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? You’re 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!  I admit that it took me some time to get pas this.  I HATE wasting yarn, let along handspun.

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.

Tie it up

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.  I use the brains I do have for 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.


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


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

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



You should always do your measuring on  finished yarn.  If you have yarn straight off the niddy noddy then finish it and THEN measure it. When we talk about finishing yarn we mean yarn that has had it’s twist “set.”  To set the yarn 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.

That being said, there is no reason why you can’t measure your yarn any time you want.  But, if you want an accurate measurement of the length of your skein, measuring a finished skein it the way to go.

Niddy Noddys

Another caveat is to not assume about the size of your niddy noddy.  Students often ask me “I have 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.

Spinning Terms: Buying Processed Fibers

This is part of a sometime series that defines terms and ideas related to spinning. This one is about buying processed fibers.

Many spinners find that buying processed fibers is the easiest way to get fiber to spin with. After all, there are only a few ways you can get good fiber to spin with.  Either you start with the raw fiber and do it all yourself, or you send that marvelous raw fiber to a mill for processing, or you buy beautiful fibers already processed for spinners.

In any event, if you want to spin you need fiber, and the most common way, for most people, most of the time, is to buy fibers that have already been processed, and maybe even dyed, by someone other than themselves.

Buying Processed Fibers

buying processed fibersNow this is the fun part!

All those beautiful colors, and the crazy stuff they blend together!  This is what going to fiber festivals is all about! You can buy batts, top, or roving. There are single breed fibers, or lovely exotic fibers blended together. You can take it home and dye it, or find it dyed in a plethora of to-die-for colors.  Or buy a plethora of solid colors and take it home and blend it yourself!  The choices are quite literally endless.

But as in any other part of life there are things you need to be aware of, and things you need to be careful of when you buy processed fibers.


I hold a view (that may or may not be fair) that fiber people are the most honest, decent, loving, supporting, caring, and amazing people on earth.  There are always exceptions, but so far in my experience they are the EXCEPTION, and so trust for me is something I give freely, until I am proven wrong.  Other people have to earn my trust, fiber people have to do something to lose it.

But a little common sense comes in handy here.  If it’s a shop on Etsy selling fiber, and the picture is not clear, the fiber looks a bit messy, and there have been no sales…I admit I will be doubtful.  You have to find the level of trust you are comfortable with.

I often take cards from people at fiber festivals, or take pictures of cards of fiber I see in shops if I think the fiber feels good and looks good but I don’t actually buy at that moment.  That way I can feel more trust in them if/when I buy over the internet later.

Buying fiber is not like buying pencils.  A simple #2 lead pencil is very like a thousand other simple #2 lead pencils.  It’s unlikely that you will go wrong when buying one. But each sheep on each farm in each town has different fiber. So just because you love the breed doesn’t mean you will love THAT bag of fiber – but if you can trust who sells it then you have a better chance of being happy. Learn who you like, and learn how to tell why you like them and it will help with your trust of others.


buying processed fibers - CotswoldWhen buying fiber keep in mind: What You See Is What You Get.  If the fiber looks felted, or the colors look uneven, or there might be some kemp – it’s not going to suddenly get better when you bring it home.

If you think there might be problems, then there might be problems – and problems don’t usually magically disappear.  It’s not going to get less kempy if you wash it, and the colors will not even out if you spin it worsted instead of woolen.  If it’s a problem then it’s a problem.

What you see is what you get. Make decisions based on what you see rather than what you want to see. This is sometimes hard when you are overcome withe intoxicating “yarn fumes,” but do the best you can!  And remember, even our mistakes can teach us a lot! (Ha! Ask me how I know that!!)


When buying yarn for a sweater I always do my math to decide how many skeins I need.  Then I buy another one, just in case. This is common sense. Yarn is sold by dye lots, and not all dye lots are the same (no matter what Walmart might tell you!).  This is especially true of fiber!  So much fiber that we purchase online or at a festival comes from “indie” dyers – non-commercial independent dyers who dye in relatively smaller batches of wool. If you want to spin a sweater, and all you get is 4 ounces you will be extremely unsatisfied with your results.

You also can’t think that because the fiber is “undyed” or “natural” then that won’t be a problem.  Even if you process fleeces from the same sheep they will vary in color and hand (how the fiber feels) from year to year.  Don’t expect to buy more later. If you want a sweater’s worth get it all at once.  If you buy it undyed, buy and spin it over time and then dye the yarn you might be OK, but you will STILL have differences in hand. Maybe it won’t be enough for you to really worry about, but it might be enough to drive you crazy.  Just keep it in mind.


One really great reason to purchase commercially processed fibers is that the manufacturer probably has better access to exotic fibers than you do.  I know people who raise sheep and some who raise alpaca, but I don’t personally know anyone who raises angora, or yaks, or silkworms.

If you want to play with fibers that are processed from fibers that are exotic to you, then buying it pre-processed is the way to go!  I don’t have enough time to spin as it is, I certainly won’t have time to spin if I am trying to raise silkworms at home!!!


As with any fiber purchase you must be aware of the possibility that worms – evil wool eating worms – can infiltrate your innocent fiber and be transported into your safe and worm-free home.  It’s a very sad thing.  It’s a heartbreaking thing. But, it is nevertheless, a THING. And you MUST be aware and act accordingly.

I don’t care how much you love, honor, and trust the person you buy your fiber from you must treat it like an enemy combatant as soon as you get it home.  I coo over it at the fair, snuggle with it in the car, but as soon as I get it home it goes into the freezer.  It stays there for no less than three days, then it comes out and sits in the garage for a few days, then back into the freezer for a few days…or weeks.  Then it gets double bagged (with a dryer sheet in both bags and it placed in my storage area with lots of light, and frequent checks for stowaways.

There is nothing sadder than seeing the first sign of a cocoon or the flutter of wings against the plastic.  But the devastation of losing ONE bag of fiber is nothing to the horror and soul wrenching depression of knowing your whole stash is infected. It happened to me once. It generally happens at least once to most spinners.  After that you are so paranoid so it’s unlikely to happen again, but please, be ever vigilant.

Support Crafters

buying processed fibers - my booth at a fairSomething that I try to always think about when I buy fiber is where is it coming from.  If I have a choice between a large multinational company that also sells wheels, looms, and yarn and a small local farm that is raising their own flock of sheep and trying to sell fiber to support themselves, I will go with the local crafter every time.

Obviously, I don’t buy fiber from local peeps just cause they are local – the fiber has to be good quality and what I am looking for, first.

My point is that big companies sell fiber as an “also” but small independent dyers or farmers sell it cause that’s what they have to sell.  My small purchase means nothing to the larger company but might mean a HUGE amount to the farmer.

I like my purchases to mean as much to who sold it as it does to who bought it.  I have bought some really lovely fiber on Etsy from people I had never met, and some rather questionable stuff from people I see frequently – but I still prefer to support the little guys.

What do you buy?

Do you buy the fleece, and deal with it from there or buy the fiber and get right to the wheel?  What are some tips you have for buying from fiber fairs or online? Share your wisdom!!


Spinning Terms: Woolen Versus Worsted

This is part of a sometime series of posts that defines some terms and ideas related to spinning.

The first thing you have to understand is that “woolen” and “worsted” in the context of spinning does not mean what it does in the context of knitting, so just toss all your preconceptions out the window.  Worsted yarn and the worsted style of spinning are not the same thing.  “Worsted weight” yarn does not refer to the style of spinning but to the size/width/weight of the yarn. Yes, I know that it’s awfully confusing that they chose to use the same word, I’m sorry!! Don’t think about this as “worsted yarn” think of it as a style of spinning that happens to have the same name.

Worsted Spinning

Worsted spinning uses fiber prepared very particularly, so all the fiber is the same length, all the cut ends are facing the same direction and all the fibers are totally parallel.  Usually this is done by hand with combs or flicks, to spread out the fibers in the locks, but still keep them VERY, VERY organized.  Worsted is spun using the short draw or the “inchworm” method of spinning. In my strange little head I think of this as the “military” version of spinning.  Meaning that everyone is in their place, standing straight and tall, no questions asked, no deviations allowed.  Worsted spinning is tight, usually fine, smooth and not very soft.  The goal in worsted style spinning is to allow very little air between the fibers so it has a smooth dense appearance.  It will be strong but have a much harder “hand” than woolen spun yarns.  These types of yarns are not going to felt as much, or pill as much, but you really don’t want it next to your skin. This type of yarn works well in weaving.

Woolen Spinning

Woolen spun yarn uses fiber that is carded, either by machine or by hand, and the fibers are pretty much going every direction.  They are basically parallel, but not fanatically.  This feels to me like the “occupy wall street” version of spinning.  Everyone is there for the same reason, but still doing their own thing, not regimented in any way.  Woolen fiber is spun using the long draw method, and produces a “loftier” (or puffier) yarn that is softer and will keep you warmer because of all the trapped air.  This is like that yarn you snuggle up to in your LYS and go “ahhhhh” because it feels so good and is light and fluffy and wonderful. But it will pill like crazy, and won’t take a lot of wear and tear.

My Spinning

I like to think of these two styles of spinning as the two extremes.  99.9% of the time, 99.9% of spinners, are spinning neither woolen nor worsted.


Spinning is something most of us do for fun, enjoyment, and relaxation.  Our lives don’t depend on it, and we aren’t being watched by the “Yarn Police.”   As a result we do not prepare our fiber fanatically, and when we spin we use both the long and short draw.  Some people spin “more-wooleny” others spin “more-worstedly.”  Where your spinning falls along the continuum shouldn’t be important to anyone other than you.  If you are spinning something out of a long coarse fiber to use on a loom, you will probably spin closer to a worsted style.  If you are spinning something out of an alpaca, wool, silk mix to knit a pretty hat for a favorite friend you will more than likely spin more woolenly.  The bottom line question to help you decide how to spin is:  What do I want the yarn to end up looking like?  That will determine how the fiber is prepared, and how you spin it.

Another question you might ask yourself, if you don’t have an end result for the yarn you produce, is: How does the fiber feel like it should be spun?  After you have a bit of experience most fiber will tell YOU how it wants to be spun, you just have to play along.

Woolen Versus Worsted

I recently spun some lovely Coopworth.  This yarn was used to knit a sweater for my younger brother.  He lives in Maine and spends a great deal of his time outside in the winter.  He appreciates a good wool sweater, and will wear it a lot.  He doesn’t care how I spin it.  What he cares about is that it is warm, doesn’t pill too much  or get stretched out of shape, and that it lasts a good long time. Trust me I won’t be spinning him another sweater anytime soon.  Still trying to figure out how I talked myself into this one!!    I am spinning it more-worstedly because loft isn’t really all that important.  It will be woolenly enough to be warm, but worstedly enough to keep it’s shape and last a long time.

I recently spun some multi-purple fiber into a thick and thin yarn to use as an accent yarn in a project.  This was spun more woolenly because the use I had for the yarn was to look pretty, feel soft, and it won’t get much wear.  It’s only a small accent so the fit of the garment is not depending on the construction of the yarn.  I was going for a look and a feel, and so woolenly made more sense.

Sometimes when I sit down to spin I don’t have a particular project in mind.  I am just spinning.  Even when I do that I make a choice about which way my spinning will lean. I don’t really think “woolen versus worsted” per say but I ask myself: Will this be a good yarn for a shawl, or socks?  Will it be soft and pretty or a “work horse” yarn?  I think about this, almost unconsciously at this point, and my decisions works hand in hand with what the fiber is whispering in my ear, to inform my hands to do what they need to do to get the result we are looking for.

If you are a new spinner the best and worst advice you can get is “practice more!”  It’s the worst advice because you don’t want to have to practice more, you want your spinning to be effortlessly perfect, NOW.  It’s the best advice because it means you have a build in excuse to spin MORE! But really, the best and only way to consistently spin better and better is to practice.

HOORAY!!! I think I will go spin now.