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.


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

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.

Comments

  1. I think this was very informative and easy to follow instruction thank you.

  2. While I appreciate the informative article, you are SO up your own arse. Goodness me. Humility???

  3. I’m with you on your goal of getting the whole world to say skein properly, but please stick an apostrophe and an e on your at the end so my teeth aren’t on edge 😉 Thanks!

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