Measuring Yarn Length

Knowing how to measure yarn length is pretty important to spinners. It’s not a bad skill to have for a knitter either.

Of course, this is just one way of doing it.  Big companies have machines that measure yarn length, we at home can do it using the grist method.  Here are two excellent posts by lovely women who GET IT. Jillian Moreno  and Rachel Welford totally understand it and make it sound almost easy on their blogs.  I tried to explain in myself a few years ago to my Spinzilla team and I muffed it big time.  In fact it kind of scarred me. So I am staying away from it. Good luck to those who delve in and love math.

Why do I care?

Spinners need to know how much yarn they have created so they know what they can do with it.  If I only end up with 200 yards of DK then I can make a hat, or mitts, or a cowl, but when it gets to 400 yards then we are talking a shawl, or a number of hat/mitt sets…more yarn means more options.

This can also be useful to knitters.  Every knitter worth their salt ends up with yarn ends.  And sometimes, depending on the knitter and/or the project, they can end up with LOTS of length left over.  Knowing how much, again, gives them options on what to do with the scraps.

What do I need?

In a perfect world you need a niddy noddy, some scrap yarn, a measuring tape, and a calculator.  But not everyone has a niddy noddy, so there are other options.  The back of a chair works,  or even your forearm and your thumb.

The point is you want to create a skein of yarn.  Skeins are basically just yarn coiled up into a big loop and secured together with yarn or string.  The purpose of a skein is to keep the yarn from tangling.

Please, people, say this word correctly.  I know if you have been brought up in the south you might pronounce it skeeeen (rhymes with bean)  but I promise you it’s skAYn (rhymes with plane).  Pronouncing it like it rhymes with bean is not a cultural or regional difference, it’s just inaccurate.  It’s one of those things that puts my teeth on edge, I beg of you, please say it correctly.  AND for extra points did you know that in addition to being used with yarn it also means a flock of wild geese or swans in flight, typically in a V-shaped formation? I know, cool right? Your welcome.

There are obviously other ways to keep yarn from tangling but this is the easiest way to wash, dye, or dry out yarn so it’s the most often used.

How do I start?

Once you figure out whether you are going to use a niddy noddy, a chair or your forearm/thumb you wrap the yarn until it’s all used up.  Then you need to secure the yarn by tying the two ends of the yarn together and cutting off the excess yarn.  Now I know, if you are a spinner, you are going to cavil because if you tie the two ends together it is quite likely that you will lose some of the yarn you have so carefully spun.

And it’s a class A tragedy. I totally agree.

But harness a little perspective.  It’s going to average less than a yard.  It’s going to be either the beginning or the end where your yarn is going to be a little less than perfect anyway!  And if you are playing yarn chicken so close to the vest that 1 yard is going to make a difference then you are wild and crazy enough to work around running out. Go for it!  Now, cut that end off and let’s keep going. But when you cut off those ends cut them off with about 2 or 3 inches left.  It’s much easier to find the ends after you wash the yarn if the ends are longer.

Now you need to tie that yarn together in such a way that it won’t “escape.”  The classic way to do this is to create a figure eight tie.  Take a look at a professionally make skein of yarn sometime and you will see that figure eights are pretty easy, and very secure.  Keeping the yarn ON THE NIDDY NODDY (I sometimes get excited at this stage and yank the yarn off the niddy noddy without the ties. You don’t even want to know how ugly that is.) I divide the yarn in my fingers into roughly three equal bunches then weave a piece of yarn in and out, around the end and back in and out then tie it together on the side I started. (If that makes no sense look here or here.) To be honest, now that I look at those pages I realize that I do a figure eight and a half…it’s the way I was taught. I don’t think it matters much. Either one works.

I do this four times per skein. Once for each side of the niddy noddy. Less than that opens up the door for tangles, more than that is overkill, in my opinion.  Using a contrasting color yarn will help.  I use crochet cotton in either white or purple.  Also, you can cut the ends on these ties pretty tight like 1/4 inch.

So now you have a bit loop of tied up yarn. That’s a skein.  Well done!

Measure the Skein

SPinzilla Math

Counting the total number of strands in the skein.

To measure yarn length in the skein you need two numbers.

First, count the number of strands of yarn that have gone around the niddy noddy.  You can do this on the niddy noddy or off, it doesn’t matter.  You can see in the picture the white yarn that I tied the skein together with, and counting each strand of yarn.

Just pick a point somewhere along the skein and count how many strands pass that point. (Thanks to my lovely Mum for playing Vanna for me!) I write this number down.

 

Spinzilla Math

Measuring the length of the skein.

To get the next number  you need to hold up the skein and measure how long it is.   Do this from about the middle of the skein to the middle of the skein.  By middle I mean this: you have a lot of strands of yarn in that skein, hold it as a unit and count from the middle of the bunch at the top to the middle of the bunch at the bottom.  Remember, this is spinning, not rocket science, it doesn’t have to be correct to the millimeter.  I write this number down.

 

Confession time: So I write ALL these numbers down because I am a bear of VERY little brain.  I can’t hold numbers in my head for very long, and what brains I do have are focused on WORDS not NUMBERS. So I write it down.  Every.   Time.   I recommend you do the same.  There is nothing more annoying than having to recount. Results may vary in your world.

Do the Math

Hold onto your hat, this where the real “math” part starts.  Take the length of the skein as it hangs and multiply it by 2 – this gives you the total “length” of one strand as it goes all the way around the skein.

 Let’s call this number L in our equation. Don’t assume.  Even if your niddy noddy calls itself a “2 yard niddy noddy” you still need to measure.  (more on that later)

Now find that number you wrote down that tells you how many strands you counted that go around the skein. Call that number S in our equation.

Finally, multiply that the number of strands (S) by the length of the skein (L) and divide by 36 if you want your answer to be in yards, which is what TNNA is looking for.  This is the length of the yarn in your skein.


EXAMPLE:

Here is a quick example. When I count the strands in that green skein I get 235 so that is S.Then I measure the length at 32, which when multiplied by 2 gets me 64, which would be L in our equation.

(S x L) / 36

or

(235 x 64 =15,040) divided by 36 =417.777778

So the total length of my skein of yarn is 417 yards

 


Caveat

I assume that your yarn has already been “finished” when you are measuring.  If it has not been finished then go finish it and THEN measure it. When we talk about finishing yarn we mean that the twist has been set.  To set your twist the easiest and most effective thing to do it to get it wet.  You can wash it if you like, but you don’t have to.  I usually do because by the time I have spun it and skeined it and messed with it, I feel like it has a lot of dirt and grease in it from my hands, my equipment, and just from life!  I also want to wash out any oil left from the mill when it was processed, or any lanolin left if I processed it.

Using water as HOT as you can stand let the yarn soak a bit until it’s totally saturated.  Then take it out.  You do NOT want to scrub it, wring it, or agitate it any way.  I do, in actuality wring my skeins out but I do it very gently, so if you can’t do it gently, don’t do it!

Then I snap it.  I grab one end of the yarn I snap it like a whip.  This tends to shock the fibers into settling into their places. Then I hang it to dry.  After one day I take if off the hanger and rehang it the other way up. This helps it dry faster.

Another caveat is to not assume about the size of your niddy noddy.  Students often ask me “What if my niddy noddy is called a “two-yard Niddy noddy?” Can’t I just multiply the number of strands by 2 yards and leave it at that?

No. You can’t.

Here is the answer I got from Nancy Shroyer of Nancy’s Knit Knacks when I asked her that very question. (Nancy is the purveyor of the most excellent niddy noddy that I use on a weekly basis and have for over 20 years!  I trust Nancy’s information!  She said:

“When you take a tape measure and wrap it correctly around all 4 sides it will measure 72 inches. When you wrap your handspun that has been under tension on the bobbin around the 4 sides it is also under tension. While it is on the niddy noddy it measures 72 inches. As soon as you release it from the noddy noddy it relaxes and shrinks. Depending on the amount of “bounce” or elasticity of your fiber that could be a lot or a bit. Then you wash it and depending on how long it was on the bobbin (under tension and stretched) there will be more shrinkage.

It is a 2 yard niddy noddy but the total number of finished yards in any skein will vary. The more you put on will also affect the final outcome because as the subsequent layers pile up the last wraps will be longer than the first. Also some people wrap very tightly and they will have more shrinkage than those who wrap loosely.

There is no way for a Niddy Noddy manufacturer to design in a factor that would allow the spinner to wind enough yarn to end up with a 72″ skein after they release the skein from the Niddy and after washing the yarn. There are just too many other factors that we are not in control of.”

So, no matter what length your niddy noddy is you MUST measure the hanging length of your skein of yarn in order to get accurate numbers.

Sewing in Ends

When you start or finish a piece of handwork there is always a short length of yarn that is not actually a part of the item.  We call these the “ends.” People don’t talk much about sewing in ends but I think it’s important.

If the ends are not correctly woven into the piece you are making, then that wonderful hat or scarf that you have worked so hard on might unravel the first time it is washed!  Sewing (or weaving) in your ends when you knit can often be difficult for new knitters.  You obviously don’t want to create an unsightly bump while taking care of those important ends.  Here are some basic guidelines to dealing with yarn ends.

Leave an appropriate end

Yarn ends should be at least 7 inches long.  If they are too short you will have trouble weaving them in.  If they are too long they get in the way as you are working.

If you have cast on using a long tail method you will often find your end is VERY long.  Don’t try to be thrifty and save that extra length.  Just cut it off, leaving about 7 inches and move on.

I do not encourage waste, but that long end is going to drive you MAD, and I don’t want that either!

Use the right needle

It is best to use a sharp needle when weaving in ends.  The sharp tip will make it easier for you to split the yarn in the fabric you are weaving into.

A blunt needle is what you want to join two pieces of fabric together (like sewing up a sleeve).  Those huge blunt needles they call “yarn needles” are mostly useless.  Especially the plastic ones, they can catch on your yarn and make a mess.

Chenille needles or tapestry needles are the best for the sharp points.

Thread your needle

You would be surprised at how often I watch people struggle to thread a needle. Even people who have knitted for a long time. It’s not difficult, but there is a trick to it.

Do not waste time trying to thread your yarn through the hole like you do with a sewing thread, that’s crazy-making.  And don’t  wet it as you do with thread either, that just gets you fiber in your mouth!

  1. Fold your yarn over your needle, pull it taut, and hold the yarn in a pinch between two fingers.
  2. Slide your needle out, holding your pinch in place, so when you remove the needle your yarn is still sticking up between your fingers.
  3. Then carefully push your yarn UP through the eye of your needle. Do not loosen your pinch. Sometimes I roll my fingers tighter to make the loop that is sticking up a bit flatter, but you don’t always need to do that.

Practice this, and you will find that threading your needle is a TOTAL synch!

Skim

Once you have threaded  your needle using the sharp point of your needle skim across the fabric of your work.

The needle should go through just about a third of the strands of yarn that make up the fabric of your work. It should be enough to anchor the yarn you are sewing in, but not enough to be seen through on the other side.

Go back and forth, in the same way about three times.

If you are worried because you have a slippery yarn like cotton or silk you can do it more often.  I think it’s more effective though, instead of making MORE back and forths to make each one longer.  With wool I generally make them about 1 to 1.5 inches long.  With cotton or silk I might go as high at 3 inches.

Skim perpendicular

Now, skim aross your work one more time, but perpendicular to the three strands you just wove. (In the picture the yarn is blue just so you can see what it should look like.) This will help hold the end in place, and not allow it to unravel as easily.

When you do the last pass of weaving in you should be going through your base fabric, but ALSO through the strands of yarn you just wove in. None of this should be obvious from the RIGHT side of the work (the outside of the hat, in my example.)

Keep in mind that in the image it’s just an example.  your work you would have only one end because the other would be attached to your work.

You do it the same way no matter what type of fabric you have.  In this picture I am weaving into fabric made of all knits on this side, where the others are all purl. It doesn’t matter. You even do this if it’s crochet!!

With lace fabric you do have to be careful and not close up any of those nice holes you made!!

Taut not tight

You do not want to sew in your ends too tightly.  Use the same tension as the rest of the fabric of the item. This way it won’t show on the other side.

When you are finished cut off the excess yarn. Leave about a 1/4 of an inch or less when you cut.  You do not want to go to close and snip your fabric!!

Different colors

If you are working on a scarf, or with yarn of a contrasting color, where there might be more chance of the color showing through on the other side.  To prevent this from being a problem, or if you have very bulky yarn, you can make it less obvious by splitting the yarn.

Before you thread your yarn end onto the needle split the yarn into two pieces. For example, if you are working with 6-ply yarn, split the yarn end into two strands of 3-ply yarn.

Then weave each yarn in separately. This will lessen the thickness of the weaving and will reduce the “footprint” of the weaving. It takes a little longer, but it looks better than a bump.

It’s that time of year!

It’s been quite a while since I had to gear up and get ready for school to start in the fall.  It used to be that without that reminder the Fall season kind of snuck up on me some years.  But not any more!  For the past four years my fall starts in a very different way.

Now I know it’s fall when I start prepping for my classes at SVFF.  The Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival has got to be one of my all time favorite festivals, and here’s is why.

Classes

Shenandoah Valley Fiber FestivalI love to teach knitting and spinning and the Shenandoah festival allows me to do both! This year I am teaching TONS of spinning classes, as well as sock and shawl knitting! What joy I get out of watching students begin their love affair with fiber!  Last year I taught a beginning knitting class and I have such good memories of laughter and that sudden joyful look when the fingers catch up with the brain and they hoot “I got it!”  The beginning spinning class is one of my favorites – I love to be an enabler and watching the origin moment of a new fiberholic is such a high for me!  Again, that moment when a spinner’s hands, feet, and brain all connect in the right synergy and that big grin that spreads across their face! It’s almost always an amazed grin, too, because ten minutes before that you could see how totally convinced they were that they would NEVER get it!!

Friends

One of my personal bonuses for this festival is that I get to stay with a great friend!  She started out as my boss, then later she was a client, and through it all she has been a great friend, mentor, or cheerleader!  Berryville is almost 4 hours away from Spinfoolish Central and so I rarely get to see Ellen in person, or her husband and lovely children! Getting to spend time with them is always such a treat and I look forward to it immensely!  I can’t think of much that would take me AWAY from a fiber festival, but getting to hang out with Ellen makes it TOTALLY worth it!

Spindles

ShenandoahIf you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you must know that I am totally addicted to Spanish Peacock spindles. They don’t go to any other shows now, so the only time I get to see them (Other than FB or Instagram) is at this festival!  The first year I bought one.  The second year I bought 2.  I think last year I bought five – although to be fair a few of them were for friends or students that couldn’t make it to the fair and wanted met to vet the spindles for them. HA! Like they need vetting!  Mike’s spindles are beautiful, they spin like a dream, they are beautiful, the craftsmanship is astounding – especially for the price, and have I mentioned they are beautiful?  I have my eye on three this year, and a few extra for friends or students!  I can’t WAIT! Let the shopping begin!

Shopping

Speaking of shopping – it’s not just spindles!  Here are my favorites, in no particular order: Spirit Trail Fiberworks, Hipstrings, Strauch Fiber EquipmentAnna Branner, Dragonfly Fibers, Hearts of the Meadow, Misty MountainRajkovich Designs, Tatting by Wendy, Taylored Fibers,  and Wild Hare Studio.  Phew!  Serious money will be spent, people!  I often find unique fibers here for my annual Tour de Fleece Fiber Pack.  I also find fiber every year at Hipstings that I just simply can’t leave without!  It wouldn’t be a fiber festival without a hug from Debbie at Hearts of the Meadow! Fiber people are just the BEST!!

In addition to all that, it’s in a great location. There are trees for shade, sheep and dog trails, animals to admire, food to guzzle, and so many friendly faces! If you are in the area, please consider stopping by!  If you aren’t in the area, and you want a great spindle call me quick! I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go shopping for you!!!