Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Thickness of Ply....

The word for our third memory challenge is "ply." It's a simple 3 letter word with a depth of meaning, no pun intended. "Ply," as a noun, means "layering." As a verb it is often defined as "pushing on," layering ones efforts repeatedly to achieve an end.

I have dealt with ply in an industrial sense for years. As a reseller of yarns, I had to know how many plys were in a strand of yarn and what was the thickness of each sub-ply which made up the final strand of yarn. It's a language unto itself. I would have to able to say that I needed 10s/2/4, which meant that I needed my yarn plied with 4 strands of yarn that was actually 2 plied strands of a 10 spun yarn. This would be the organic cotton that I ordered from the mills in both the US and Peru, years ago.

For my lace weight yarn, I could easily order 18/2, which would be 2 plied stands of a single yarn spun to the international thickness of 18. There are standard measurements for this.

I once visited a plier in Brampton, ON. The owner had inherited the business from his family, who supplied cotton yarns for weavers. He would buy single strands of a two-ply yarn. It always had to be two ply because that's how you deal with the bias. Two yarns plied together have opposing tensions, which, when joined, "settle" the yarn into a single relaxed strand. These strands are then plied to other similar strands to make - 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.....etc thicknesses (of plies). His facility was amazing. If you have ever had to untangle yarn, think of miles of yarn from huge cones being guided through eyes and pulleys to eventually be joined together in the required ply and wound onto smaller more manageable cones. The machinery might have taken up the space of 1/4 of an acre. God forbid that it should ever knot.

This was my business side of "ply."

My personal use of ply has to do with my embroidery. I am using my mother's embroidery thread, which was bought in production quantities, for hand smocking about 80 years ago. This yarn has names, such as, Clark's, Corticelli, Anchor. All the skeins are 6 ply 100% cotton and yes, I can take apart one of the plys and it has two strands of the finest yarn, I could ever imagine, plied together. I usually divide the thread I am using into 3 strands from the original 6. If I need a thinner thread then I use 2 strands. I have yet to use a single 2-ply strand. But I am planning to embroider over drawings. I can see using a single strand for eyes and their respective creases - life's layering.

Here "ply" is so much a part of Art. I add to my mother's colour palette, which has dwindled over the years, embroidery floss from DMC. I marvel at the extensive colour choices, the subtle nuances of shades and the variegated dyes, for those who don't create their own shading.

I have often said that I deal in the microcosm, the small under the microscope facets of life. Well yarn in its finest ply is right up there with the minutae of daily living. And to think that this obsession is supported in the mainstream by corporations that supply us with yarns plied in the colours and gauges of our wildest dreams. The needle arts have not died, they have been subdivided into plies of the finest threads to be used to weave, embroider, knit, crochet.....etc. the stories of our lives.

Not any particular isolated memory, more of a compilation of small moments, plied together to make a memoir.

Actually I will add here a personal note about my mother's embroidery thread. Each colour came in it's own box and each box held about 24 skeins. At one time there were almost 100 of these boxes stored in two large crates. They followed us everywhere. My father was in Real Estate and we moved house often. The yarn always came with us. When my mother died, somehow my sister inherited the boxes. I'm not sure why they didn't come to me, but my sister claimed everything she thought she could sell.

One day she sent me an email. She said that she had put the embroidery floss up on Kijiji and no one wanted it. Would I like it? I would love it! I couldn't imagine it falling into the hands of someone who, yes, might appreciate it, but not know of its history, its personal importance. That individual would not have sat for hours beside my mother watching her set up the bodices of dresses on her small makeshift embroidery frame. They would not have watched her gather the fabric into tiny accordions and stitch those pleats together in chevrons of back stitch or embroider small flowers in between the main designs. They would not have remembered the brilliant orange, red and pink broadcloths cut and sewn into Peter Pan collars and small puffed sleeves to finish the dresses. They would not have seen the look of peace on my mother's face. She was in another world when she smocked. I like to remember my mother this way. In fact, one of the boxes of thread had a half used skein of blue floss. The end was secured in a professional knot. I think that the last person to touch this skein was my mother. I'm keeping it that way.

The picture? Some plied beauty.

Have a many faceted day

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