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In my last article, I discussed the basics of plying. Sometimes, despite best efforts, something goes wrong during the process. Don’t despair. Your yarn is not ruined. There are steps you can take to correct mistakes and mishaps that occur during plying.

I refer to tips in my previous tutorial on plying, so peek at it if you need clarification.

Broken single
Sometimes your single has a spot with too little twist, which breaks as you ply. It’s not the end of the world. You have options.

  • First check the single for any remaining under twisted or thin spots adjacent to the break.
  • Cut off the bad part of the single.
  • Wind on until the break is about three inches away from the orifice.
  • Pinch the singles together, 2 inches away from the break.
    Pinch hard enough so no twist gets past your hand.

  • Now treadle until the yarn has enough twist (looks like your sample) and then treadle two or three times more. You need a bit of over twist in the yarn in order to splice.
  • Holding the yarn pinched in your forward hand, place the single in between plies.
  • Separate them a bit and slide the new end in.
  • Now slowly release the pinch in your forward hand.

  • Use your hands to guide the twist over the break and into the yarn. Run your hands lightly over the join to smooth. 

  • Position your hands and resume plying.

In order for this splice to hold well, you’ll need the overlap to be at least two inches long. A shorter overlap might not have enough twist and will pull out when tension is applied. (Yes, you do apply tension to the yarn as you knit. You certainly add tension to the yarn as you stretch the knit fabric over your body when you wear the sweater!)

Spit Splice
If you’re working with regular wool (not superwash), you can spit splice it.  Remove any portion of bad single adjacent to the break, as described above. Wet both ends of the yarn either with spittle or water. Overlap the ends about 2 inches and rub back and forth between your hands until it felts together. Resume plying.

Spit splices are fast, easy and convenient. They do however create a bit of a texture slub where the join is. Once it’s knit most of the cosmetic flaw will be covered. Do ensure that you’ve felted it enough, otherwise it will pull out when you attempt to ply it in, or even worse, when you’re knitting with it.

Unbalanced Yarn
First off, how do you determine whether or not your yarn is balanced? Wind your yarn into a hank. Set the twist by submerging your skein in hot tap water for at least five minutes and letting it hang dry. Resist the urge to evaluate your skein for balance without first setting the twist. Setting the twist deactivates the active energy in your yarn and reveals its true nature. A hank that looks slightly unbalanced coming directly off your wheel will balance out after it’s soaked and dried. I’ve found that, if a freshly plied hank twists a half twist or less when you let it dangle from your hand, it will balance in the wash. 

After washing and drying, hold the hank by one end and allow it to hang freely. A balanced yarn will not twist – it will hang in an open circle. An unbalanced yarn will twist either to the right or to the left. (Note the direction of the twist.)

If you have significant over twist, here are some options for “treating” the problem. Each description lists the benefits and any drawbacks of the method.

Weighted Twist Setting: Pop the skein in hot water for at least five minutes. Then hang the hank to dry. Weight the bottom of the hank to pull the twist out of the yarn. I use the straight pant hangers, loaded down with clean, empty glass jars in a grocery bag so I can adjust the amount of weight.

This will pull out significant overtwist, but the drawback is that it stretches the yarn. You will need to wet block anything made from the yarn or the finished item may shrink significantly when washed. This works well for novelty yarns or items that don’t need to be washed.

Soak and Slap: Place the skein in hot water for at least five minutes. Gently twist to remove excess water. Go someplace like your shower, outside, wash room, etc.  Grab one end of the hank and smack it repeatedly onto a surface or wall. Repeat with the other end of the hank. Hang to dry.

This encourages the twist to distribute along the length of the hank. It’s easy to do – the only drawback is that it may not completely balance your yarn if it’s significantly over spun.  It’s hard to tell unless you try!

Re-spin: You can re-spin the yarn in the opposite direction.  If you didn’t note the direction of the overtwist before, do so now. You’ll need to wind your yarn into a ball again, for ease in spinning. Use your largest whorl for re-spinning – it’s very easy to put too much twist into the yarn as you re-spin, and end up worse off than you were in the first place.  Adjust your tension so that the yarn draws in very quickly.

If your hank twists to the right, you’ll want to spin it with your wheel spinning to the left. If your hank twists to the left, spin it to the right.  Start treadling, and allow the wheel to pull the yarn in rapidly, much faster than when you are spinning or plying. You don’t want to overspin the yarn in the opposite direction. Re-spin the entire hank. Evaluate the hank as before, and then go from there. You can re-spin as many times as is necessary until you get it perfect. Just remember that if you have a half twist or less of overtwist, the skein will balance when you set the twist.

Any combination of the above troubleshooting tips can be used to fix your skeins. Be sure to set the twist after each fix, so that you are starting with an accurate assessment of the yarn.

Remember, there really is no bad yarn, just yarn with unintended characteristics. Problem skeins that bias can be used as a slanted design element in your knitting. It also felts wonderfully…I’ve done it myself. Once your yarn stays together, it’s really up to you how “perfect” you want it to be.


Katie lives at the edge of a field in central Iowa, where the spectacular colors of the setting sun on the verdant fields nearby often provide inspiration for her yarn dyeing. She spends her days raising her three children while cramming dyeing, spinning, and knitting into every free moment.

You can see her color sensibilities on display at Yarn Love.