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Ply twist is one of the more subtle aspects of yarn construction. It contributes to stitch definition. If it’s not quite right, your project can seem a little off. 

Those of you who have been following along with my Yarn Detective adventures know that many elements of yarn construction affect stitch definition. It’s not just the number of plies that affect stitch definition, but the amount of ply twist: how tightly the strands are twisted together.

Being aware of your ply twist can help you be happy with the outcome of your knitting, help you fine tune your yarn substitution skills, and help you stuff your stash with yarns that you’ll love knitting with.

High Def

The more ply twist a yarn has the more defined your stitches will be. More ply twist also makes a yarn more durable, bonus! 

I looked high and low and even asked yarn companies if they had yarns that were similar with different ply twists. Crickets. Yarn companies choose their yarns for specific reasons and seasons that aren’t about discussing yarn structure.

I thought about spinning yarns to illustrate my point, but I decided to go with choosing yarns that have different ply twists, letting yarn content and size be a little fluid. Just like yarns we have in our stashes.

I have five yarns with different numbers of plies and different ply twists:

Left to right:

The Fiber Company Luna (50% wool/ 25% cotton / 15% linen / 10% silk), 2-ply, color: Sangria

The Fiber Company & Make (55% wool /35% alpaca / 10% linen), 2-ply, color: Lit

Knitterly Things Vesper Sock Yarn (80% Superwash Merino / 20% nylon), 2ply, color: Yummy

Kim Dyes Yarn Tartlet Sport (100% Superwash Merino) , 4-ply, color: Egg Yolk

Malabrigo Dos Tierras (50% Merino wool / 50% alpca), 4-ply, color: Lettuce

2-ply Yarns

First up are 2-ply yarns

Looking at the yarns I can see that the Vesper Sock yarn (right) has the most ply twist. Luna (left) and &Make (middle) are pretty close but & Make has a bit more twist.

I can see the difference in twist somewhat between Luna and &Make in the yarn, but can see it much more clearly in the swatch. I first look at the swatches overall and then I zoom in on a group of stitches. 

Even though &Make is a little hairy (it’s the linen content) looking beyond that at the stitches they look a little tighter, not quite as soft as the Luna. 

These two yarns are the same gauge, knit on the same needles, and blocked the same way. Ply twist also imparts extra elasticity, and I can see that in the drawing in of the &Make swatch.

Our third 2-ply yarn is Vesper Sock Yarn; sock yarns usually have very high ply twist mostly for durability, especially when it’s Merino. That super high twist gives stitches that aren’t just crisp they are sharp. The stitches in this swatch are so clear you could count them as you rode by on a horse.

4-Ply Yarns with a Different Twist

Tartlet Sport and Dos Tierras are both high ply twist 4-ply yarns, but they are different structures. Adding plies to a yarn also contributes to stitch definition so a 4-ply yarn with a tight ply twist will have even more stitch definition than a 2-ply with tight ply twist.

Tartlet Sport (I’m not a yellow person, but this is really the perfect yellow) is a standard 4-ply yarn, all individual strands are twisted together at the same time in the same direction. 

Dos Tierras achieves its twist in an interesting way. Two 2-ply yarns are twisted together using the same direction that they were originally plied. This tightens the original 2-ply while bringing all the strands together. Twisting a layered type of yarn all in one direction creates different amounts of twist in the original ply and the final ply. This gives the yarn a nubbily surface.

This uneven surface of the Dos Tierras yarn translates into a textured knitted fabric. It’s pretty clear from a distance that these two yarns create very different knitting, even though they both have great stitch definition. The Tarlet Sport is wonderfully smooth and even, and the Dos Tierras is a bit wiggly. Another thing you might notice about the Dos Tierras’ stitches is that the left leg of a stitch is vertical and the right leg angles, this is because of the unusual layered ply twist. I know some knitters think this is a mistake in their knitting. Nope, it’s how the yarn is plied.

It’s All Up to You

Stitch definition can change how you knitted fabric looks, sometimes by a lot. It’s a personal choice how you want your knitting to look, and every little step along the way to making yarn affects it. The more you know about yarn structure the happier you’ll be with your knitting, which all we really want.

Know Your Yarn

Yarn Detective: Norwegian Wool

Yarn Detective: Drape and Elasticity

Atlas: Up Close with this New Yarn

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About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at


  • Fascinating! I’ve often wondered what I did wrong when I get those ridges with Malabrigo, but now I know it’s the ply, not me!

  • How do we know these details when we’re up browsing in the yarn shop? When I have asked the yarn seller about the yarn structure she can’t help me.

    • I was wondering the same thing!

      • Or worse, trying to order yarn on line, as those of us out in the boonies must sometimes do! (My “local” yarn shop is a 3 hour drive.)

    • I think the only way is to take it home and swatch. This is why some LYSs and yarn companies like Berroco do “yarn tastings” so you can actually knit up the yarn- try before you buy.

  • Good lesson in yarn analysis and embracing the swatch. I always learn something from your articles. I’m a relatively new spinner so this was especially helpful. Your book is my companion.

    • Thank you for the written, alongside the visual, explanation. Now I just wish the ply twist would be shown on the yarn labels so we could tell before we buy and spend so much on indie dyer yarns which are all so darn beautiful!

  • Omg! Thank you! Thank you! I always thought it was me!!

    “Another thing you might notice about the Dos Tierras’ stitches is that the left leg of a stitch is vertical and the right leg angles, this is because of the unusual layered ply twist. I know some knitters think this is a mistake in their knitting. Nope, it’s how the yarn is plied.”

  • That’s really interesting about the Dos Tierras twist making individual stitches look different. I’ve noticed that with some yarns, and as you said, I thought I was doing something different. Great article. Thanks.

  • This is fascinating information I need to remember when yarn shopping. I need to go beyond color(I am a yellow person) and how the yarn feels. Thanks.

    • I,like Hattie and Laurel, wonder how can you tell about the construction if this details are not included in the description and or if the seller doesn’t know?

  • I’ve been wondering for SO. LONG. about why sometimes my stitches did that one leg vertical thing! Thank you Jillian for this great information! Now I can tell my knitting “it’s not me it’s you!”

  • Another excellent article! You always share such valuable content!

  • You had me at “ the left leg of a stitch is vertical and the right leg angles, this is because of the unusual layered ply twist. I know some knitters think this is a mistake in their knitting. Nope, it’s how the yarn is plied.”
    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I couldn’t understand why my swatches looked like this sometimes and I really thought there was just something weird about the way I knit. I feel like I’ve walked through a fabulous knitting portal of clarity today. You’ve made my day!

  • Great article, thank you for sharing your knowledge. The more I know about yarn/knitting the better my projects will turn out!

  • Finally I realize how very important swatching is. Not just for gauge. Thank you so much!
    I have a swatch soaking for my Sei Cowl. Getting ready for the August 18th class.

  • Fascinating! I learn so much from your articles. I never knew this was a thing! Thank you!

  • Wow! Thank you for this very informative article. I’m learning to appreciate the value of some yarns and why they cost more. The explaining of the twists in some yarns and understanding them is why some companies charge what they charge. Ok

  • I knew about that one leg vertical with single ply yarns, but I didn’t know it could happen with plied yarns too! That’s fascinating. Thanks for that nugget of information!

    • Thank you for information on ply twist in yarn. Very interesting and helpful

  • great article – ply is a key factor in your finished work! Am saving this article.
    Also – I work part time at Jagger Mills here in my hometown – one of the last 3 worsted spinning mill in the US, They are known for their high twist yarns (though they make many others).
    How lucky am I?

  • Not that acrylic is my fiber of choice except in the early days, but over the years I’ve noticed that craft store yarn consistently always seem to knit up better for me and wondered what the secret was. It looks like it might be twist! (Plus probably a few subtle other things.) Since variety is the spice of life, acrylic will always have a place in my life (house projects, etc.) so its nice to know that about them. A propos of that I am currently having a fine time with an Allhemp6 project. It is knitting up beautifully so far. Something I was not expecting in a plant based yarn (although I love linen). Is it the twist? My project is just in the beginning stages but I have high hopes at this point and thought I would throw that in for anyone contemplating a plant-based fiber.

  • P.S. The yarn is for a scarf. A garment might be a whole different story.

  • Jillian, thank you for addressing yarns whose ply twist lead to the left leg of my knit stitches being vertical and the right leg angling!!! I WAS looking to find help with my “wonky knitting”. So, I am also a spinner. Could you tell me, please, how best to avoid this in my yarns? I will look again at my swatches and yarn samples to learn more. Thank you!!

  • Good read
    Thank you!
    Now I know a bit more about my wonderful stash. Guess I’ll have to collect e even more varieties.

  • Wouldn’t it be amazing if every yarn had a swatch you could look at (or even touch!) before you bought it. That swatch wouldn’t tell you a lot about gauge but it would be useful for comparing to other swatches.
    Any yarn store out there wanting to hire me as their swatch supplier?

  • Thanks for the info. Just a note – I think the yarn you’re referring to is Luma, not Luna, and it’s from The Fibre Company, not The Fiber Company.

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