Yarn Count, by Steve Ableman

At our November Guild meeting the topic of yarn count was inquired about at the table I was
seated at. Yarn design information is not easily located. Having a good library that has texts
related to mill production I located information regarding such and thought that it should be
shared with the Guild membership at large. So what does a cotton yarn called 8/2 really mean?  
Historically when cotton yarn began being produced in England a standard hank or skein of a
single ply (ready for the plying process) was determined to be a length of 840 yards. I cannot locate any reason for the exact length but 840 yards is the standards listed in many early yarn production manuals. The first number in yards in our example (the 8) indicated that the number of skeins or hanks at 840 yards to weight a pound was eight. The second number indicates the plying process and the number 2 indicates that our yarn is a 2 ply yarn. If it was a 3 we would have a three ply yarn. So completing the mathematical calculations it would look like this:

8 skeins @ 840 yards of singles = 6720 yards
6720 yards of singles plied two ply or
6720 divided by 2 = 3360 yards per pound

Let’s try that again for 10/2 cotton yarn:
10 skeins @ 840 yards of singles = 8400 yards
8400 yards divided by 2 = 4200 yards per pound.

What is important is that we as weavers know that the more skeins or the higher the number of
skeins the finer the yarn. This assumes that the ply count remains as a constant. Comparing an
8/2 yarn and a 20/3 yarn is quite a different matter.

For a bit of added information let us consider wool. Wool is spun in two very distinct methods
referred to as woolen or worsted. Traditionally the woolen method which is a carded preparation was used by knitters and is usually spun with less twist and therefore has a softer hand. The worsted system in which wool is combed and not carded is a weaving style yarn with higher twist and has a less soft hand than woolen yarns. Within the confines of the United States worsted wool mills to avoid confusion with the cotton standard altered the yarn count numbering system. An 8/2 cotton yarn and a 2/8 wool yarn are about the same size but the inversion of the numbers, ply being indicated first and the yarn size following, was to indicated that the yarn the weaver had in his/her hand was wool and not cotton.

Hopefully this information clears up the question or better yet creates more questions.

Weave on
— Steve Ableman

Copyright 2013.  Do not reproduce without permission.