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Yarn Measurement

Renee asks:

You mentioned that you usually keep track of the length of fiber spun. I was wondering how you calculate that?

I usually keep a notebook handy and log my spinning in various ways, and I measure and write down several things about the yarn, then tag the yarn with what I guess you could call its associated metadata.

I like to keep track of how long it takes to spin and ply the yarn to some general degree, though sometimes it’ll be no more detail than “an evening watching TV.” If there’s anything particularly unusual about the fiber or the technique, I also jot that down. I also generally try to keep track of what the fiber was in case I want or need more, and so I can tell people if they ask. So my little notebook next to my spinning will have things in it like:

7 Feb 2007

Chasing Rainbows Merino/Tencel – African Savannah 2 oz

Split space-dyed top down center, 1st half /1 bobbin, 2nd half / next bobbin

3.5 hrs

8 Feb 2007

remaining CR merino/tencel on bobbin 2, 1.5 hrs

plied same, 2 hrs

Once the yarn is done, I take the bobbin and go skein the yarn, using my trusty counting skeiner, a Fricke freestanding floor skeiner with inbuilt counter (Fricke’s Winding Items). Mine is several years old now, and it’s been through a lot with me. The first thousand miles or so of yarn we skeined loosened the base a little and so now it has attractive Gorilla Glue detailing there. One arm of the skeiner was broken during the cross-country move last year, and reglued and secured further with wire. And the original counter gave up the ghost last fall, and had to be replaced! Now you might be thinking, “Wow, what a lemon,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You have to think about just how much yarn I skein. There are many days where I skein several miles of yarn. The thing has taken quite a beating, and it keeps going.

Anyway, thanks to the magic of the counter, I know how many yards there are immediately. In some cases, I choose to stop at a certain point and tie off the skein, removing it — if I’m putting things up in 100-yard or 200-yard skeins for a specific reason, like for sale, for instance. In other cases, I just keep going until the whole bobbin is empty. Then I add in the yardage — usually rounding down to the next 5, so if there are 178 yards, I call it 175 — in my little notebook, and take the skein(s) to be washed.

Once they’re completely dry, I weigh them in grams and ounces, and add that to the notebook as well. Usually, I calculate the yards per pound (ypp) at this point as well. And supposing I’m not being lazy, this is when I measure wpi, by wrapping the yarn around a ruler.

When all is said and done, I have the following metadata available to me about the yarn:

  • 660 yards / 600 meters
  • 2 ounces / 56 grams
  • 38 wpi
  • 5280 ypp
  • Spinning Time: 7 hrs
  • Material: Merino/Tencel handpainted top from Chasing Rainbows, African Savannah

That lets me describe the yarn in post like this one, and keep a record of it with the post as well, including photos. If it’s yarn that I plan to sell, I can determine my cost to produce it and establish pricing, and I retain the ability to reproduce the yarn at a later date without having to keep the yarn itself to crib from. What’s more, this lets me get a sense of how long it takes me in general to produce certain kinds of things, and discuss the minutiae with other people who can’t see or handle the yarn.

I don’t always measure angle of twist or twists per inch, but sometimes I do; usually if I have a picture it’s apparent to me what the twist is like in the yarn. Similarly, sometimes I write down minutiae about prep and spinning technique, but sometimes it’s obvious to me and I don’t.

What I should do is actually produce sample cards with samples of the yarn and all this information on them! That would be truly principled and orderly… but instead, mostly I use digital photos, my photo gallery, and my blog, to track things.

If you don’t have a counting skeiner, a simple, quick-and-dirty way to figure your yardage is to skein the yarn, wash it and dry it, and then stretch the skein out next to a yardstick and see about how long it is. This won’t be perfectly accurate, but you’ll be close! Suppose it’s 24 inches long; one loop of that skein is therefore 48 inches of yarn. Now, count the loops (I like to count ’em in pairs to make it go faster, or in threes). If you have (for example) 37 loops, then 37 x 48 = 1776 inches, and 1776 inches divided by 36 inches in a yard comes to 49.3 yards. I would round that down to 45 yards; I would always rather have underestimated the yardage I’ve got than overestimated it! I would rather be surprised by leftovers than a shortage.

I always recommend weighing your yarn after finishing, and once it’s well dry; personally, on a long skein of yarn, I always lose a couple of grams of weight in the wash, that are actually oils from my fingers when I spin, little bits of dirt, and so forth. Similarly, you want to measure your wpi after finishing, as yarn will generally change a bit in the wash. In fact, ideally I would reskein my yarn after washing it, and sometimes I do — definitely if I’m going to enter it in a competition, in which case I skein it meticulously for that purpose.

I think that’s about it for what I usually track about a given yarn, and how. To sum up, I have a little spiral-bound notebook in which I record the key things, and then I transfer that to my photo gallery notes and/or my blog when I write up the yarn, as well as to a tag on the skein (even if I don’t write up the yarn and take pictures). Why do I do all of this? Because it’s a matter of seconds here and there while doing the work, but long and annoying steps to have to take later if I don’t track it when I have the chance to do it easily! It saves me from having a skein of random yarn in my stash that I’d like to do something with, but I’ve got no clue how many yards there were, or where I got the fiber if I want to do more, and that sort of thing.

10 thoughts on “Yarn Measurement

  1. So, you use your yardage counter prior to washing the yarn, but you recommend that yarn be washed and dried before counting yardage when using a yardstick and counting loops. I’m curious as to why one method counts yardage prior to washing, and one after. Also, I’ve been winding my yarn on an 18″ niddy-noddy, counting the loops and figuring yardage that way. I always guestimate low, but is this a bad method to use? Thanks, as always, for an informative post!

  2. I just wante to let you know how much I appreciate the wealth of spinning knowledge you’ve provided here. I just recently found your blog (and ordered some of your batt’s, can’t wait) and I just wanted to say “thanks”.

    Keeping a spinning notebook makes total sense. When I’m knitting I keep a notebook (which is almost full) of every little thing I do but it never occured to me to do the same for spinning (duh). When I show someone my handspun their first question is always “What type of fiber is this?” followed by “And where’d you get it?”. If I tagged it to begin with then I wouldn’t have to worry about the answers. Kool Beans!

  3. Elizabeth, that’s an excellent question! I left out a step: I lay my pre-wash skein against the yardstick, and note its length, which is pretty much always a yard, and then afterwards before final put-up, I lay it there again to see if there’s been any significant shrinkage. If there has, I note “shrunk by 1 inch” and subtract 1 inch per yard in the skein; so if there are 250 yards in the skein, I’m 250 inches shorter, or about 7 yards less than initially measured. This works very quickly for me because my skeiner’s skeins are 2-yard skeins, which are 1 yard long. 😉

    If the skein is for competition, I’ll be reskeining it anyway; there are other circumstances too where I reskein. It’s always best to measure your yarn post-finishing; my yardage measurement before washing is less accurate but a big timesaver in many cases.

    When I’m putting up in 100 yard skeins, they’re actually always 102-105 yards measured with the skeiner; I allow for shrinkage and waste at a rate of 2-5% depending on what I know of the way the yarn will act when being finished with a wash.

    Winding with your niddy-noddy and using that to calculate yardage is not a bad way to do it at all. If you want maximum accuracy, you can wind a single loop, and measure that, and you’ll be very close to exact using its specific measurements as the length of one loop.

  4. I’m tempted to work on my spinning and enter a skein or two at my State Fair this year. I don’t really spin very much, and am seeking some feedback in the judging process.

    I noticed that you talked about competitions. What do you do in preparation for a competition?

  5. Found your blog last week and I’ve been devouring the information. I’ve been spinning for about 18 months. Since I’ve gotten things like basic drafting under control and reached a point where I consider my spinning to be close to an acceptable advanced beginner, I appreciate all the input I can get.

    I’m terrible about keeping records, as the spinning I do is more for the pleasure of it than anything else, but I’ve gone and marked all the skeins I have laying about (to the best of my ability to remember) and they now bear fiber/length/weight at the minimum. I will be more diligent in the future!

    Your work and your words are a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to share both.

  6. wow another fraffly useful post, thanks Abby.

  7. That’s kind of cool–I do a lot of what you do about writing down information as you spin. I use index cards instead, and keep the box next to my desk and wheel so I can grab a new card anytime I need one. It’s helping me keep track for tax and inventory purposes, too. 🙂

    It’ll be even cooler when I have my scale–I can’t wait to be able to figure out how much my skeins and fibers WEIGH. 😀

    This is one of my favorite posts. 😀

  8. Thanks for your reply! Using a yardstick to doublecheck is an excellent idea, as I know the yarn fulls and is otherwise altered by washing and setting the twist, but I sure didn’t want to wind it back on the niddy noddy to figure out the diference! I’m impatient and want to move on to the next batch of fibers!!!

  9. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer this. I did try something like the yardstick method, but I didn’t get the skein very taut and I think that I’ve wildly underestimated.

  10. I have been spinning for awhile and am ready to try to make a jacket, line it and do a painting on the silk lining.

    Anyway, is there a way to determing how much single ply lets call it sports weight yarn I will need to weave one yard of fabric?

    Thanks so much! Nickie

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