Ask Jacey: Commercial Yarns as a Supporting Ply for Art Yarns

words by: Jacey Boggs Faulkner

Ask Jacey: 

“What are your thoughts about using commercial yarns as a supporting ply for art yarn?” – Mila K. 

Jacey’s answer: 

I’m all for spinning the yarn you want to spin using the elements you want to use. What does that mean? I’m all for using commercially spun yarn as elements in art/textured yarn. I’ve done it for years, and I can’t see a single reason to stop. Sure, there are times when I want every element to be handspun and I’ll tell you about those, but first let’s chat about the reasons I (or you) might choose to use commercially spun yarns in your art yarns.

Reasons to use commercial yarn in your handspun 

It can save time.

This is the most obvious, right? 

When you use commercially spun yarns in your handspun, it means you don’t have to put in extra time spinning those elements. However, it’s my experience that spinners don’t mind spending time spinning, so maybe that’s not as obvious as I thought. But the time-saving aspect does come into play when there are structural elements (like a core for corespinning or coiling, or a binder in bouclé) or are more decorative instead of structural (like an autowrap). Very few people balk at using commercially spun yarn for these elements. If you’re not going to see it or if you’re going to see it but the commercially spun yarn adds a decorative element to your yarn, it’s definitely a timesaver and a totally valid reason to break out that cone of laceweight yarn.

It can work better 

There are also times when using a commercially spun yarn in your handspun yarn just works better. When corespinning, spiral-plying, or making a coiled yarn, it’s pretty persnickety to use a single as the core. Since these kinds of techniques rely on plying your yarns in the opposite direction that your singles were spun but also require that one of the strands be held directly out from the orifice while the other is out to the side with little to no tension, using a handspun single just doesn’t make as much sense. The best (and easiest) yarns for these off-tension techniques are yarns that are already plied, and while we have established that spinners like to spin, not all spinners like to spin two singles, then ply them, and then cover that plied yarn up completely with coils or corespinning.

The same is true for parts of some more complex yarn structures, like bouclé. A bouclé yarn has three elements, and two of those are often commercially spun yarn and one is almost always commercially spun. Making the loopy part of a bouclé yarn is impressive, but again, it’s an off-tension technique so you either need to use an already-plied yarn as the core or use a lightly spun single and bouclé in the same direction as that single. Many people choose a commercially spun yarn as the core of a bouclé and there’s nothing wrong with that. A bouclé yarn also has a third element, the binder. The binder is a very thin (you almost want it to disappear) yarn or thread that holds your loops in place. While you can spin a very fine yarn for this, most spinners prefer to use a thin silk thread for this gotta-be-strong-but-also-not-show element.

So sometimes it just works better to use commercially spun yarns for those elements. 

Reasons to spin it all 

To see if you can 

I have to admit, I’ve handspun almost every yarn I know how to spin just to see if I can. Coiled, corespun, looped, layered, and stacked, every one of them can be spun by hand. Not only is it fun to do but it teaches you how the structures work and what each and every yarn needs to work and look best. I highly encourage you to spin all the elements in your yarns by hand at least once, but once you know you can, you definitely don’t have to.

Because you’re a purist 

I’m not a purist. I never have been. But if you are, I’m here to cheer you on. Just make sure you are doing it because you love it and not because you’ve set an unrealistic standard for yourself. Nobody will judge you if you don’t use handspun for your 100 percent covered up core in that lockspun yarn.

For competition

If you’re going to enter your yarns in any kind of competition, they usually need to be 100 percent made by you. Skein and garment competitions usually don’t allow handspun yarns to contain commercially spun elements, so check the rules carefully. There’s no getting around this. But don’t let it hold you back – the ribbon is well worth it!

So that’s my take on using non-handspun yarn in my handspun art/textured yarn. I’m all for it. Truth be told, I’m all for any and everything you want to do in this wonderful craft. I think it’s essential to experiment, to learn, to create and sample, to learn and grow and most of all, to love what you’re doing and making.

This text was originally published in PLY’s December 2023 newsletter.  Have a question for Jacey?  She’d love to hear from you – ask her here: Ask Jacey

Jacey Boggs Faulkner is the woman behind PLY Magazine but mostly she just loves spinning and teaching spinning. She also loves salted dark chocolate.

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