Measuring Handspun

Spinzilla 2016 wrapped up this past Sunday. We’ve all been drafting and treadling as fast as we can; length was our goal. Did you achieve your personal goal? How did you measure your yarn?  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 yarn, how can we be more accurate?

I have a two-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 will only further the loss in length. This loss can be significant—sometimes over 20 percent! This change in measurement is especially important when spinning for a project. With this in mind, it is best to measure after a skein of yarn has been finished. But measuring a skein’s circumference can be tricky.

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

Alpaca/wool yarn spun by Abby Brockman of Clayton, New Mexico.

Alpaca/wool yarn spun by Abby Brockman of Clayton, New Mexico.

Take a cut sample and place it over the notch. The sample should be long enough to pull the notch down.

mcmorran-balance-close-upFrom each side, trim small amounts from the sample until the arm is balanced in a horizontal position.

use a ruler to measure yarnMeasure the length in inches and multiply by 100. For example, 9 inches would be 900 ypp.

A McMorran balance is a useful tool to have when calculating the amount of 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 yarn is just an approximation. Take samples from different parts of the finished yarn to get more accurate results.

Happy spinning!

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