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One of the many things I love about hand-knit fabric is how no two examples look exactly alike. They are like snowflakes, in a good way (yep, time to take back that expression). Depending on the knitter, the needle material, the fiber, and yes, the twist of the yarn, you can get a myriad of looks.

My personal fiber hero, Jillian Moreno, offers an amazing overview of how ply works in her article The Why of Ply, and in her frisky fun-filled sequel, Ply Playground, she goes to party town on plies.

And because comedy and questions about ply are best in threes, here’s not one, not two, but three letters from the grab bag that all relate to the same question— 

“Why is my knit stitch not a V?” and/or in other words, “Hey, stockinette, why you gotta be like that?” And my answer, like a friend explaining why you were right to dump him is … it’s not you, it’s them.

Why, oh Ply?

Hi Patty,

I loved the videos you showed in Affiknity about how the twists of the two yarns make a different looking swatch. But in both of yours, they looked like V’s. Sometimes my knitting looks like a half a stitch with vertical stripes between (if that makes sense). It almost looks like one piece of yarn running between each 1/2 stitch. Is it the way I’m knitting? What am I doing wrong?

Confused knitter (Julie)


Dear Patty,

I can’t seem to get normal looking stitches that look like everyone else’s. I’m a fairly new knitter and my stitches don’t look like the drawings in the book. One side slants out and one side stands straight up. I tried to figure out which was which, but I’ve stared at them so long, they just look like Escher drawings to me at this point.

How can I fix my knitting? 


and, finally

Dear Patty,

I realize my question has nothing to do with the subject of your post, but … I would like to know what yarn you used for your illustrations in the MDK post of December 2 titled Ask Patty: What the Flip

The twist of the left leg of each stitch is almost horizontal, while the twist of the right leg is almost vertical. Why? 

  • Is the yarn used very lightly twisted?
  • Is it a Z-plied yarn? 
  • How were you wrapping the yarn around your working needle? 
  • Are you a picker or a thrower? 

Looking forward to hearing from you,


To Julie I say—you are doing nothing wrong. To Katy I say—you don’t need to fix a thing. And to Myrna I say—yes, yes, western wrap, picker, and good eye

Katy was on to something when she mentioned Escher. You see, it’s all an optical illusion, and it’s all about the ply!

When yarn is made, the fiber is twisted in one direction and then plied (singles twisted together) in the opposite direction. These directions are called Z: slanting up to the right, or S: slanting up to the left. Most commercially plied yarns are made up of Z-plied singles, plied together as an S-ply. (Still with me, hello, is this thing on?)

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at what happens when our yarn slants the left and to the right, as it does in the two legs of a stitch.

Two-Ply Yarn, A Bumpy Delight

First up we have a loosely plied two-ply. This yarn is made from just two Z-ply singles plied together as an S-ply. Take a look at it going straight up and down and you can see that S direction.

Since it’s plied rather loosely, even though the right leg has the plies go more or less vertical, they still lean a bit to the right. Where the left leg shows the plies going more horizontal, the plies still slant a bit upward.

When you work the two ply into a stockinette, you get a lovely, rustic knit because the two ply is a little more textured, like a rope. Your eye might be slightly aware of the angle of the plies, but you mostly still see the two distinct legs of the V. 

Three- and Four-Ply Yarn, A Smooth Operator

Things smooth out nicely when you add another ply. The negative space that is left in a two-ply is filled in with the 3rd or 4th ply to create a classic, rounded yarn.

Here are a three-ply and a four-ply yarn both S-plied, and you can see that it’s a standard twist, not toooo tight, not too loose. It’s the Goldilocks of yarns. The angle of the S is about 45 degrees:

When looking at these yarns slanting to the left, the ply lines up a bit more horizontal than the two-ply, but it still has a slant up. The right leg is a bit more vertical, but still has a lean to the right:

When these yarns are worked up into a stockinette, you still see the V shape. However, with the four ply, if you squint at it and look at the plies, you can start to see how the left leg might look less like individual stitch legs nested together, and more like one continuous rope running straight up and down.

Eight-Ply Yarn—All Bets are Off

Now … let’s look at this optical illusion on steroids. The tightly wound eight-ply! Here, things are not as they appear. Julie, Katy … it’s not your fault!!!

If you take a look at the S twist of this tightly wound eight ply, you can see that the angle of the twist is a bit more horizontal than the two-, three-, or four-ply—more like a 30-degree angle.

When you look at the yarn leaning to the left, the ply is almost completely horizontal, and the right lean makes it almost completely vertical.

Now imagine all those left legs stacked up one on top of the other. What your eye is perceiving is the plies. Now when you look at the stockinette, you can’t see the individual piece of yarn leaning to the left. Rather, all those horizontal plies stacked up gives the illusion of a single vertical barber pole.

In other words. It’s not you, it’s them. 

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Single Ply—Strike That, Reverse It

Okay Myra, you eagle eye you, if commercial S-ply yarns are made up of Z-plied singles plied together, what about a single ply yarn? You guessed it, it’s a Z-ply.

Take a look at this squishy, lovely, softly spun single. You can see that Z shape in the direction of the ply:

Now it’s the left leg whose plies will run more vertical while the right leg stacks up horizontally.

Which means, when you’re looking at the stockinette, that crazy barber pole effect lands on the right leg.

Chainette—A Braid of a Different Color

In case all this talk of S and Z is making your head swim, allow me to bring one more player to the game. Coming off the bench with a batting average of 500, meet the Chainette!

Since it is braided, it has no plies leaning one way or the other. That means, lean it to the left, lean it to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight (sorry, sports metaphor got away from me), it looks the same.

The stockinette looks smooth and lovely and the legs of the stitches look identical.

But for me they are all beautiful. If I wanted a lifeless row of perfectly matched stitches, I’d stick to store-bought knits. I love every lumpy, bumpy, wonky, slanty, leany, wiggly hand-knit stitch ever made. So enjoy every stitch you make, and whenever your stitches give you trouble, just remember, it’s not you, it’s them!

Patty in your Pocket

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About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Patty strikes again! (Staying with the sports metaphors…)

  • Patty, this is amazing!! Thank you! I had always thought it was something in the way I held the yarn. Now, I can stop beating myself up over the “barber poles”!

  • I finally see the s and z shapes! Thank you!

  • Thank you Patty! I have always thought it was something I was doing wrong. Great article!

  • In discussions with other spinners I use the terms “z spun” and “‘s plied” or vice versa. In your article you use the term “Z-plied singles, plied together as an S-ply.” Since singles are not plied, wouldn’t it be clearer to use “spun” rather than “plied” for singles?

  • I would at times wonder why my knitting usually looked like barber poles, always thought it might be the way I pick ! Thanks for the explanation !

  • I envy your genius…

    • All this close observation of lovely yarn makes knitting even more of a happy healthy meditation for me! Thank you for adding soothing brain food to the mix!

  • Patty Patty!! Amazing explanation written succinctly, with humor. What can’t you do. I am new here and am officially hooked.(see what I did there). I appreciate you. Thank you.

  • I totally geeked out on this!!!! Thanks!!!!

  • Thank you sooooo much, Patty!!!

  • I too wondered why I get the vertical barber pole effect in my stitches! Throws my eye off when counting gauge. Speaking of counting, does it matter if I count the V’s or the upside down V’s as long as I’m consistent with which one I’m looking at?

  • No wonder It’s hard for me to keep seeing the ‘Vs’ when I’m trying to count for gauge–they keep turning into ‘Vs’ with the legs reversed! Thanks, Patty!

  • I may have to read it a few more times to really understand, but thank you! Like others, I thought it was something in the way I knit that created this, and also like you, I love the “barber pole” effect because as you note, it shows it was handknit. Thank you for your ever helpful explanations, and humor.

  • I finally understand! Also, I turned over one of the pictures to see that an S is an S is an S – whichever end of the strand you start with.

  • Thank you thank you thank you! I’ve been wondering about this very thing for the last several years!!! I now realize it’s them, not me! Thanks for the validation!

  • Bless you! Bless you! A thousand times Bless you! NOW I KNOW WHY MY KNITTING HAS LOOKED LIKE THAT!!!!!!!! And I’m not doing anything wrong! Thank you!!!

  • this is excellent. Can you say something about lopi? I’m using it for the first time and wondering about pilling, strength, etc. I’m loving working with it. It’s sort of like working with cotton candy without the stickiness!

  • What happens when you re-ball your yarn. Does it change the knitted results. I usually rewind my yarn so I get a perfect center pull.

  • Great info and refresher. Do some with machiners in mind. The group is growing.

  • Brilliant article, and funny too. Thank you Patty!

  • Patty you are addressing every bugaboo I have re knitting. (The last most helpful one was how to make more uniform stitches/achieve a more consistent gauge as a continental knitter. That was a big one). You may make a decent knitter out of me yet. (Every now and then something turns out spectacularly, which keeps me going. But mostly not.)

  • Lovely explanations! As a spinner and a knitter I prefer spinning S and plying Z because I’ve noticed my “picker” knit style causes commercially played yarn to untwist.

  • This was terrific!! Thanks so much.

  • Patti, You are wonderful! I love your sense of humor! I’m not sure I will ever keep all of this in my mind but it is interesting to read and to begin to understand. I’m still an advanced beginner or a beginning intermediate but I’m addicted to yarn and knitting. Thank you again and again!

  • Thank you so much for talking about this, I have always assumed it was me!

  • I agree with Patty: I love ‘em all!

  • This was one of the best explanations of the S and Z ply and why the fabric looks different . It explains the barber pole. I can’t recall where I read or watched something about the S and Z ply and how it relates to having the yarn twist more or untwist while knitting. And how that relates to how to wind your skein into a ball, whether to use the center pull or outer part of the ball to prevent this? It’s so annoying to have so much added twist to undo or having it untwist causing the yarn to sometimes split. Hope this made sense! And thanks!

  • Absolutely fascinating! Thank you for this article.

  • Oh!

  • Genius, as always. Just last night I was looking at the ribbing on a hat I was doing and noticing the vast textural difference in the columns of knits and purls.

  • I see clearly now! Great explanation and illustrations. Thank you.

  • Yes!! This!!
    It’s exactly what was happening when I just knit up gobs of stockinette using Schachenmayr Merino Extrafine DK for the first time — the visibly S-plied yarn didn’t “seem” unbalanced, my gauge was accurate, and the fabric wasn’t biased, but my knit stitches uniformly had that wonky barber pole thing going on! Also, the individual plies (also S?!?, plus I swear by my count there are 7…?) seemed to unravel as I was knitting (I’m a continental-style “picker) and then spring back into shape.
    The fabric is nice enough, but my stitches look like backwards N’s rather than the usual, even, V’s. I thought I was nuts, until I switched colors to a different brand of yarn (Anzula Squishy, held double) and everything appeared normal again.
    Very hard to find a discussion of this online until I stumbled upon your wonderful site.
    THANK YOU so much for offering such wonderful clarity to explain my mysterious stitch issue!

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Great information. This explained the odd look of my sweater! Please fix the broken image link though? I’d love to see it.×2048.jpg
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