Yarn sizes are confusing to many. Different systems of measuring yarn
have developed over the centuries. These systems use both length and weight to
determine yarn size. Our intention is to explain the major systems in use by
manufacturers of cotton, worsted, woolen, silk, and synthetic yarns.
Cotton and Worsted Systems
For cotton and for wool, the size of yarn is
expressed in the number of units of length per pound of yarn. The measuring system
for yarn was developed very early. The basic unit of length is the hank
or skein, a relic of the days of hand spun yarn. The yardage in a hank varied
according to the type of yarn. For cotton yarn, a hank contains 840 yards. Worsted yarn, spun of combed wool, is measured in hanks of 560 yards. The number of hanks needed to make up a pound of yarn defines its size, known as the count in the
cotton and worsted systems. A 1-count cotton yarn, or 1s, has 840 yards to the
pound. A 1-count worsted yarn, also 1s, has 560 yards to the pound. A 1.5s worsted yarn has 1.5 X 560 yards, or 840 yards to the pound.
It is the equivalent of a 1s cotton.
Woolen spun yarn uses a basic unit of 1600
yards, or one run. A 1-run woolen yarn has 1600 yards to the pound. Our basic single yarn at New England Yarn & Pattern is spun at 1 7/8 run (1.875). This works out to 3,000 yards to the pound (1.875 X 1600). The equivalent in a cotton yarn is 3000/840 or about 3.57s. The
worsted equivalent is 3000/560, or about 5.35s.
In the cotton, worsted, and woolen systems, the larger the number, the finer the yarn.
Another measurement system was the cut, based on a 300 yard standard.
This was primarily used in the Philadelphia area. A 1-cut yarn has 300
yards to the pound. This system of measurement is seldom used today.
Silk, Rayon, Synthetics:
With silk, rayon, and synthetic yarns, the
denier system is used. In this system, the weight of 450 meters (approximately
492 yards) of a given yarn determines the size. The denier, based on an old French
copper coin, is 1/20 gram. The larger the yarn size, the larger the denier number
is. 1s cotton yarn is 99.7 denier. The
very fine nature of both the fiber and the spun yarn makes the denier system practical for these yarns, which tend to be finer
than cotton, worsted, or woolen yarn.
Generally, single yarn is plied with itself
for several reasons. First, a heavier yarn can be obtained. It is often impracticable to spin a very heavy yarn as a single.
Second, the quality of the yarn is better due to evening out variation in the single spun yarn. Third, plied yarn feels softer to the touch, essential to making garments.
The number of plies in a yarn is given as the first number in a two number set.
For example, Quinebaug Yarn is spun as 1 7/8 run or 1.875 run. This is
plied as 2, 3, or 4-ply yarn. These are expressed as 2/1.875, 3/1.875, or 4/1.875
run. To get the yardage in a plied yarn, divide the length of the single yarn
by the number of plies. Quinebaug Yarn, woolen system, has 1.875 X 1600 yards
to the pound, or 3,000 yards to the pound in the single, unplied yarn. Our medium
weight yarn, which has 3 plies, has 3,000 divided by 3, or 1,000 yards to the pound.
Therefore, a ¼ pound skein will have 250 yards.