What is "energized yarn"?

A Kathryn Alexander jacket design using energized yarn. What a beauty!

There are all kinds of yarns: single ply, novelty, variegated, worsted-weight, hand-dyed, and so on. But until I got the eMag SpinKnit, I'd never heard of "energized yarn."

In SpinKnit, energized yarn is described thusly: "The simple test of an "energized" yarn is that if a loop of the yarn is left to hang loosely, the yarn will ply back on itself."

Artist Kathryn Alexander uses energized yarn in her amazing designs (see one of her jackets at left), and she's explored the world of energized yarns for many years.

What might energized yarn mean for your knitting? I thought I'd excerpt an article from SpinKnit to show you. Here you go.

Yarn with a Mind of its Own

No one who has ever met Kathryn Alexander would be surprised to learn that she is the maven of energized yarns. She is an energy field unto herself, a creative force majeure who thinks of yarn and textiles in three dimensions, and who never met a "What if?" or "Why not?" that she didn't like. So it's no surprise that this independent artist loves yarn that also has a mind of its own.

When we speak of using energized yarns, we are generally talking about singles that have not been "finished" with moisture and heat. Plying tends to balance the energy in the singles that are plied together, and finishing removes the energy, whereas a fresh singles will always tend to twist to one side or the other. Because an energized yarn twists, fabric made with it will also tend to twist.

Traditionally, weavers have often worked with energized singles because plying is labor-intensive and balanced yarn isn't necessary for a woven fabric: the interlacement of warp and weft tends to balance out the twist energy in the yarns so that the fabric will lie flat. Knitters have tended to use more balanced yarns, because an energized single will make the knitted fabric want to twist.

But Kathryn Alexander is anything but a traditional knitter (or weaver, for that matter.) She is fascinated with three-dimensional fabrics, and she tells stories of prowling the junkyards of San Francisco in the 1990s seeking copper wire to weave avant-garde, stand-up-by-themselves garments sold in New York boutiques. She got interested in energized yarn in a class where the teacher showed her a woven sample that looked like knitting.  And Kathryn, of course, thought "What if?" What if you could make knitting look like weaving? What if you could work with the twist energy and take advantage of its effect on the knitted fabric? And thus began a journey of discovery that continues to this day.

In the following video from SpinKnit, Kathryn talks about what attracts her to energized yarn.

SpinKnit takes you on a journey with Kathryn. You'll explore videos where she talks about her love of energized yarns and their big potential and payoff for spinners and knitters, see a slide show of Kathryn's work, learn techniques for working with energized yarns, and try out a unique sock pattern, Peaks and Swirls, using mill-spun singles or your own handspun.

Like Kathryn says, everyone has those bobbins of singles waiting to be plied. Why not skip that step and get yourself some instant gratification and some very cool socks at the same time?

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