How to Calculate Yardage of an Unlabeled Skein

Ever lost a yarn label? Or ever bought yarn without one? Just how *do* you figure out how much yarn you have? Grab a scale and either a tape measure or a niddy noddy and follow me.


You may remember that in my post titled “Ugly,” I talked about preparing to knit a sweater from a  massive hank that I bought at New Lanark Mills in Scotland in 2007. It had a label – if by “label” you mean a tag that merely said, “1.24 kg.” In other words, no yardage. For about 2 seconds, I thought about counting the number of loops in the hank, but the sheer number made me give up.

Is anything uglier than this?
Is anything uglier than this?

Method 1: Get a niddy noddy and wind your yarn around it. Niddy noddies are fashioned such that the loops they form usually work out to a round(ish) number for length. Mine, for example, makes loops that are 1.75 yards in circumference. This means that, when I spin yarn, I wind it off the bobbins onto the niddy noddy, count how many loops I get, and multiply by 1.75 yards for the total yardage. Ta-da!

But what about when you’re in a situation like me, where the hank is so huge that trying to count the number of loops is so huge that you want to cry? Or where the yarn is already in a ball or cake, and the thought of winding it into a hank to measure and then having to wind it back into a ball or cake makes you want to cry? This is when I go for…

Method 2: Wind some of your yarn onto the niddy noddy – not too loose, and not too tight. I like to do 10 wraps, because it’s a nice number. Then weigh just that yarn. Here, my 10 wraps (at 1.75 yards per wrap for a total of 17.5 yards) weighs 11 grams. This means that my yarn is about 1.59 yards per gram, so my 1.24-kg hank is about a whopping 1,973 yards. Whew! If you don’t trust your wrapping tension, or if your yarn is highly variegated in thickness, try repeating this process several times and taking an average. The more you weigh, the more accurate it will be.


Method 3: For the sake of science, or integrity in knitting journalism, or something equally lofty-sounding, I’ll leave you with this method from Knitting Daily, which I consider to be less accurate: basically you figure out the wraps per inch (wpi) for your mystery yarn, weigh it, and compare it to a table of typical yardage per pound per typical wpi. First off, I’m terrible at wpi. I feel like I can squish it or spread it out as much as I need to. And not only does this table feature ranges, which makes it less accurate, but we all know that a tightly plied fingering weight and a lofty, woolen-spun worsted weight could have the same amount of fiber in them, making them weigh the same. Why not do the math based on your yarn, instead of a table of “standards”?

What’s your favorite method for calculating mystery yarn yardage?

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