Now that you have picked up the basics of spinning, plying should be the easy part, right? Well, not quite. Plying is a unique skill that just happens to use much of the same equipment as spinning. However, to become skilled at plying does not necessarily follow from being able to spin. Also, because we only ply half or in some cases one third as often as we spin a single, we practice it far less than we practice spinning.
Remember, when we spin our singles, we spin to the Z or the clockwise direction. Now, to soften and strengthen the finished yarn, we will ply to the S or counterclockwise. This creates loft as the singles are slightly untwisted, but also adds strength because two thicknesses, or in the ideal world three thicknesses, are better than one.
In plying, I find it advantageous to have two stations from which the yarn is dispensed. I happen to have two lazy kates, which until recently I would use standing beside one another. Today I had an epiphany! To increase the angle of my plies, I placed one about 6 feet to my left, and the other about 6 feet to my right, while I was centered, but sitting back as far as possible from the wheel. This resulted in not only a balanced skein, but also in a yarn that I would dare to say would be almost impossible to discern as being hand spun.
This may sound like chaos waiting to happen, and I must say I did have a tangle incident when the tension was reduced by having too much yarn wind off at once, but as long as you maintain tension on the singles, it is amazing how well it works. I also find that keeping some distance between your singles and the spinning wheel results in a better ply, as it gives the existing twist a chance to even out before it is plied.
I am currently spinning an alpaca-Shetland-bamboo blend to a lace weight for a knitted shawl. Knowing the wear that the yarn would be exposed to not only in the knitting process, but also as it is worn, I knew that good plying would be essential in creating a garment which would have the longevity that would do justice to the amount of work it will take to create it.