Many fiber friends (myself included!) often ply their yarn with a center pull ball. This popular method works especially well if you only have one bobbin.
You form your yarn into a center pull ball with a yarn winder, then take the end of your yarn from the inside and the end from the outside and give it twist. This creates a two-ply yarn. I’ve used this center pull ball plying technique a lot in my projects.
But sometimes you’ll hear people say, “Don’t do that! It will mess up your twist!”
This topic can be a pretty heated debate within the community, and it can be hard to find a consensus. I wanted to figure out if it really is bad to ply from a center pull ball. I needed answers!
So, I set up a little science experiment to help us get to the bottom of it. Does plying from a center pull ball change your twist? You might be surprised by what I figured out!
Keep reading to find the results, or watch the full experiment on YouTube here.
Let’s Get Spinning!
What happens when you ply from a center pull ball? — with a visual aid!
I found it useful to start with toilet paper as a visual aid. It is not quite the same thing as a ball of yarn, but it helps demonstrate what happens when we ply from a center pull ball. (And yes, I rerolled the paper when I was done so it did not go to waste!)
Imagine this roll of toilet paper is a center pull ball of yarn.
When we wrap our yarn into a center pull ball configuration and then we pull the yarn off from the outside edge, it does not come off flat. It gains some twist.
This happens because the pull ball remains stationary as we pull, so the yarn has to rotate around the ball as it comes off.
When we pull yarn from the center, it gains even more twist. This happens because the yarn is wrapped closer to the center and so it has to rotate more as it pulls out of the roll.
Do you see all this twist we have here? It’s very twisty!
This shows that the outer portion of the pull ball is not gaining as much twist as the inner portion. That means that when you ply yarn together by pulling from the center and pulling from the outer edge, the two pieces of yarn are not experiencing the same amount of twist manipulation.
Plying from a center pull ball vs. plying from two bobbins
The toilet paper experiment was pretty convincing, but I had to try this idea out with yarn next.
I spun up some singles from Malabrigo “Nube” 100% pure merino wool from my stash. I spun it with my Ashford E-Spinner 3 and made sure that the dial was set the same. I also did my best to draft it exactly the same so it would all have the same amount of twist.
Then I divided it in half and then into two quarters. The half will get plied back on itself from a center pull ball, and the two quarters will get plied together from bobbins.
This way, I created a center pull ball and two bobbins with identical yarn on each so that I can do a side-by-side comparison of the two plying methods.
And we’re ready to ply!
But first, I should mention that when I spun this yarn for the experiment, I spun it in a Z direction and then I plied it in an S direction.
I also spun everything with a very low twist. I didn’t want the twist to be so much in this project that it started to compress the yarn. Instead, I wanted the yarn to stay lofty in hopes that it helps us visibly see what the twist is doing.
Lastly, I want to mention that the yarn I used had a lot of areas that were a little inconsistent in terms of thickness. Nube is a beautiful fiber, but it is notoriously difficult to spin. I also found it a little hard to draft consistently.
But I did my best, and I was fine to work around some of the little inconsistencies for this experiment.
When I started plying the center pull ball, I immediately started to see that the yarn was coming off of the ball in a similar way to the paper coming off of the toilet paper roll. I plied it completely and then moved on to plying with the bobbins next.
To keep everything the same, I used the same setup that I did with plying the center pull ball. I used the same bobbin and did not change the tension anything. I plied everything together at the same pace.
I made sure not to add any twist from any of my equipment and was careful when putting the yarn into skein form.
The results: Yarn
Looking at the skeins side-by-side, I couldn’t believe it!
There was more of a difference than I thought there would be.
The one on the right is the one that was plied from the center pull ball, and the one on the left is the one that was plied from two separate bobbins.
The first thing I noticed is that overall, the one from the two bobbins had a little bit more energy than the center pull ball one did. The center pull ball one was a little limper.
When we look up close at the strands of the center pull ball yarn, we can see a lot more strands that have this inconsistent look. One strand is very fluffy and the other looks very skinny. But the yarn is the same diameter. What’s happening is that the skinny strand is being held tighter by more twist. The fluffy strand has almost no twist at all.
Now if we look up close at the yarn that was plied from two separate bobbins, there are also some inconsistencies in this yarn. But I didn’t think there were as many inconsistencies.
Both strands looked very fluffy and lofty, rather than one being fluffy and lofty and the other being more tightly spun. I could also see that some of the inconsistencies were caused by a difference in the drafting. That Malabrigo Nube is just a tricky fiber to draft!
The results: Knitting
I wanted to do one more experiment. I decided to knit two swatches and see how they compared. I figured that this was the real test!
I knit both yarns using US 10 needles in stockinette stitch.
Surprisingly, in the end, there was only a very subtle difference between swatches.
It was difficult to capture on camera, but when I held the swatches up close toward the light, I could definitely tell the difference. The one that was knit from the center pull ball plied had more loose stitches and more fluffy texture. The yarn that was plied from straight the two bobbins was much more uniform. It didn’t have the random little surface texture stitches.
Honestly, though, they looked so similar! If I were to walk by both swatches and I didn’t know why they were different, I doubt that I’d be able to tell that one was plied this way or the other way. The only way I knew the difference was because I’d just done it myself.
They just looked like they were made with hand spun yarn. And hand spun yarn has character, no matter how you ply it!
So, is it wrong to ply from a center pull ball?
The only way it might be “wrong” is if it is making yarn that you don’t want or yarn that is just not the right choice for you or your project.
It is good to be informed about how yarn behaves because it does affect your results. If you are going for a very consistent look, now we know that you might be better off using two separate bobbins.
But if plying with a center pull ball is getting you the yarn that you want and you enjoy using it, keep doing it! Don’t let some lady on the internet tell you not to ply from a center pull ball if you love plying from a center pull ball.
I believe that there are no rules about spinning. There is no right or wrong way! There is only what is best for you and your particular project.
To find out more about how I finish my yarns after I’ve plied them, read this post next.
If you are interested in private virtual spinning lessons, you can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.