Numeric yarn weights vs. CYCA classifications

by Shannon on July 11, 2007

Sometimes, you’ll see yarn weight referred to numerically instead of descriptively — is it a 4/8 yarn or DK weight? Well, it could be both! The Craft Yarn Council of America’s Yarn Weight System is sometimes less than helpful if you’re dealing with a yarn not usually used for handknitting. Try this at your next fibery gathering: give everyone the exact same yarn, and I mean from the same skein, along with the exact same size and brand of needles. Knit swatches. Check them against the chart. Ok, now tell me, is Cascade 220 a CYCA #3 (“DK, Light Worsted”) or #4 (“Worsted, Afghan, Aran”)? Sigh.

Sometimes if you’re aiming for real descriptive precision, or if you’re knitting with yarns that are more generally used by weavers, you may run into the “nm” conventions in your yarn shopping. (WEBS and Habu are two places you’ll frequently see this used to describe yarn weights — for example, 2/14 Alpaca Silk, or this 2/10 silk yarn)

Here’s how the nm system works:

One nm equals 1,000 meters of yarn per kilogram (1,000 m/kg), no matter what (whether it’s wool or bamboo — it’s a constant). This equals 50 meters per 50 grams. A 1/8 nm yarn(usually just called “1/8,” without the nm) tells you that the yarn has been spun 8 times longer than the standard, and is therefore finer. You will get 8,000 meters per kilogram if your yarn is a “1/8.”

The first number in the name, or the “1” in “1/8” indicates the number of plies in the yarn. A “1/8” yarn has one ply, a “2/8” yarn has 2 plies, etc.

Here’s where it gets tricky: a “2/8” yarn indicates the yarn was spun to 8,000 meters per kilogram, but then plied into a two-ply yarn. The finished yarn will therefore measure 4,000 meters per kilogram. A “3/8” yarn will have 2,666 meters/kilogram, or 8000 divided by 3.

How does the general numeric system compare to the CYCA chart? From thick to thin:

4/8 yarn yields 1,120 yards per pound and is closest to what handknitters consider a DK weight yarn.

3/8 yarn yields 1,490 yards per pound, or “sport weight” yarn. Similar to a DK weight, but slightly thinner.

2/8 yarn yields 2,240 yards per pound, for a fingering weight yarn.

2/18 yarn yields 5,040 yards per pound, and is considered laceweight.

2/20 yarn yields 5,600 yards per pound, and is also considered laceweight. The difference between 2/18 and 2/20 is slight for a handknitter, akin to the difference between 4/8 and 3/8.

2/24 yarn yields 5,960 yards per pound, and again, is considered laceweight. (Really, what else are you going to do with something that thin? Unless you’re one of those US size triple-0 Sock People. You know who you are).

Hopefully this will help you when shopping for yarn online that isn’t labeled in the way you’re used to, because I’m nothing if not a serious enabler!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Robyn July 11, 2007 at 8:15 pm

Thanks! Just yesterday I wrote to WEBS asking that same question!

Michele July 12, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Thanks, Shannon. After finding bits and pieces on the web, I’ve been looking for this info in one place for ages. I’ve printed and filed!

Lauren July 13, 2007 at 8:15 am

Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve copied it into a text file for future refrence. I’ve always been a bit frustrated by the broad ranges within the CYCA structure. This is so helpful.

Tippi August 1, 2007 at 9:08 pm

Thank you so much for this. I’ve been wondering about this for ages but could never seem to find the answer, because I didn’t know what words I should be looking for! It was like trying to find an elephant in the dictionary without knowing what an elephant was.

Lacey August 7, 2007 at 11:54 am

This was very helpful. Thanks for the info. I was wondering what 3/8s weight was in order to buy some yarn to dye for socks. I realized that 3/8s was a little heavier than I had imagined! Thanks again.

Fiona August 16, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Very helpful and clearly explained – thanks so much! I knew the ply number but didn’t know about the second number. Much appreciated.

lauren April 6, 2009 at 10:41 pm

THANK YOU! i have spent entirely too much time searching for that explanation, and to finally find it so nicely put makes me feel slightly less sheepish about the (dare i admit) hours i’ve spent ensnared in our oh so sticky interweb- karma points to the author!

Sandy Derniat November 10, 2009 at 3:58 pm

What else are you going to do with yarn that thin? How about combine it with other thin yarns to create something unique and fun?

Rebecca January 25, 2010 at 11:19 am

I’ve been trying to search for an explanation of the ratios (most commonly seen with laceweight yarns) for days and I finally found your explanation. Thanks!

Margaret September 18, 2012 at 8:07 am

What are US size triple-o socks? I’m interested in knowing and couldn’t find out on google.

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