Spinzilla Measuring yarn

Spinzilla Team-Captain Coordinator Constance Hall, of Dyeology, built a giant niddy noddy to measure her Spinzilla yarn!

To participate in Spinzilla, you need to spin yarn, measure it, and submit a photo of your yarn. We’ll assume you have the spinning part under control. For photography, there is a really useful post on the Spinzilla blog with tips. That leads us to measuring yarn. You have to submit your yardage in singles, even if you choose to ply your yarn. There is a useful How to Submit My Yarn FAQ on the Spinzilla website if you have questions.

Most spinners are likely to choose to spin singles to get the most yardage out of their spinning time—the trick is figuring out how to measure your singles accurately. If you decide to ply, you will still need to measure your plied yarn and multiply it by the number of plies to get your singles yardage (by the way, chain-plied yarn will count as 3-ply).

There are a lot of ways to figure out yardage:

  • Find an object that you can easily wind your yarn around (and easily remove your yarn from), then measure the distance around the object. Wind your yarn around the object and count the number of wraps. Multiply the wraps by the size of the object to get the length of your yarn.
  • Skein your yarn on a one- or two-yard niddy noddy and count the strands.
  • Use a yardage counter (if you don’t have your own, check with your LYS to see if you can use theirs).
  • Figure out the grist of the yarn (how many yards are in a gram, ounce, or pound) and calculate how many yards you’ve spun based on the weight of your yarn.


Because the first three methods are pretty self-explanatory, we’ll focus on the fourth here. To figure out the yardage based on the grist (length per unit of weight) of your yarn, you’ll need a couple of handy tools:

  • Kitchen scale
  • Yarn balance (such as a McMorran, which is no longer in production, or a Yarn to Yards)

You’ll want to weigh your bobbins and fiber before you begin spinning. Empty your bobbins and weigh them—write the weight on the end of each bobbin with a permanent marker (discretely, but not some place that will get covered by yarn or rubbed off by friction). If you make a fairly consistent yarn, you can measure the grist (using your yarn balance or by skeining and counting how many yards you get in a given weight of fiber) and calculate how much yarn you have on your bobbin without having to skein it and measure it. Just remember to subtract the weight of the bobbin from your calculations.

An inexpensive kitchen scale is handy as it can weigh small amounts and you can usually find one that will measure metric as well as U.S./Imperial units. If your fiber/yarn is unruly, you can put a bowl on the scale and zero the scale to allow for the weight of the bowl or subtract the weight of the bowl from your calculations.

The Yarn to Yards yarn balance. Image courtesy of the Eugene Textile Center, Eugene, Oregon.

Using a yarn balance

A yarn balance is a simple tool used to measure a length of yarn and then estimate how many yards would be in a pound of the yarn of the same weight and diameter. It does this by being in balance with length of yarn in inches that when multiplied by 100 is equal to the number of yards in a pound. For example, a yarn that measures 17.5 inches is equivalent to 1,750 yards per pound. They are also available for metric measurements.

Measuring yarns per pound

You can figure yards per pound by determining how many yards and how many ounces are in a skein. You’ll have to do a little calculating. If your yarn contains 220 yards and weighs 2 ounces, and you want to know how many yards are in a pound of this particular yarn, you multiply 220 × 16 which equals 3,520, then divide that by 2 to get 1,760 yards. I’m a visual person—so seeing the algebra proportions equation like this helps me remember it when I need it.


It is a good idea to spin sample yarns and weigh and measure them. Get an idea for how many yards you spin from a given amount of fiber. If your yarn varies a lot in terms of grist (thick and thin), then you’ll want to measure it in a lot of places and then figure out an average.

Happy spinning,

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