Friday, December 2, 2011

Yarn Basics: No Label, No Problem! How to Determine Weight, Fiber Content, and Yardage of Unlabeled Yarn

Sometimes you will run across yarn in various formats (skeins, hanks, or loose) that will have no identifying information about them. This happens fairly often if you purchase yarn from a garage or estate sale, a thrift store, or are given someone's old stash. Even though these treasures are unmarked, there are ways to gather information that can help you determine what kinds of projects would be appropriate.

First we want to determine the fiber content of the yarn. While you may not know the specific content amounts is the yarn is a blend, you can determine the class of fiber in most cases. To begin with, give the yarn a good feel. Run your hands over the yarn and take in all the qualities of it. After some practice, you will become adept at knowing the feel of different base fibers. Cotton is easiest to detect using feel, as it has a smooth and cool feel. Acrylic and wool can be trickier, since higher quality acrylics are soft and fluffy, which cause them to take on a similar feel to wool blends.

There is a way to tell, however, whether a yarn is acrylic or wool. 


NOTE: PLEASE KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN. Take a glass jar with a lid on it and write BLEACH / POISON on the side. Put a small amount of bleach in the jar and place a small cutting of the yarn in the bleach. Put it way up high, far from the reach of children, pets, or anyone else. When you check the jar in approximately 12-24 hours, if the yarn has degraded or disappeared, it is wool or wool blend yarn. Wool disintegrates in bleach. If it looks the same after 24 hours, it is acrylic. 

Now we have some idea of what our yarn consists of. Next thing that we need to know is the weight (fingering or bulky?) and how many yards of yarn we have! The table below lists the different weights of yarn, the number of yards per pound, and the number of wraps per inch. Wraps per inch refers to a method of determining weight using a ruler.

Zephyr Over 6000 YPP Over 45+ WPI
Cobweb Approx. 6000 YPP Approx. 40+ WPI
Lace 3000-6000 YPP 36-40 WPI
Baby 2400-3000 YPP 30-36 WPI
Fingering 1800-2400 YPP 24-30 WPI
Sport 1300-1800 YPP 18-24 WPI
DK 1000-1400 YPP 12-18 WPI
Worsted 900-1100 YPP 10-12 WPI
Aran 700-1000 YPP 6-10 WPI
Bulky 400-700 YPP Approx. 8 WPI
Super Bulky (Chunky) 400 or less YPP Less than 8 WPI

So now we have all the numbers we need to figure out the weight and yardage of our yarn. The first thing to do is determine how many wraps per inch our mystery yarn is. Take a ruler and mark off 2 inches on the ruler. Take the yarn and wrap it (not too loosely or too tightly) around the ruler, making sure that the yarn does not overlap or leave gaping spaces, but is placed one loop snugly against another. Continue to wrap the yarn in this manner for 2 inches, count the number of wraps created, and divide by 2. Voila! That is the number of wraps per inch of the yarn you have. Once you know the wraps per inch, you can get a good idea of the weight of the yarn by referencing the chart above.
WPI art yarn

For example: You take your mystery yarn and do the wraps as per instructions above. Over 2 inches, you have 22 wraps. So you take 22 and divide it by 2 to get 11 wraps per inch. So per the chart above, this mystery yarn is worsted weight.

Next we want to determine the yardage of the mystery yarn that we have. The easiest and most accurate way to do this is to weigh an amount of yarn (I use 10 yards) and use the weight to determine the yards per pound. You want to measure this accurately so use a kitchen or postage scale if possible, or even a grocery store produce scale. You can use a bathroom scale, but it is likely to be inaccurate because it is not sensitive enough.
soehnle digital kitchen scale

So take ten yards of yarn and weigh that. Then divide that weight by 10 to get the weight per yard. Then weigh the ball or hank of yarn and divide by the weight per yard. That will give you the approximate yardage. As you can see above, worsted weight yarn is generally between 900 and 1100 yards per pound.

While these steps may not get you the exact information that would be on a label, it can nevertheless be very useful in determining the type and size of project appropriate for those mystery yarn balls!


  1. Just wanted to say thanks so much for this information, everything I needed to know and easy to understand. Wonderful!

  2. Run your hands over the yarn and take in all the qualities of it. After some practice, acrylic lace pool deck

  3. Excellent information for an avid thrifter. Thanks so much.


Free Blog Directory