How Big is Your Yarn? It Depends.
Are you one of those spinners who wants everything to be precise? Who believes all yarn is either woolen or worsted, nothing in between? Who believes an inch is an inch, and that's the end of the story? Do not read further.
I've just been reviewing a collection of articles Rita Buchanan wrote for Spin-Off fifteen or so years ago about measuring yarn. The conventional wisdom is that this is easy—just wrap your yarn on a 2-yard niddy noddy and count your wraps—voilà! Multiply wraps times 2 and there's your length! For wraps per inch, wrap it around an inch-rule and count the wraps. Duh. Or throw it on a kitchen scale, do a little math, and there are your yards per pound. Follow these conventional procedures, and you could end up with a one-sleeved sweater.
As Rita points out, the length of your yarn is one thing when stretched on a niddy, and something else again when it's lying on the table. One length when it's fresh off the bobbin, another after it's been washed. And how tightly do you wrap it to determine wraps per inch? And does that depend on whether it's fuzzy angora or sleek worsted wool? Or whether you're going to knit with it or weave with it?
I loved reading Rita's common-sense observations. This is the woman who has been known to keep a particularly sensitive houseplant on an old kitchen scale, and only add water to the pot when the weight drops below a certain point. I wish I had thought of that. Another thing I wish I had thought of is her very clever way of using a simple knitting needle gauge to estimate the size needle most appropriate for a given yarn. Maybe you already know how to do this; I had forgotten. And who knew that a medium-sized pair of socks is comprised of about 260 square inches of knitted fabric? Not I. But it's useful to know, because you can knit a square inch, unravel it, and get a pretty good idea of how much yarn you need to knit the pair.
Maybe best of all is the inclusion in this new e-book, Taking the Measure of Handspun Yarn, of the Buchanan Twist Gauge, suitable for cutting out and laminating and keeping in your spinning basket forever. Of course, it comes with caveats. Which part of your yarn are you going to measure? Or is your yarn perfectly consistent, inch by inch, yard by yard? Probably not. So it all depends. But having clear insights and good tools for understanding your materials and your handspun yarn can only make the spinning experience better.