Ask Nancy is Back!

Ask NancyWe haven’t heard from our resident expert, Nancy Reid in a bit. We’re happy to report that Ask Nancy is back!

Got weaving problems? Stumped by your spinning? Nancy will answer all of your burning questions with her expert advice. In this edition, we look at how we label our yarn weights; to ask your own question, email weavernancy@woolery.com 

 

 

 

Question: 

I’m a knitter and a crocheter and I feel like I’m in foreign territory because I’ve never done wraps per inch, and I don’t understand 10/2 etc. Is there a chart that explains the equivalents to say lace yarn, sock yarn, sport weight yarn, etc?

Answer:

In this case, I truly think it will be easier for you to learn the way we do it, rather than me translating; and I will explain why.

 

Going back to the Guild system in Middle-Ages Britain, each of the spinning guilds (flax, wool, silk) developed their own unique measuring system for the grist of their yarns, and those measures have persisted to this day.  So 10/2 cotton (for crochet, for example) does not equate in size to 10/2 wool (for fine knitting) or to 10/2 silk (a yarn usually used for weaving), or to 10/2 linen.  In all these yarns, the 10 is the gauge of the singles (for that fiber) and the /2 refers to the number of plies at that gauge.  These sizes run like wire sizes, in that the smaller the number, the bigger the wire; #10 is dryer wire and #22 is telephone wire, and #10 yarn is skinnier than #5 yarn.

 

So, each of these sizes is very precise; 8/2 cotton is 3360 yards per pound, period.  8/2 wool is 2240 yards/pound, period.  And because wool yarn is fluffier than cotton yarn, the diameters don’t match. either.  BUT: things are precise.  Worsted yarn, the way that the knitters talk about it, is a range of 900-1200 yards per pound; that’s a huge range, and lacks a lot of precision.  And since only the wool (and wool-ish, like wool blends and acrylic) yarns can be compared in the lace-fingering-sport-worsted-bulky system, the yards per pound system is the way that industry talks about them, and that system enables us to talk about all the yarns, made of all the fibers, in a common language.

 

Wraps per inch is a tool that some spinners, knitters, and weavers use to compare yarns; but it too lacks precision, and is just used for rough comparisons and is a starting place for sampling.
The standard knitting sizes are defined in the ranges of their yards per pound, and there is pretty good agreement there, though of course cotton, silk, and linen can’t be looked at with this yardstick.  Luckily, these fibers are not often knitted with, either!

 

Bulky is 600-800 yards per pound
Worsted is 900-1200 yds/#
Sport is 1200-1800 yds/#
Fingering (sock weight) is 1900-2400 yds/#
Lace is 2600+ yds/#

 

These equivalents should enable you to use the weights that we give on our wool (and alpaca) yarns to choose what you want to try to knit with.  For crochet purposes, when using cotton, #10 crochet cotton is 10/2; #5 crochet cotton is 5/2, #3 crochet cotton is 3/2.

 

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2 responses to “Ask Nancy is Back!

  1. You note that the first number indicates the gauge of a single ply, and that it increases with decreasing thickness, but don’t explicitly state the formula: The gauge equals the number of yards per pound of a single ply divided by some constant value, which varies from fiber to fiber:
    – 840 yards/pound for cotton (and, at least in some cases, spun silk; filament silk uses a different system)
    – 560 yards/pound for worsted(-spun, not -weight) wool (all the sources I’ve seen give two different values for woolen yarns, 320 or 256 yards per pound, and fail to indicate which, if either, is dominant in modern Anglophone use; a bit of internet searching seems to suggest that the real answer might be “neither, contemporary woolen spinners either give knitting weights or just state yards per pound”)
    – 300 yards/pound for linen (or, at least in some cases, hemp)

    (This sort of formula does not hold for wire gauges, at least in most systems.)

    Which means that the yards per pound of a 10/2 cotton yard is simply 10 / 2 * 840 = 5 * 840 = 4200. There are also metric systems, but the same basic principle applies.

    Also, I’ve seen multiple other sources state than #10 crochet thread is 10/3, not 10/2. Which is correct?

  2. Hi Chris,
    You are correct in the math with respect to determining grist in yarns, and the more thorough explanation is certainly appreciated by many! I had left that part out, just because I have to stop somewhere; and I usually gauge that point as where my colleagues glaze over and wander away, too tactful to say, “you can stop now.” I highly recommend Alden Amos’s wonderful tome, the Big Book of Handspinning for further elucidation on that subject.

    As to crochet cotton, there are a few different ones that are “standard,” the ones marked Perle are 2-ply mercerized (shiny, heat treated with alkali, stronger); but the 3-ply mercerized yarns are pretty “standard,” too, but they won’t be marked Perle. I hope this helps!

    Nancy

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