A ply is a strand of fiber that makes up a piece of yarn. Most yarns have several plies twisted around each other, however, some have only one. These are called singles or single ply yarns.
Single ply yarn adds a distinct aesthetic to knit and crocheted items crafted from it. You might notice a softer overall feel with less distinct stitch definition. Most single ply yarn will have a halo around it. (The “halo” is a soft fuzz surrounding the yarn strand.) How much will depend on the fiber content of the yarn.
Items worked in single ply yarns often have a light, lofty feel even if the fiber is very warm, such as alpaca. This is caused by the open nature of the yarn. Without multiple strands being twisted around each other there is less compression. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean the item in question will be less warm. As with any yarn, warmth is based upon fiber, stitch pattern, and gauge.
A word of caution when working with a single ply yarn, don’t plan on ripping it out! That beautiful halo we mentioned earlier encourages light felting of the strands as they rub together. If you do rip back make sure to pull the yarn very gently. An overenthusiastic tug might result in broken yarn.
Since single ply yarn tends to pill it is often recommended that you work slightly tighter than you might with plied yarns of the same weight. This will help reduce pilling by allowing less friction between the strands.
Another consideration for knitters is needle choice. Your super pointy needles that work great with lace might actually slow you down when working with single ply yarn. As you stab through the loop on the needle you run the risk of stabbing straight through the fiber. While this is always a possibility with any yarn the chances are increased with singles, especially if they are “soft single” (lightly spun). To save yourself frustration, and enjoy your time working with beautiful yarn, pick a slightly blunter tip needle.
Select a pattern that will work with the yarn and not against it. If you want crisp lines and cables that pop off the piece you’re not going to be happy with the result of a single ply yarn. However, a pattern with simple stitches like stockinette or garter will allow the yarn to shine. This isn’t to say to should avoid cables in singles yarn, just balance your expectations with yarn performance. Large uncomplicated cables like 3 over 3 (or larger) twists and braids can be stunning.
Lion Brand Yarn offers a worsted weight single ply yarn called New Basic 175. The palette of 24 colors begs to be arranged in different combinations. At $6.99 a skein it’s a good introduction to working with a single ply yarn. With a just one ball you can work up a hat like the Easy Bun Hat or the Shaped Hat.
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