A basic cabled yarn is made by taking two standard two-ply yarns
and plying them together again in the opposite direction. Why
would you want to create a cabled four-ply yarn rather than simply
plying four singles together?
For one thing, cabling creates
an incredibly strong, abrasion-resistant yarn—even stronger
than that created by regular plying—which makes it perfect
for knitting long-wearing handspun socks.
For another, you need
only three bobbins to make a four-ply cable: two on your lazy
kate filled with the two-ply yarns and the third on your wheel,
a boon for those of us without half a dozen empty bobbins in
our spinning baskets.
Begin by spinning your singles as you normally would for a smooth,
two-ply yarn, and then allow the twist to set overnight. (I’m
using light and dark strands here to
make the process easier to see in photos.) Then ply the two singles
in the opposite direction, making sure to add plenty of twist.
You are actually aiming for an overplied—not a balanced—yarn.
You can test whether your plied yarn has
sufficient twist energy to create a balanced cable by hanging your
orifice hook over a section and letting the two-ply twist back
on itself (this is the same trick you use to test the twist in
Alternately, you can follow Judith MacKenzie’s
recommendation and make a balanced two-ply
from your original singles and then run it through your wheel again,
adding additional twist in the same direction to make sure you
have enough twist.
Your two-ply yarn will have an overabundance
of twist energy, so you may find that you
need to secure the ends with a bit of tape.
Once you have two bobbins of overplied yarn, don’t allow
the twist to set: go ahead and cable your yarn right away so
you can evaluate the twist energy in the final yarn. This time,
your goal is a beautifully balanced yarn. You want to create
your cable by plying in same direction that you used to create
your original singles. For example, if I spun my singles S-twist
(counterclockwise), I’d spin my two-plies with a Z-twist
(clockwise), and then cable the two two-plies
together with an S-twist again.
Test your yarn occasionally as
you work by allowing it to hang down
without tension to be sure that the cabled
yarn is not over- or undertwisted.
You can get fancy and cable more than two two-ply yarns
together; you can even cable two or more
Navajo-plied yarns together.
How does cabled yarn behave when you knit it up? As with plump,
multi-ply yarns, cabled yarns give you great stitch definition—stockinette
is nice and smooth and cables really stand out. But cabled yarns
can be heavier and denser than other yarns with similar diameters,
so sample before you decide to spin a thousand yards for an elaborate
Aran sweater. You might find that you want to plan a finished
yarn that will knit up at a finer gauge to compensate for the
Knitters should also be aware that their knitting
style—Continental or English/American—will also have
an effect on the fabric they create with
a cabled yarn. Judith MacKenzie, in The Intentional Spinner, notes
that cabled yarns in which the singles are spun with an S-twist
will loosen when knit Continental style; the same thing will
happen when a cabled yarn with Z-twist singles is knit in the
English style. This may or may not bother you. As always, sampling
before spending lots of time at the wheel is the best way to
avoid unpleasant surprises later.
Judith MacKenzie (in The Intentional Spinner and
in Spin-Off, Spring 2008) and Amy King (in Spin
Control) both offer excellent instructions for creating
cabled yarns and experimenting with their many variations. If
you’re a spindler, check out Abby Franquemont’s Respect
the Spindle for complete info on making cabled yarns with
only a handspindle.
I definitely recommend giving cabled
yarns a try. It’s true that creating a cabled yarn is time
consuming, but I find that because the building blocks of this
yarn type are so simple, I can spin along on autopilot for much
of the time, making the work relaxing and meditative. And knowing
that the resulting yarn is durable enough to pass on to the next
generation makes it feel like time well spent.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lee Juvan learned to spin on a walking wheel
when she was twelve in a summer workshop at
Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. She
bought her own wheel in 1990, and she’s
been at it since then. Lee is the designer
of several patterns published in Knitty, including
Shroom and Brighton.