It’s impossible to start a knitting or crocheting project without first discussing yarn composition and yarn weight. In yarn labels, you often see its composition, recommended needle size, as well as the ply – but not many people understand what those terms actually mean.
One size that comes up again and again is 4-ply yarn. But if you’re a newbie to fiber arts, or are more familiar with the look of a yarn than you are with its name, then you might be wondering what that means.
What is 4-ply yarn? 4-ply yarn has four smaller strands twisted together to create the yarn. It is often a medium or double knitting (DK) weight yarn, but it can vary from laceweight to super bulky based on the fibers is it is made of.
In this article, we’ll help you understand more about ply, different yarn plies and especially the most common one – four-ply yarn, including what it means and how it differs from other types of yarn. So keep reading to understand this popular ply, and more.
What is 4-Ply Yarn?
A yarn’s ply is the number of smaller strands that are twisted together in order to make a bigger strand of yarn.
For some types of yarn, like wool, acrylic, or cotton, if the fiber is very weak and thin, twisting several thin strands together can create a more structured yarn that’s much easier to knit or crochet.
During the manufacturing process, fibers (usually wool or acrylic) are spun together to create a single strand of yarn. Then, four of these plies are twisted together to create what you know as four-ply yarn. This design will help the yarn maintain its integrity and will less likely to break while you work.
On the market, you typically see single-ply, 2-ply, 4-ply, 6-ply, 8-ply, 10-ply, or 12-ply yarn. The more ply yarn has, the more structured and durable the yarn is.
Traditionally, yarn ply can also tell you the weight of the yarn: the more ply the yarn has, the bulkier and thicker it is likely to be.
However, since there are so many types of yarn on the market with different fiber sizes and structures, the yarn ply may not necessarily translate to yarn weight. Different fibers and composition can create a yarn with vastly different weights.
For example, single-ply yarn can mean lace weight yarn (very thin) or super bulky (very thick) yarn depending on what it’s made of. Mohair wool, for example, is usually lace-weight single-ply yarn. Other types of wool or wool blend, however, can be worsted-weight while still being single-ply.
In the U.S., 4 ply yarn typically means a medium weight yarn or double knitting (DK) yarn. But again, depending on the structural integrity of the yarn fiber, this is not necessarily true for every type of yarn. Four-ply yarn can range from lace weight to super bulky, depending on the thickness of the individual strands.
You should always check weight as well as ply when choosing your yarn.
My favorite 4-ply yarn is this acrylic yarn. It’s machine-washable and comes in a range of solid colors.
Why Does Ply Matter?
Yarn ply often indicates how strong and smooth yarn is, but not necessarily its thickness.
However, this can still vary by the fiber(s) used in the yarn. Depending on the yarn’s composition, the strand can be very thin but still very strong, or very thick but easy to be pulled apart.
For example, although silk is often single-ply yarn, it is quite strong and difficult to break, despite being very thin. Cotton yarns, on the other hand, are often 10 to 12-ply yarn, because the strands are super thin and easier to break.
The ply will also affect the look of your final product after it is knitted together. Single-ply yarn, when knitted together, can highlight the knitting pattern since the yarn ply won’t crowd your visuals.
On the other hand, 10 to 12-ply yarn will yield a more structured look that makes your work look super put-together and sophisticated while following a similar pattern. Four-ply yarn is the most common option for everyday garments since it’s the perfect balance between aesthetics and structure.
For materials like cotton or linen, which often comes as eight-ply or 10-ply yarn, you will have to be extra careful while knitting or crocheting, because the strands tend to separate and snag, which won’t look good in your final product.
The more ply a yarn has, the less fun it is to unravel, as the plies tend to separate with uneven tension on individual plies.
You will find that if a yarn has four or fewer plies, it will be easier to work with and unravel when you make a mistake, and you can re-work the unraveled yarn easily without worrying that the yarn will look scrunched up in the final product.
Yarn Ply Vs. Yarn Weight
Yarn weight refers to the yarn’s thickness, which will decide what size needles you will need to use and how chunky your final result will look. Yarn weight can range from fine (very thin, lightweight yarn) to super bulky (very thick, heavy yarn).
Depending on the type of garment that you’re planning on making, you can select the appropriate yarn weight and needle size. Most knitting patterns will also tell you which yarn weight and needle size to use.
The thicker the yarn weight, the bigger the needles you’ll need to use, and the chunkier your final work would be.
Lightweight yarn can help you make lacy afghans and table runners. Everyday garments such as socks, sweaters, and scarves usually employ medium-weight yarn. Although sock yarn can also be lighter weight. Heavier yarn is typically used in chunkier garments such as blankets and throws.
As mentioned before, yarn ply usually does not indicate how chunky the yarn can be, only how many small strands are twisted together to create a bigger strand.
Yarn weight is determined by how thick the individual plies are, not how many, although it often happens that greater ply numbers correspond with thicker weights. There are very chunky types of yarn that can be single ply, and there are 10-ply yarns that can be medium-weight.
For most seasoned crafters, four-ply yarn usually refers to medium to worsted weight yarn, but always make sure that you’re using the correct yarn weight, as yarn ply does not necessarily decide the yarn weight!
Tips for Choosing Yarn Ply and Yarn Weight
The world of yarn composition, material, ply, and weight can be vast and confusing, and if you are new to working with yarn, you may not always know which type of yarn is best for your project.
Depending on the type of project that you are making, below are some different ways that can help you identify the right yarn ply and weight for your project.
Tip 1: Choose the right yarn for your desired drape.
Drape indicates how the finished garment will hang on your body or your furniture. Depending on your type of garment, you may want a lot of drapes (sweaters, scarves, blankets, etc.) or no drape at all (rugs, wall hangers, or throws).
The drape is decided by a lot of different factors, including the yarn composition, yarn weight, and ply, yarn type, and even the size of the needles you use.
One easy way to adjust the drape is to use a different needle or hook size than the yarn’s recommended size. If you want more drape, use a set of needles that are at least two sizes larger than the size recommended. The finished garment will have a loose gauge that hangs beautifully, but it may appear lacier than you’d like.
If you want less drape, as some people prefer making really tight-knit rugs or potholders, you can use a set of hooks that are a size or two smaller than the recommended size. Working with smaller hooks may be a bit uncomfortable, but the result will be much stiffer and tighter.
However, if you don’t want your garment to appear lacy or working with a tight gauge is too uncomfortable, looking at the yarn weight may also help you with that. Lighter yarn weight will drape beautifully, while heavier and chunkier yarn may have less drape.
Tip 2: Knit or crochet a swatch before you start.
Before you start knitting or crocheting any garment, it is highly recommended that you knit or crochet a swatch to determine the correct gauge. This step means that you should knit or crochet a small square (10×10 cm or around 4×4 inches) to test out whether the yarn works with the needles.
Most knitting and crocheting patterns will tell you the correct gauge. For example, 28 stitches by 32 rows with 3mm knitting needles may create a 4×4″ using a particular yarn weight.
Once you have finished knitting this swatch, you can determine whether it’s the right tightness, drape, and size. If your swatch is too large, you may go down a hook or needle size. If it is too small, go up.
Making a swatch before you start a big project will save you a lot of time later on because it will let you determine whether you are using the correct yarn and needles for your project, and ensure that your finished garment achieves the desired size.
Your swatch can also let you know how your finished garment will drape, as well as whether the yarn will work with the pattern you have.
Four-ply yarn usually works with most knitting patterns due to its minimal interference in the pattern, allowing you to use more complicated stitches and techniques.
However, yarn with more plies will only work with really simple stitches, like stockinette stitches in knitting, because the extra plies will make any design look too crowded.
Once you’ve knitted a swatch, make sure that it not only has the desired size, but also looks good with the stitches.
If you don’t have the correct gauge, you should change to different sized needles, or choose a lighter or thicker yarn weight. If you don’t like how the yarn looks with the knitted or crocheted pattern, you can also switch to a different yarn with more (or less) plies to achieve the desired look.
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