While knitters are some of the most innovative and creative people I know, willing to take risks and experiment with new techniques and tools, in many ways, they are also some of the most resistant to change. We all have the things that we love most (and others that we avoid at all costs)! So when something new comes into the market, especially when it looks a bit foreign or different than what we’re used to, there is some level of risk involved with trying it.
While chain plied yarns have been around for a long time (spinners, especially, will understand them best referred to as n-plied yarns) they are still a relatively unusual product in the mainstream, manufactured yarn market. The structure of the yarn is similar to that of an i-cord—the strand resembles a chain, often hollow at the core, and these yarns sometimes take on a flat, cubed, and braided appearance. Many knitters, faced with a choice between a chain-plied yarn and a more standard, round yarn, will go with the one that seems the most familiar to them. In this post, I fully intend to take you outside of that comfort zone and explain why you need to try these yarns for yourself!
Because of their construction, these yarns are able to fill and even improve upon two types of yarns: woolen yarns and fibers that have a lot of drape.
When a yarn is spun woolen, this means that the yarn is almost built like a tube, with the fibers misaligned around an air core. This method of spinning (whether by machine or hand) results in wooly, fluffy, lightweight and delicate yarns. While we love woolen yarns for so many reasons, they also have a reputation for being fairly delicate. Fibers may drift apart if pulled too hard during the knitting process, resulting in occasional breakages and extra ends to weave in (although, we must assure you, once knit, these yarns are wonderfully strong!) By using a super-soft fiber and then chain plying, we are able to get softness, loft, and an ultra-warm air core similar to that of a woolen yarn, with a stronger structure.
An additional benefit to chain plying is stability. Alpaca and linen (two of the fibers that Shibui Knits offers as chain-plied yarns) especially benefit from the added support, allowing for greater design flexibility and use in larger garments. Have you ever been told that a sweater in linen will sag? With a chain ply, the pull of gravity is slightly countered by a horizontal pull from the yarn’s structure, helping create the elasticity needed for garments that linen naturally lacks, and keeping your linen garments full of drape rather than droop.
An added bonus of using chain-plied yarn is increased stitch definition. While a fuzzy fiber might blur the edges of a complex cable, or make a seed stitch field fade in a standard construction, chain-plied yarns are rounder than the typical yarn, filling out more space and creating neater, more defined stitches. While cables in alpaca add plenty of structure to a fabric with heavy drape, wouldn’t it be nice if they could be seen clearly as well? With a yarn like Maai, the chain ply pulls double and even triple duty, illustrating each springy stitch in high relief.
Snagging & Unraveling
Perhaps the biggest fear knitters have about working with these yarns is the worry that they will snag. There just seem to be so many loops that a needle or hook could get caught in! But the reality of working with them is quite different. Chain plied yarns do well with blunt or sharp needle tips, and you should choose your needle based on the fiber’s behavior and your own knitting preferences, rather than the yarn’s structure.
Another major concern is that the ends will come unraveled, resulting in a mess of tiny threads. As illustrated before, chain plied yarns are structured much like an i-cord, actually knitted together, so there are no tiny threads to come undone, but a single strand of fiber. As long as you weave your ends in carefully, you should be just fine! There is no more worry with a chain-plied yarn than with any other type of yarn. However, if it makes you feel better, feel free to tie a tiny knot onto the last bit of each end before weaving in.