Does Your Handspun Measure Up?

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Huhta and Roses And Purls
article image

The question that arises most often in online spinning forums seems to be, “How do I calculate the yardage of my handspun yarn?” People have a variety of answers of course, but some methods lead to less accurate estimates. Below is my preferred method.

Start at the Finish

First, be sure to measure completely finished yarn. This means it has been plied (if that is the end goal), wound off onto the niddy noddy, soaked and snapped/thwacked as applicable, then dried completely. Finishing changes the wpi (wraps per inch, or thickness) and yardage of a yarn significantly, which is one reason why the method of simply counting the wraps while it is freshly wound onto the niddy noddy leads to an inaccurate estimate.

The other reason that the popular method of counting on the niddy noddy doesn’t work well is that not all niddy noddies are made equal. There is no standard size for a niddy noddy, so yours may measure anywhere from 1.5 to 2 yards. To add to that, we spinners aren’t perfect either. How tightly you wrap and where you position your wraps will affect your measurement. Lastly, fibers vary widely. The amount of stretch (or lack thereof) varies widely between fiber types, affecting skein length.

Photo credit: Jen Huhta

4 skeins of varying length from the same niddy noddy. From left to right: Wensleydale, Merino/silk, dyed wool, and Gotland.

So how DO you calculate yardage accurately?

After spinning, wind your yarn onto your niddy noddy, tie it off, and set it. Once dry, lay your skein flat next to a tape measure. Gently pull both ends until the skein is taut but not stretched. Take the measurement and multiply it by 2 (for both sides of the loop). Then multiply by the number of loops. This gives you the number of inches.

Photo credit: Jen Huhta

Hold your skein and measuring tape taut but don’t stretch. 

Divide your result by 36 and you will have the number of yards in the skein (metric measurements can of course be substituted, dividing your sum by 100 to determine meters). Mark this on your yarn tag for future reference.

To demonstrate the difference, take the skein of yarn below. The same 50g skein of yarn was used in both examples.

Example 1: Counting wraps on the noddy noddy.

Here the yarn is skeined off the bobbin and onto the niddy noddy, and wraps counted. As this is a “2 yard” niddy noddy, I counted the number of wraps (14) and multiplied by 2 yards. The result is 28 yards. After pulling the skein off, I decided to look it up, and discovered that what was called a “2 yard niddy noddy” is actually, as per the manufacturer, a 5 yard niddy noddy! That would mean yardage would change to 23.3 yards simply from that change in information.

Photo credit: Jen Huhta

Yarn on the niddy noddy

Example 2: The tape measure method

Here I’ve taken the same skein, pulled it off the niddy noddy, and set and dried it. Laid out it measures 27” long. Multiplied by 2 (both sides of the loop) is 54 inches, and then multiplied by the number of loops (14) is 756 inches. Divided by 36 the total is only 21 yards!

What difference does it make?

Now a difference of 7 yards may not seem like a huge difference but considering the short length of the skein it’s significant. As projects for handspun are usually chosen to use every precious yard, suddenly discovering that you’re several yards short could be a catastrophe. Now imagine this skein was 150g instead of 50. The difference would be 21 yards! That’s definitely enough to make or break your project.

In summary, doing a bit of math with your completely finished skein will give you a more accurate calculation of your hard-won yardage and prevent disappointment.

Happy spinning!

Jennifer Huhta is a high school teacher and slow-living advocate who loves all things wool. She  teaches yarn-spinning classes, writes for fiber arts publications, and runs an online business which promotes Canadian fleece and heritage breeds fiber. She can be found

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.