Numeric yarn weights vs. CYCA classifications

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!

I lichen tweed a lot!

After a weekend spent devouring Seasons on Harris: A Year in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, I was compelled to order some insanely beautiful tweed and matching knitting yarn from Harris Tweed and Knitwear, along with the biography of traditional weaver Marion Campbell, a member of the family who runs the site.

In Seasons on Harris, the author describes how the Campbells used lichen (more specifically members of the Parmelia genus, known as “crotal” by Scottish dyers and weavers) to achieve traditional wool colors. If you’ve got my book Spin to Knit, turn to page 90. See that orchid purple? That was dyed with a New England lichen that grow on granite. But the Scottish dyers have us beat: check out this Wikipedia entry on traditional dyes of the Scottish Highlands, this site on Scottish lichens or this page of Scottish plant bibliographical references, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. For example:

Clothing dyed with crottle lichen dyes (those that yield red-browns in boiling water) has some interesting traditions attached to it. It seems that, as the lichen is associated with the earth, it was considered a good idea to wear socks dyed with crottle if undertaking a long journey on foot. However, if crottle dyed garments were worn by sailors, it was thought that they might bring bad luck, or if the sailor / fisherman drowned, his body would never be recovered — anyone wearing crottle dyed garment sinks like a stone and “What comes from the rocks returns to the rocks.”

The quote above is from one D. MacIntyre’s 1999 University of Edinburgh master’s thesis, “The role of Scottish native plants in natural dyeing and textiles.” Wow.

When I was in Toronto last fall, Kim and I visited the Textile Museum of Canada, where I purchased a copy of Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet but now I am itching to run out into the forest and look for lichens, then follow Abby’s tweed directions for blending the resulting fiber colors.

And while we’re at it, when am I just going to break down and buy Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland? For those of you who didn’t know this, I was once a grad student who specialized in medieval history, so it’s very easy for me to geek out on this stuff. Once a grad student, always a grad student.

But on to the yarn! the glorious yarn! This is what I ordered — tweed at left, matching yarn at right — look at the yummy blue flecks!

I have serious fiber excitement going on here, making plans for a classic-yet-kicky tweed skirt and a heavily-cabled cardigan on top. I had to restrain myself on the handknit kilt hose. Seriously. Sitting on my coffee table right now is the catalog of another Scottish yarn-and-fabric manufacturer that puts chills down my spine, because I’ve got plans for kits. (Then you all can geek out tweedily with me and I won’t feel so alone).

Spin to Knit swap deadline

Avast, yarn pirates! The Spin to Knit swap deadline is approaching fast! Join the hundreds of other spinners of all experience levels who’ve already signed up — grab a button for your website or blog (see here) — and you’re on your way.

With each skein you mail to your secret pal you should explain the process you used to make it. You can give some background on your spindle or wheel, how and when you learned to spin, dyes or other media you used, etc. As the website says, this exchange is about celebrating the wide, wonderful world of handspun yarn!

The website has been recently updated with skein size requirements for the various categories:

Beginner: at least 30 yds
Intermediate: at least 60 yds
Advanced: at least 90 yds

…but more is welcome, of course. We just didn’t want to overwhelm the newer spinners right off the bat.

Don’t forget: you are also invited to show off your handspun here on the blog. Send me a two-yard snip of each skein, which I will either knit or weave into a larger piece to show off at the end of the swap.

As I said previously, I love the idea of seeing everyone’s work side by side, joined together. It’s a physical representation of the kinds of connections these swaps create: hand by hand, we craft for each other and share both our love of spinning and skill.

Participants should identify their samples with their name and blog website address and mail them to me at PO Box 112312, Cleveland, OH 44111.

And speaking of weaving…look what the Loom Fairy dropped off yesterday!

(Try telling your boyfriend, with a straight face, that the Tooth Fairy’s cousin, the Loom Fairy, answered your prayers and just left a loom in the middle of the basement! POW, like that! I was only able to get to the point in which I explained that the Loom and the Tooth Fairy were cousins before I started laughing).

That’s not its final resting place, and it’s not opened up (it folds). But it’ll do for now. I have to teach in Kansas City this weekend, so no time to rip up the studio…

It’s a sickness, I tell you…

If you think YOUR stash is bad, you should see my equipment stash. Someday, when the studio is clean again, I’ll take a photo. And now, I’m about to add this. It’s a can’t-pass-it-up deal from a retired couple.

Seriously. I don’t have a functioning yarn swift, but I’m about to add a 6-treadle loom?

Well, you know what they say… spinners need to learn how to weave because there aren’t enough hours in the day to use up all that gorgeous handspun by knitting.

See? I’m just being…practical. Yeah, that’s it.