yarn that are used for lacy garments such as shawls and scarves, and baby clothes.

Fingering Yarn, or 4-ply: Also called "5-ply" in Australia and New Zealand, this yarn is also used for baby clothes and lacy garments, but is also used for Fair Isles and adult garments.  (Granted, adult garments will take a long time to complete with such a fine yarn!)  Since this yarn is fine, greater detail can be achieved when knitting a picture or motif into the garment.  (In a different resource book, fingering weight yarn was considered the same as 2-ply and 3-ply yarn.)

Sportweight, or DK (Double Knitting):This yarn is also "8-ply" in Australia and New Zealand. This versatile yarn is used for all types of garments worn from infancy through adulthood.  It can be knitted up into lacy garments as well as garments with lots of texture and cables, and everything in between.  There are many patterns available for this weight of yarn and it is very popular.  It comes in many colors, and is also available with different effects, i.e. tweed (different flecks of color), heather (colors that are finely blended with paler shades for a gently speckled effect), brushed (fuzzy effect), and others.

Aran, Worsted, or Triple: Also referred to as "knitting worsted" or 12-ply in Australia and New Zealand, this yarn is generally used for heavily textured garments involving cables and other such texture techniques.  It used to only be available in natural unbleached shades of creamy white and ivory, but it is now available in many colors although the white is the traditional choice for the knitting of an Aran sweater.

Chunky, or Bulky: 14 ply in Australia or New Zealand, this is heavy yarn that knits up quickly on large needles, and is often the choice of beginners since  it is easy to handle and fast work.  It comes in a wide range of colors, and is popular for oversized sweaters, jackets, and children's wear.

Yarn Structure: Besides yarn weight, there are many other ways to describe a yarn's appearance.   These ways are categorized under "yarn structure".  The way yarns are plied and spun can result in many different variations, as you will soon see!

Boucl�: Boucl� is formed when two threads are plied using different tensions and held together using a binder thread. 

There are many different variations on this method, producing different, yet similar results.  This method is also used to produce

Loop yarn which is an exaggerated version of boucl�. See below!

Chenille: This popular yarn is best described to be formed like pipecleaner.  Two very fine binding strands are plied together tightly, holding the velvety pile between them.

Chenille can look very different if the length and texture of the pile is changed.  There are many different variations of chenille on the market. Chenille can knit up like a fake fur or a with a fine, subtle velvety appearance, depending on the pile.


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