Posted by: Steve | November 18, 2009

Observations on Unwinding – Controlling Twist

As spinners, weavers, and knitters we spend a lot of time and energy in winding and unwinding the yarns with which we work.  Take a good look at your tools.  How may involve some sort of winding process?

My current weaving project underway is using a ribbon yarn.  The yarn “begs” to be kept flat, however this has proven to be most challenging.  I began by winding from the skein onto my ball winder to create a more usable yarn package for warping my loom, and to begin weaving.  It wasn’t too far into the ‘direct warp’ process, I realized the trouble I created.


Yes, the meer act of drawing from the center-pull ball I carefully created added twist to the ribbon yarn thwarting my efforts to keep everything flat throughout the weaving process!  I knew this happened, but with “conventional” plied yarns, additional twist is hard to see and readily neglected.  This fact was not in the front of my mind.

With the twist very visible in the ribbon yarn, I decided to record some observations.  Hopefully, these will assist you in managing any unwinding process that adds twist, namely…

Unwinding from a center-pull ball, or off the END of a cone, spool, bobbin, or pirn – Creates Twist

But, we all knew that… didn’t we?  Looking closely as the ribbon was unwound by pulling off the end of bobbin, and I found…

Further testing showed this also applies to pulling the yarn from a center pull ball and observing the direction the yarn unwraps as you pull.

Looking at this issue further, by turning the bobbin end-for-end and pulling the ribbon from what is now the other end, twist is created in the opposite direction – as the unwind direction changes.

Twist is created at the rate of one complete twist per “lap” the yarn takes around the circumference of the spool.  Therefore, with a small diameter spool, the yarn will have to unwind many laps when pulling off one foot of yarn.  Many twists are inserted in this process.  If a spool is bigger around, fewer laps are taken and less twist is inserted.

And, just so all is not lost…

Unwinding from the SIDE of a ball, cone, spool, or bobbin does NOT create twist!

So why might this be important?

How your ball (cone, spool, pirn, etc.) is unwound will…

  • tend to loosen or tighten the plies in a yarn as it’s unwound
  • potentially loosen the twist in a single ply yarn to make it more difficult to use while knitting
  • create unwanted twist – in the example of the ribbon yarn I was trying to keep flat
  • enable you to tighten up a loosely spun yarn

Thankfully, most of the time this inserted twist is negligible and can be ignored.  But when it can’t, understanding how it’s created and can be managed is helpful.  Change the direction of how you are unwinding and see the results!

Bon tricot,



  1. I really prefer what you post in this article. Really insightful and intelligent. One challenge though. I’m running Internet explorer with Debian and parts of your current layout pieces are a little wonky. I realize it’s not a standard set up. Yet still it’s something to retain in view. I trust that it can help and always keep in the very best quality writing.

    • Thanks for your comments!
      Sorry the rendering is a little odd, but I’m using templates from WordPress with little control of the outcome.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge

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