3 Simple Tips to Achieve Balanced Yarn

Do twisted, curling handspun skeins make you break out in a cold sweat? Don’t fret! It may all come out in the wash.

Kate Larson Feb 7, 2024 - 4 min read

3 Simple Tips to Achieve Balanced Yarn Primary Image

Kate’s yarn before finishing (top) and after a hot soak in the sink (bottom). All photos by Kate Larson

I’ve often seen spinners pull a newly plied skein off a niddy-noddy and stare in horror as it bounces into a corkscrew curl. Don’t fret! Here are three ways to check and see if you’ve spun a balanced yarn.

1. Did you ply in the correct direction?

To quickly check this, pinch about two inches of yarn between your right and left hands and use your fingers to twist the yarn in the opposite direction from which it was plied. Does the little section start to look softer and more balanced? If yes, you can re-ply this yarn in the opposite direction, slowly. Just wind it into a ball or place the skein on a swift, attach one end to the leader, and turn the wheel or spindle in the correct direction.

2. Did the singles sit on a bobbin for a while?

The amount of twist in singles left on a bobbin weeks ago has not changed, but it will appear less active. As soon as these singles get wet, the twist will reawaken. This means that if you ply for the correct amount of twist that is in the singles, the yarn will look overplied as it comes off the bobbin. Skeins made from leftover bits of singles often look over-plied until they have been washed.

A happy skein in the end

3. Too much ply twist?

This seemingly simple question is quite nuanced and the subject of much debate. Generally, twist creates strength but reduces loft. So, the perfect ply twist depends on what you are using your yarns to make. I often intentionally add a little extra ply twist. Balanced yarn can matter less than functional yarn.

Here’s where washing and finishing come in. If a twisty skein was spun in the proper direction using stale singles, a simple wash should put things in order. I recently spun some skeins using small amounts of leftover singles. I washed these skeins in warm-to-hot soapy water and rinsed in water that was the same temperature. Even though they looked overplied, it took only a little soap and water to reveal the balanced yarn. After washing, my scrap skein is happy and relaxed.

Another finishing technique, fulling, can subdue the kink and curl in an intentionally overplied skein depending on the fiber and spinning style. For Fair Isle yarns, I often spin soft singles but add plenty of ply twist. I wash these yarns in hot water with a bit of soap, then rinse in cold water. This helps lock the twist in place and improves durability. Try a small sample and see what happens!

Kate Larson, editor of Spin Off, teaches handspinning around the country and spends as many hours as life allows in the barn with her beloved flock of Border Leicesters.

Originally published December 26, 2018; updated February 7, 2024.