Measuring Handspun Yarn

When the time comes to measure your yarn, how accurate can you get?

Elizabeth Prose Nov 7, 2018 - 4 min read

Measuring Handspun Yarn Primary Image

Measure the length of yarn that balances and multiply by 100 to find the number of yards per pound. Photos by Anne Merrow

In “Length, Weight, and Grist” from Spin Off Fall 1992, Rita Buchanan explains, “Two machinists can measure a metal fitting to the thousandth of an inch and get the same answer. But if two spinners measure the same piece of yarn, their answers may differ by an inch or more.” When we measure handspun yarn, how can we be more accurate?

I have a 2-yard niddy-noddy. I often wrap my freshly spun yarns around it, then count the strands and multiply by two. This is a common method. However, the yarn is under tension, and once I remove the skein from the niddy-noddy, the yarn relaxes and loses length. Thus, my measurement is only approximate. Washing and finishing the skein increases the loss in length, which can be significant—sometimes over 20 percent! It is best to measure after a skein of yarn has been finished, but measuring handspun yarn’s circumference can be tricky.

Measuring handspun yarn

Cut a length of yarn long enough to tip the balancing arm and let it hang free.

My favorite method for calculating the length of a finished skein is to measure grist in yards per a pound (ypp). Using a yarn balance, I can measure a just a sample of my handspun.

  1. Take a cut sample and place it over the notch. The sample should be long enough to pull the notch down. Make sure the yarn hangs freely from the notch. (Pro tip: A loose slipknot in the middle of the yarn can help keep the yarn from falling off.)

Measuring handspun yarn

Trim small amounts of yarn, especially as the arm begins to move upward.

  1. Trim small amounts from the sample. It helps to keep a trashcan beneath the table. As the arm starts to move, cut off smaller and smaller pieces.

  2. Snip away slowly until the arm is balanced in a horizontal position.

Measuring handspun yarn

The length of yarn that balances evenly. (Be very patient; snipping too aggressively will make the arm fly up and you’ll have to start over.)

  1. Measure the length in inches and multiply by 100. For example, a 9-inch length indicates yarn measuring 900 ypp.

A McMorran balance is an especially useful tool to have when measuring handspun yarn for large projects. (For spinners who use the metric system, it is possible—though rare!—to find a metric version of the McMorran balance.) With my trusty digital scale and a little (very easy) math, I can figure out the yardage of my skein.

Measuring handspun yarn is just an approximation. Unless every yard is precious, sample a length from different places in the skein; a slight variation in grist can make a big difference when multiplied by 100.

Happy spinning! Elizabeth