Crochet and Yarn: Seriously Twisted

I just freaked myself out, seriously.  My entire crochet life I assumed, and was assured by the writings of others, that it makes no difference whether you begin working with a skein, ball or cake of yarn by pulling from the outside or by pulling from the center (see here). HOKEY SMOKES!  As a result of some geeky experiments I did this morning while snow bound at home, I now know that there is a difference. Yes, I should get a life.  But if you’d like to know what I discovered, then read on.

Let me take a step back and talk about yarn twist for a moment.  I’ve been examining and writing about yarn twist for years (see here) and hope you’re all caught up, but I will summarize.  Except for ribbon, tape and tubular constructions (and perhaps roving, but I never work with unspun roving so I can’t say for sure) where the finished yarn is a wider or flatter product and the spinning, plying or twisting of the yarn fibers is not evident and not an issue, every yarn has a finished twist.  Yarn is either S-Twist or Z-Twist.  That particular twist is always the same no matter how you are viewing the strand, no matter which end is up or down.  How can you tell which twist?  Look at a single strand of yarn; if the fibers or plies make a slant this way \, like the center stroke of an S, then it is S-Twist.  If it slants this way /, like the center stroke of a Z, then it is Z-Twist.  Below, Z-Twist on left, S-Twist on right. That’s all pretty straightforward… so far.


Z-Twist yarn on left; S-Twist yarn on right.

The huge majority of commercial yarn is finished with S-Twist, no matter how the individual fibers, strand and plies are spun.  No idea why.  Maybe it’s a manufacturing thing.  I suspect that it is an end-user thing.  Most hand-crafting yarn is designed to be used for knitting, by right-handed knitters.  S-Twist favors the knitting process; knitting reinforces S-Twist and keeps the plies coherent and the strand stable.  The opposite happens in crochet by right-handed crocheters.  Because the yarn is wrapped around the crochet hook (yarn over) in the opposite direction of the knit yarn over, and because crochet stitches have height and may contain multiple yarn overs each time, crochet tends to un-twist the S-Twist.  Eventually, if this continues throughout the length of a skein (exacerbated by the act of fixing mistakes, frogging and re-crocheting) then that S-Twist yarn will become seriously untwisted, splitty, lose coherence and begin to fall apart.  When the yarn is a loosely S-Twist product to begin with, crocheting it can result in disaster.

Manufacturers create the final put-up (ball, skein or cone) without additional twist.  They do this by rotating the spindle that holds the skein, so the yarn is wound straight onto the core, not twisted around the core.  You do this as well when you wind a hank onto a ball-winder.  From the perspective of the yarn itself, you are not putting any additional twist into the strand.  However, from the perspective of the user, there is more twist happening.  Why?  When you go to use the skein, you either pick up and begin with the end on the outside of the skein, or you dig inside the skein for the center pull, right?  The skein stays put, the yarn winds around the skein as it comes off.  You are adding twist.

If you consider the orientation of the skein each time you draw some yarn from it, you can choose for this user twist to be S or Z.  If you’re looking at the skein from one end, and if you continue to wind the skein it would be in a clockwise direction, then pulling the feed directly from the outside from this end will add S-Twist.  If you pull from that center end, you will add Z-Twist.

clockwise end

If you’re looking at the other end of the skein, and the yarn is winding around in a counter-clockwise direction, then pulling directly from that outside end will add Z-Twist.  If you dug around and drew the center of the skein through this same end, and you pulled from the center, then you would add S-Twist.

counter end

For most yarn users, this matters not, really.  The amount of twist may be negligible in the overall picture, and you may never have a problem. But if you have noticed your yarn feed getting ratty and loose, if the splitting gets worse and worse as you go, if you tend to crochet and un-crochet the same sections over and over, if you like to work loose gauges and tall stitches, if your finished fabric looks crappy and worn before you’ve even worn it, then you may have an issue with twist.

There is a way to eliminate user twist, and that is to rotate the skein as you use it, pulled from the outside.  Know how it is when your yarn ball flips and jumps around while you pull from it?  That’s your feed coming off the ball without twist.  I have a tool, a contraption, that holds skeins, balls and cones, lets them spin freely and allows you to pull yarn in the manner it was put on.


It’s called the Yarn Pet, designed and crafted by my friends at Nancy’s KnitKnacks, and adapts (a tiny tool and some assembly required) to all sorts of yarn packaging.  The commercial Yarn Pet is what we use at DesigningVashti when winding Lotus into cakes from the manufacturer cones.

Not everyone needs to get so geeky about twist, but if you are experiencing twist issues, at least now you know it’s not your fault!  Just saying….


32 thoughts on “Crochet and Yarn: Seriously Twisted

  1. Wow. I cannot thank you enough for this; I feel less insane already! I am no longer a beginner, at all, and I was seriously beginning to think that I was losing my marbles, wondering why I was having to ‘re-twist’ my yarn as I was completing a stitch, esp. a DC for some reason. Really, my headache is receding already…thank you!

  2. Oh, so you heard my screaming. Just finished a CAL that used Omega Mimosa yarn which is a Z twist. To make a long story short. I rewound the skeins using a ball winder pulling the yarn from the center. It was a horror the yarn twisting so tight that it was like a wire as I crocheted. I really think there should be warning labels against pulling from the middle of a Z twist yarn. The wind direction when using a ball winder is also a factor. I have yet to figure out the absolute solution to this but I will never center pull again.

    • No, no, no! Don’t give up center pull. Here’s the thing. The direction of the wind when you use your ball winder is not the absolute issue. That ball looks clockwise wound when viewed from one end, and yet counterclockwise when viewed from the opposite end. What REALLY matters is the orientation of that ball when you’re pulling from it. You can pull from the center and not increase the Z-Twist; just pay attention.


      • So the trick is to carefully choose which end you poke around in to find the loose end (or more usually scribble of yarn vomit)? I’ll have to try that. I had a feeling there was some trick to it, but I never quite figured it out 🙂

      • I will need to re-read about the Z twist and hopefully sooner than later it will sink in. Yes, my head hurts to. I will have to give Lotus a try ….. seeing how it at least tells you where to pull the yarn from. I do admit though that the stitch definition of a Z twist yarn is beautiful. Everyday Crochet arrived in the mailbox just a few days ago …. hmmmm. Thanks for renewing my faith in a center pull. Now to figure out which end to pull from and which direction to turn the ball winder.

  3. So, if I understand what you’re saying, as a lefty crocheter I should probably stick with s-twist yarns?

    I noticed years ago, before I ever heard ‘s-twist and z-twist’, that sometimes the yarn un-plies, and sometimes it twists itself tighter. When the project is small, I can let it dangle and spin itself even; otherwise I just pull out a long strand and hope that will help even out the twist. If it’s really bad, and it’s wool, I’ll break the yarn and spit-splice it back together (much easier, and ironically less necessary, in my current laceweight craze).

    Thank you so much for being a geek. 🙂

  4. Thanks for a very interesting read. I’ve noticed my yarn “untwisting” if I have to frog it, especially bulky weights. I’ll have to remember & try to apply this.

  5. Almost every time I start a new project, I consider that there must be a way to chain with the twist (instead of the usual against the twist feel of crocheting) so that the yarn stays together throughout the project. You’ve solved it all. If I could get my fingers to do it, I would totally Vulcan Salute you, brilliant, observant, problem-solving lady!

  6. Thank you for this article. I had recognised the problem but couldn’t define it! I made a hat for my daughter, but there was frogging involved and the yarn ended up really ratty and untwisted and the hat did not look good. Now I really know why!! It isn’t just a loose twist or cheap yarn!

    As an aside, do you know Dover publications are reprinting James Walters Crochet Workshop? Brilliant book, strongly recommend, I think you and Vashti would really appreciate it!!!

  7. So, as a lefty, should I stick with the S-twist? That may explain why I haven’t experienced this untwisting yarn phenomenon (except when unraveling cotton sweaters).

  8. Am I correct in saying that if I have the end of the skein of a Z twist yarn that is wound counter-clockwise and I center pull from that end I will essentially be ???? adding an S twist to the Z??? or would the Z twist come out with no additional twist.

    I’m hoping the answer to be a Z twist with NO additional twist. Possible answers: Yes = I got it and No = I still don’t get it!

  9. Pingback: Link Love for Best Crochet Patterns, Ideas and News — Crochet Concupiscence

  10. When you are looking at one end of a skein… and if you were to wind the loose outside strand in the same way it’s going, and if that is going counter-clockwise… good so far?…. but you begin a center pull (using the inside strand to start) then, YES, you will be removing the feed from the center of the skein in a CLOCKWISE way and adding (albeit not a huge amount) S-Twist. If your yarn is Z-Twist, this process as described will slightly untwist the yarn. So I think the short answer is, NO you still don’t get it, but don’t obsess or you will be as insane as I am! 🙂

    To avoid adding S-Twist, one choice would be to use that initial counter-clockwise outside pull (which is annoying to maintain because you have to check the direction of the wind every time the skein jumps around or you stop crocheting and come back later!)… or you could dig around the middle of the skein and draw out an inside pull from the CLOCKWISE wound end. Then at least your feed will always be the same direction. Both of those options add a slight Z-Twist, which will reinforce the twist of a Z-Twist yarn.

    However, if you go along and discover that your yarn is TOO hard and twisty, then you could choose any of the pulls that puts in a little S-Twist. That make sense?

    The only way I have found to reliably take yarn off the skein without adding ANY twist is to rotate or spool the entire skein as you pull. That’s what the Yarn Pet achieves.

    And remember, this isn’t all that critical. It only matters if it helps you improve your fabric, or if it gives you the results you want.

  11. Holy smokes! This just so totally explains something that has always puzzled me. “..why does my yarn twist up like that?” Thanks, D. Now I know what does this and how to control it! Awesome!

  12. I’ve recently “come back” to crochet, and it was your book “Crochet Lace Innovations” that inspired me. Thanks for this particular blog post — I came upon it by accident, but it explained why my first project was plagued by untwisting wayward yarn. I’ve started the same project (different colour this time) with much better results. What a fantastic resource you are….

  13. Thanks for sharing that. Everything I flip through your site I’m learning something new. I just love it. Thanks for finding and sharing that. I want one of those yarnpets. Now the twisting thing I never would have even considered. Now I’m going to look at yarn ore closely when I buy it.

  14. I love learning more about yarn and this has been such an eye-opener to me (as well as the 2011) article! No wonder I favour one specific brand by an Indie dyer – all her cottons and bamboos are Z twist, perfect for crocheting!

  15. I’m a right-handed knitter and I’ve been having major issues with my yarn unwinding on me. I naturally twist the yarn around my finger as I knit, which has been unwinding this particular yarn. I already used my yarn winder on the skein, so the whole “just pull from the other end” bit won’t work. Is it possible to rewind my ball to create a S twist or am I out of luck?

  16. I am not as superior a crocheter as I would like to be, but have noticed this problem in several larger projects. I start with a center pull skein, fid another skein to the work from the outside of the skein, then begin seeing my soft, smooth stitches begin to fall apart.
    Now I know why.
    And I am not crazy.
    Thank you, Doris!
    {{happy dance!}}

  17. Um….it doesn’t matter how you pull yarn from a skein – the twist remains S or Z. Turn it upside down, all around, stand on your head…doesn’t matter; it’s still the same.

    • Correct. The twist of the yarn stays the same. What changes is the twist YOU add or subtract while pulling the end without compensating for the way the skein was wound. Just saying, if you don’t notice any problems then good for you!

      • Okay now my brain is blown; going to have to get out yarn again and take a look and figure this new “twist” out!

  18. Pingback: In which I get a little twisted | Kimberly Knits

  19. This is so interesting! I’ve been wondering since ages but couldn’t figure it out -but haven’t tried enough too 😉 I always knew that with crocheting you better had a Z-yarn. Which is rare, because even the typical ‘crochet cotton’ is S-plied yarn. Such a pity, when you look close up, all that crocheted stuff (mine too) is untwisted… it’s not as neat as you would wish…
    I also had some issues about adding (or not) twist when dealing with my own spun yarn (after carefully putting a certain amount of twist in it, you might untwist it without hardly knowing… :S But now I know. Happy!) Thanks so much for this geekiness about yarn twist!

  20. Thank you for explaining this. I have been despairing of my crochet for months and knew there’s a twist problem but didn’t realize it is just with crochet. Now I’m going to try to reorient my yarn to stop untwisting it.

  21. So, is it better in crochet to add S-twist to an S-twist yarn? Would this help it from becoming splitty? Since you said crochet tends to untwist the S-twist anyway? I’ve just realized that certain yarn recommends whether you pull from the inside or outside. For example, Red Heart Soft is a ball, and they say it should be pulled from the outside, while Red Heart Super Saver is a skein which should be pulled from the inside.

    I’ve certainly had issues with both splitty yarn becoming unwound as well as yarn that seemed to be getting tighter, so this is helpful to learn!

  22. I was watching a documentary on archaeology, and one of the scientists was analysing textiles found in an ancient burial (I think it was about 2000 years old). She said that one clue as to where the textiles were made was s- or z-twist in the yarn used to weave the fabric. In Egypt, they held the spindle one way, and in somewhere else (forgotten where), they held it another, and this meant people in one area were spinning z and the other spinning s. This was shown in a brief shot in the documentary, but because I am not a spinner, I couldn’t identify the spindle types/techniques.

    I notice that linen is often spun z, and I wonder if this is a relic of the way people held their spindles millenia ago when spinning flax in ancient Egypt.

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