What Does Ply Mean?

Charlie Bradley Ross Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Chances are you have heard the term 'ply' bandied about when talking about the way that shirts and other things such as sheets and bedding are made, but you may not know exactly what it means, or how to decode the associated numbers - What does 100/2 even mean?! What does ply mean?

Ply is the number of yarns that are twisted around one another to create one single thread. Very simple really! That thread is then used to weave a fabric (which can then become a shirt, or sheet, or anything!) The most common "plys" we come across are one or two strands. These are known as 1-ply or 2-ply.

It does not indicate the number or direction of the twists used, or the number of threads within a certain area (i.e., a fabric could be woven very tightly or loosely, and still have the same ply). To determine these things, you would need the twist count and the thread count.

ply thread

When you see one single thread, it may actually be comprised of two or more strands that have been twisted together. This thread above, for example, has a ply of 30/2.  The first number here is the thread count (which I'll go through in a separate post at a later date) and the second number is the ply.  So this thread is made by twisting two threads together: it is a 2-Ply thread.

How Does Ply Effect The Fabric?

Just as the twisting of fibres together greatly effects the end product, many people would not even think to consider that the number of strands that have been twisted together could have any effect on the way that a fabric feels and respond. In fact, it can have a massive difference.

1-Ply or Single-Ply Fabrics

More casual shirts, on the other hand, will often be made from 1-ply (sometimes called single-ply) fabrics. This choice is made because 1-ply fabrics will be slightly more breathable, and much nicer to wear in hotter temperatures.

These are two beautiful examples of single ply fabrics. The left, a navy organza, and on the right, a slubby single jersey.

2-Ply Fabrics

2-ply fabrics will often have a much tighter weave than 1-ply fabrics. That means that they have a little bit more stretch and give. It also means that they feel much more smooth, and are often described as having a 'crisp' feel. Regardless whether or not you care whether your shirt or sheets are a single-ply fabric weave or a 2-ply fabric weave, you should know that 2-ply fabrics are considered superior and may well be sought after by customers.

Most professional and formal shirts are created with 2-ply fabric, because it keeps them prevents them from re-creasing once they have been ironed. These two fabrics below are 2-ply. The left is an organic white cotton, and the right is an organic cotton denim chambray - ideal for garments and interior furnishings and resisting creases.

3-Ply Fabrics

3-ply fabrics are considered to be much more durable than single-ply and 2-ply. They are commonly used in sportswear and childrenswear that need to be able to take whatever hits them! 

So To Recap

To decode the numeric figures: If the figure after the slash "/" is a 1, then the fabric is single-ply. If it is a 2, then the fabric is 2-ply. And if you see a three, or four... you get the general idea. So the next time you're looking at fabrics and see these strange numbers, you will at least know what the number after the slash means.

Ply is a great way to quickly understand how the fabric has been made, and once you understand that, much of buying a shirt that you like, or buying fabric to make something really special, suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.