The Crochet Twist

Many times I have been asked to name my favorite yarns.  My answer, after considerable waffling, is always “well, it depends”. Do you mean what are the yarns I most enjoy using or which ones do I love for my own personal crochet? There is a difference.

Yarn is not only my passion, the stuff of dreams and stash, but as a professional crochet designer yarn to me is also the single most critical aspect of my work, an aspect over which I have zero control. You may not know that the yarns and shades used in the designs you see in crochet magazines and books are not necessarily chosen by the designers. For reasons not always apparent or transparent, yarn choices are made by or at least subject to the approval of the magazine or book editors, take it or leave it, like it or not.

That makes perfect sense to me.  Over the years I have learned to be flexible about materials for design and that has served me well.  Not only has it created for me a nice little  niche in the crochet publishing pantheon, but it has also given me the opportunity to handle yarns I might never have experienced. It is my job to make any yarn my employers throw at me look good in crochet. I have created hundreds of garments and accessories with everything from indifferent craft acrylic to luxury cashmere, in every weight from lace to super bulky.  I maintain that every yarn deserves good design. Even if it takes extraordinary effort, long nights of yarn whispering, cajoling and tussling, eventually every yarn must speak to me.

I know this sounds like a cop-out, but honestly, I have enjoyed almost every yarn I have been paid to use.  Well, there was that time with some horrible bulky acrylic rug yarn. No joke,  I was sent stuff with the words “rug and craft yarn” on the label, which would have been perfect for… well, for a rug.  But not so wonderful for a garment. Oh, and I can never forget that nasty metallic chainette that I had to finish with drops of fray-check to keep the ends from madly un-chaining. I coulda done without those two jobs.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes the yarns that were the biggest pain in the butt to crochet turned into the most agreeable fabric, with all the qualities you could want, supple hand, wonderful drape, great stitch definition. So you have to ask yourself, is it worth enduring torture to arrive at something pleasing? Well, it depends, doesn’t it?

So you will not hear me dissing any yarns, at least not by name. But let me get back to the question. Given that I can get my hands on practically any yarn, you might think that my personal choices would be high-end or at least esoteric. Not.

I have allergies and so does Cookie, the fat white Chihuahua who runs this household. We fear rabbit (angora) most of all. Next most disliked is mohair. We can’t wear wool. We barely tolerate alpaca and cashmere. That pretty much rules out over half of the field, including many of the yarns that are the current darlings of knitters. By default I gravitate toward plant fibers, plant derived fibers and man-made-chemistry-set fibers.

But just because a yarn is made from cotton, silk, linen, hemp or rayon from bamboo, soy or whatever does not make it completely happy. It has taken me years of messing with hundreds of yarns to finally understand why I keep coming back to certain ones. It’s all to do with twist.  My boss, Vashti Braha and I toyed with the concept of yarn twist, but she’s the one who wrote about it a couple of years ago. (Share her experience crocheting tall stitches on her blog, DesigningVashti.)

Most crocheters aren’t aware of how twist affects the crochet. All fiber (except, like, un-spun roving) has to be spun in some way to make it become a long continuous thing that then becomes yarn.  Some yarns are then constructed without any more twist, such as tubular, woven or ribbon type yarns.  For most conventional constructions, there is additional twisting together of plies, which can be done in two directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise. I hope I have this right, but the former gives you an S-twist, the latter a Z-twist. How can you tell? Simple. Look at a strand of yarn. See how the ply or plies all lean in one direction, either like the center stroke of an S or a Z.

This yarn is S-twisted.

This yarn is Z-twisted.

I am sure there is a reason that mills use one or the other.  Someday I will stop being such a slug and do the research and find out. In another life.

For now, all I can say is that the staggering bulk of what is produced has an S-twist.  Most yarns are produced with knitting in mind.  I never understood why certain of those yarns are awesome in knitting but look crappy in crochet. Perhaps not in a scientific way, but intuitively I now know that knitting tends to reinforce S-twist and crochet tends to rebel against it.

I suspect the reason is that the knitting yarn over is in the opposite direction of the crochet yarn over. I both knit and crochet and never think about this because I naturally do the right thing with whichever tools are in my hands. The process of crocheting makes a Z-twist. Each time you yarn over and draw a loop through you are giving the yarn a little counter-clockwise nudge. When you crochet with S-twist yarn, you are un-twisting as you go. If you crochet, un-crochet, crochet, un-crochet (as routinely happens in design) then a low-energy, loosely S-twisted yarn could lose all integrity before long. At the very least, the plies become separated and the yarn will be really splitty.

When I began examining yarns for their twisted ways, I thought to analyze my favorite yarns. Z-twist is almost always used with wool roving or singles like this:

Cotton is routinely Z-twisted, notably for sewing thread and crochet thread. And, as I discovered, the yarns I kept returning to time and again are not simply non-animal fibers, but they are also Z-twisted. Spa (see Cari Clement’s blog post for about Doin’ the Z-Twist)

And the Tahki Cotton Classic family:

Twist (more accurately, the lack of twist) is partly the reason I’m drawn to tubular yarn, like South West Trading Company Oasis:

and ribbon yarn, like Tess Designer Yarns Microfiber Ribbon. With these constructions, you control the twist as you go.

Don’t tell my employers, but  I automatically wince when a design yarn arrives that has multiple plies that are loosely S-twisted because I know that project will be splitty crochet hell. And I grin from ear to ear when the yarn has the crochet happy twist.


24 thoughts on “The Crochet Twist

  1. OMG freaking Gawds!

    You just answered my question of why some yarns behave and some don’t!
    Thank you so much for this timely post!!

    Would starting from the centre of a ball or from the outside affect the z or s twist?

    • Nope, it doesn’t make any difference. Pulling from the center of a ball or from the outside could affect your gauge, though. As long as you do it the same way each time throughout a project, you’re good.

      • Thank you Doris!
        I always work from the centre out. I find that with some yarns, the outer layer is a tad lighter in shade than the inside of a ball so I keep the lighter stuff for the back of a sweater if it’s one of those multi-balls project. I guess the lighter shade might be because the yarn was exposed to more sunlight? Something I’ve wondered about off and on.

        And Vashti, that’s exactly why I asked since I’ve also seen that recommended elsewhere.
        And I have to agree, it would be nice if it worked!

    • I know what you mean about yarns! The greatest nightmare is to put away a project because you’re too busy and then not remembering where you put it and finally finding it just to learn that you have to introduce into it another yarn because the one you were using is no longer available! If you know how a yarn would behave and if you gauge well, you can get by. Believe me, people go through all kinds of disasters and Bloggers hear about them. This is a very instructive post!

  2. I don’t think I understood very well why some yarns just work and some don’t until I started learning how to spin.

    Then there was all this information about S-twist and Z-twist and which works best for what. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I apparently, without even thinking about it, spin Z-twist. Oops? 😉

  3. This is really interesting. I’ve been knitting for a long time and am pretty new to crochet, and had noticed that loosely plied yarn falls apart when I crochet–but had not really thought about why.

  4. They say that you learn something new everyday and today I certainly did. Thank you Doris. I don’t know whether this will make any difference to what yarns I use as I can usually only afford acrylic for most of my projects, and while I have noticed splittiness in some yarns that I crochet with, it won’t stop me from using them.

  5. What an extremely useful explanation of twist, something I have never considered before. Now I know what to look for and will hopefully not be disappointed in my future yarn choices. Thank you!

  6. Very interesting! I’ve never thought about the twist of the yarn. I can now see why a yarn I bought and tried to crochet with was a mess from you know where, it was splity and didn’t look good crocheted. I will have to study my yarn more closely. Thank you very much for sharing this information!

  7. Doris,
    Thanks for the great info. This like the others have said explains why some yarns work better then others. One question to think about though, I am a lefty. Since I crochet from Left to right instead of right to left I wonder what difference this would make. I will try to look at twist and see how it goes.
    Sharon R. in TN

  8. Wow – that makes total sense! I’ve often wondered what was going on! I’ve also recently discovered that some yarns have a ‘nap’, meaning they crochet up best when hooking with the nap than against it, especially when working with fuzzy yarns. Sometimes I need to rewind an entire ball of yarn (love my yarn winder) to get the nap going in the right direction to crochet. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

  9. Thank you so much, Doris, it’s a wonderful explanation. I never realised that was the cause of the “little” trouble I have with some yarns (well I also have allergies but that’s another story !). I’ll see better my yarns not only in the future but right now !


    P.S. Sorry for my bad English…

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  12. Bless you, Doris Chan!

    Thank you! After reading this post it was like a light came shinning down from the heavens and everything became so clear! It explains so much!

    There have been so many times, when crocheting, that after having to pull something apart a few times the yarn gets so limp and stringy. When I think to the last few times it’s definitely been an s-twist yarn. And I totally know what you mean about gravitating to some yarns over and over. I just went and looked at my stash and all a lot of the yarn in there that I’m going to use for crochet has the z-twist. And it explains why I don’t like knitting with those same yarns.

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  16. Thank You! This insight is very beneficial. I’ve been working with yarns for many years and now understand why certain projects turned out as they did. The S vs Z concept will certainly be helpful in my current project, and possibly even preserve my sanity!

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