What is a combo ply? Combo plying is simply combining two or more non-identical colorways together into a single yarn. This is a great way to stretch single four-ounce bumps of fiber so that you have more finished yarn to work with in a project (because you can only have so many mittens and hats!) I also love combo plying because it helps increase the one-of-a-kind feeling I get from my handspun projects. It's extremely rare to have any combo ply come out identical to another, even if you're using the same fibers!
There are only a few "rules" I follow with combo-plying and most of them have to do with fiber content -- I try to mix wools with similar staple lengths as much as possible. Other than that, the sky's the limit! Hopefully by sharing how I combo ply, I can encourage more of you to try it, too. I'm going to cover a few different types of combo plies on the blog in the upcoming months: Coordinating, Contrasting, and Tonal.
This first one is a combo I would consider in the Coordinating category. I used two Hello Yarn fibers -- colorways Bracken and Gorse (Targhee) and Very Small Creatures (Portuguese Merino.) You can tell when they're side by side what parts of both fibers were speaking to each other, and I knew going in that this was going to produce a very autumnal, primarily brown, yellow, and orange yarn. When pairing fibers for combo-plying, it's good to note overall tones. If I had been hoping to highlight more of the blues and greens, or get a 'darker' feeling yarn, I would have been very disappointed after plying these! In Coordinating combo plies, I look for fibers that have many similar colors and a few 'special' colors that will help the finished yarn pop. I broke them down in this image for you:
The next step in any combo ply is to determine how you want to spin it! Two plies will help color differences pop, while three or more plies will help mute the differences and create a more heathered, subtle yarn with an overall tone. I settled on a two ply for this one, and spun up both of the yarns on my Woolmaker's Bliss. Given that Targhee and Portuguese Merino are both extremely puffy, fluffy fibers, I spun these sort of 'loose and dirty', in that I wasn't aiming for a very particular gauge or project. I love how when you see the two bobbins together, you can really note the differences and similarities!
After plying, you can see how the yarn overall has great orange and gold tones! Sometimes, while plying, I get worried about sections 'matching up' too closely -- where the barber poles disappear and I only get long portions of colors that blend together. Usually, if I convince myself to keep going, these don't seem as apparent in the final skein. I was surprised by how the blue tones really popped in the final yarn:
When you know that you're keeping both skeins, it can be a good idea to wind them into the hank (on the niddy-noddy) together in succession, in reverse order for how the bobbins were spun to preserve color transitions. I tie a little knot or spit-splice the ends together so that my color change at that point in my project will be fairly seamless. If you aren't keeping both skeins, and are planning on being fraternal-skein buddies with a friend, lay them beside each other and choose your favorite! Each skein is an individual with this fun way of plying!
The finished yarn is probably around 350 yards of worsted weight, and I have combined the names of both fibers, calling it Small Creatures in the Bracken.