The Girl from Auntie makes some excellent points in her post on the Craft Yarn Council numbers chart. (By the way, hers was one of the first quality knitting-related blogs I discovered way back when I first got an internet connection. So I still get a little frisson of excitement when I realize Jenna reads my blog. I'm such a starfucker.) In fact, Jenna's not sure we (meaning knitter-consumers) even need such a chart. As usual, insightful and intelligent analysis. And segues nicely into the yarn substitution tome I am now in the midst of writing...
In my rant on plies, I want to clarify that I am not suggesting that yarns Down Under aren't consistently labeled using the "ply" designation; merely that considering the actual number of plies a yarn has won't help you figure out its weight or category in most cases. This reminded me of an anecdote I forgot to tell you about a customer I helped about two years ago. She was carrying a tattered, photocopied (yes, I know. I couldn't tell if hers was a working copy or if she'd copied it out of a library book or a friend's leaflet or what. I was afraid if I touched it, it would disintegrate into pieces, it was this old.) pattern that she told me she had made many, many times over the years. For someone who said she'd been knitting for upwards of thirty years, she was remarkably clueless or apathetic about gauge and yarn size -- she had no idea what the gauge on the pattern was, even though she'd made it a bunch of times, and she had no idea what kind of yarn to look for, repeating the description of the yarn from the pattern "4-ply wool," like a mantra. "4-ply wool, 4-ply wool," sure that if she repeated it enough times she would find knitting enlightenment. It was an easy gauge to fit -- 4.5 or 5 sts to the inch, I forget which -- and since cost was a factor, we looked at the Encore. I explained the notion of ply to her over and over again, yet when she thought I wasn't looking, I saw her pulling apart the end of a strand from a ball, trying to count the plies. When she couldn't be certain of the exact number of plies, she decided I was a liar and said she didn't want it, as "every time I've bought yarn at this shop the sweater doesn't fit right." [Of course, her poorly-fitting sweaters have everything to do with our yarn, and nothing to do with her failure to understand gauge, right?]
I sent her to a big-box craft store, wishing I could see her (a) trying to find help that was as knowledgeable there; and (b) pulling apart a strand of Red Heart to count the plies.