So how much twist is really too much twist? It’s common for spinners to talk about something having too much twist, especially if they’re new — but the truth is that yarn can handle way more twist than you’d think, and the exact right amount of twist is really subjective. When I’m talking about the question of too much twist vs. too little, I like to describe it this way:
Too little twist: Your fibers can still be drafted; the yarn slips and tries to keep thinning out, and with sufficient weight or tension, would drift right apart.
Too much twist: Your fibers are all so tightly twisted that the only thing they can do is kink up on themselves super-tight to ease the strain. When you try to pull them out straight, the yarn snaps.
All yarn, as you’re spinning it and before the twist has settled, or it has been plied and finished, will kink up on itself. That’s normal, and it’s supposed to! If the singles you’re spinning don’t kink up on themselves, you probably don’t have enough twist for your yarn to be structurally sound.
And that’s the crux of the matter: yarn has too little, or too much, twist, when the amount of twist causes it to be structurally unsound. This means there’s a huge spectrum in between too much and too little, and that whole spectrum is okay. It’s up to you, as the spinner, to decide where along that spectrum you want your yarn to fall, and you would make that choice based on many, many different things. When you’re starting out, I recommend erring on the side of having what feels like more twist than you want. Chances are, it’s actually less twist than you think it is, and besides, there’s a lot more you can do to salvage a yarn that’s a little twistier than you ideally wanted, than to salvage a yarn that is so loosely spun it simply drifts apart.
These things said, my son recently provided me with a great visual example of what happens when you get too much twist.
Here we have one computer headset, suitable for… you know, everything a tween could possibly want to do with a headset on a computer, plus for keeping Mom in her office from having to listen to the same song over and over and over again (hey, does that end? I know it ends; I don’t do that anymore, but when did I stop? Is there hope that this will end before he moves out?). This headset is dangerously broken, though you can’t tell from the picture above. Maybe this will help:
Can you see what’s going on with that cord? Well, let’s look closer.
Up at the top, you can see where it’s kinking up. Down at the bottom, you can see where it’s… got issues.
Here’s what happened. Every time the manchild would take off the headset, he’d drop it on his desk or the floor (sigh), and do it in such a manner as to introduce a single twist. When he would put it on, he would pick it up (usually from the floor), and give it another twist to orient it correctly before donning it. In this way, much twist was built up in the cord, and after a time, it kinked up on itself and became short enough that it wouldn’t reach his head. To solve this, he placed his hands on either side of the kink, and yanked it out straight. And just as with yarn, this cause breakage.
Oh yeah. As you can see, the headset cord is actually composed of a number of fibrous things internally, protected by a vinyl tube on the outside. This tube is intended to shield the headset’s cables, keeping sound transmission clear, and preventing other potential electrical hazards (though granted, those risks are pretty low with a headset, but then again, if it’s being thrown on the floor of a tween’s bedroom, you just never know). It is the tube which has failed structurally due to excess twist. The wires inside are somewhat more twist-tolerant — but in time, these too would fail.
You can see it above getting ready to happen. The vinyl is stretched and stressed by twist, and the wires are starting to poke through at the main kink-up point. This same thing will happen with the fibers in your yarn — first they will get stressed, and then they will break. Just like this headset cord, your yarn only has so much twist-carrying capacity, and when you exceed that, it will give way.
The correct solution to this problem, as we have explained to the manchild with his new headset (because seriously, I cannot work in my office if I have to listen to whatever soundtrack it is that has been put to Bionicle videos on youtube, and there are times when I absolutely must be working in my office and simply do not have the strength of character to engage in the lengthy argument about turning that crap down, particularly given the karmic sledgehammer that is yet to come my way in this respect due to the fact that I spent my teenage years playing the guitar for 8 hours a day), is to remove the twist. This can easily be accomplished by unplugging the headset and allowing the twist to run out, or, if the twist has started to settle, holding one end of the cord and spinning the headset in the opposite direction to remove the twist.
He has also been warned: his mother is very, very good at gauging twist, and will not have a problem detecting failure on his part to properly manage twist in his new headset.
In other news, today is registration day for the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat. Here’s wishing you all great luck and the classes you’re hoping for, and I look forward to seeing you there.