Peggy’s Weaving Tips > Yarn Count Explained: Understanding the Labels on Yarn Packages

Yarn Count Explained:

Understanding the labels on yarn packages

This is an excerpt from Peggy’s new book, the revised edition of Book #1: Winding a Warp and Using a Paddle, that just came out in July. This is information not in the first edition and comes in the extensive new chapter on Sett.

Table of Base Counts of Threads


Yarn Labels A
Yarn Labels A

Yarn Count

There are official standards for measuring the number of yards in one pound of yarn. These standards were created by cloth manufacturers in the nineteenth century. The standards refer to the weight given to a given length of thread. For cotton, they used a reel with a circumference of 1 1/2 yards or 54″; for linen, one of 2 1/2 yards or 90″; for woolens, one of 2 yards or 72″. Silk uses the cotton reel.

A 1 ply thread of cotton wound around its reel = 1 1/2 yards; 80 threads = one skein or 120 yards; and 7 skeins = one hank or 840 yards or one pound! So, now we know that there are 840 yards (one hank) of one ply cotton thread in one pound. This is the base measure or the “one-count.” Linen is calculated in leas, where 1 lea = 300 yards of one ply linen = 1 pound. Worsted is measured by counts. One count = 560 yards of single ply worsted = one pound. See the Table of Base Counts of Threads for some other base measures (one-counts).

Now, it is obvious that a very thin yarn will take more yards to weigh a pound than a thick yarn would. On the package or cone of yarn is a fraction which tells you how your yarn relates to the base measure. It also tells you how many plies the yarn has. You need to know this because the measure of yards per pound is based on one ply thread.

Say your package of cotton thread has a fraction of 3/2, for example. The top number tells you the size of your yarn and that it is three times the base measure or 3 x 840 = 2520 yards per pound. The bottom number is the number of plies, which here is 2 (2 ply). You know what one ply of your yarn is, so divide the total of the yards above the line by the number of plies.

Yarn Labels B
Yarn Labels B

Simple! Unfortunately, some yarn makers put their fractions upside-down. Usually, you can consider the smaller number to be the plies and the larger number to be the size. If after your calculations you get a number that makes no sense, try flipping the fraction and recalculating. If you have the yarn in your hands, you can count the plies, so you can tell which part of the fraction refers to it.


Taken from: Book 1: “Winding a Warp and Using a Paddle


24 thoughts on “Peggy’s Weaving Tips > Yarn Count Explained: Understanding the Labels on Yarn Packages”

  1. thank you..a very experienced knitter on knitting paradise led me here when i asked a question of what does 14/2 mean on the inside of a giant cone of cotton rayon figure comes out too 5880 whopping yards of yarn..i took 14 divided it by the ply=(7) and then took 840 x 7=5880..Im not a weaver,machine knitter or a spinner..Im a knitter of only a little over 2 yrs and I just could not say No when i bought this giant cone of cotton rayon for $19 bucks. since my yarn is not just cotton but has rayon also would you say my figures are close on yardage?

    • If you have a pound of yarn, you do have that many yards! Good for you! My mentor explained that thinner yarns are cheaper than fatter ones because there are more yards per pound. Peggy

    • I used to use two, three, or 4 or more strands as one yarn when I got a big cone of thinner stuff than I wanted. Balling or spooling it takes time, of course. Peggy

      • I’m a fairly new weaver and recently bought a huge cone of a very fine weight of alpaca yarn. All i know is that it is 2.2 lb of 2/16. It is a lace weight yarn for sure. I would definitely like to use 2-3 strands, but i’m not quite sure what the best way to do that would be. I think there may be 4-5 thousand yards on the cone. I’m trying to find out for sure from the merchant as they no longer carry this yarn. How would I go about combining strands?


        • What I would do is wind off the yarn into as many “packages” as you plan to have strands. Say 3. Make all you packages generally the same size and shape so they will all unwind under even tension together when warping.(This is important so there is even tension on all the strands/threads during weaving.) Then I would suggest winding 3 threads together as one. That means a cross of 3 threads instead of one. Then I would put all 3 into the same heddle. My big suggestion is to make a smallish warp to try it out to see if you like what you get. Not more than 10″ wide and perhaps 2-3 yards long.
          It’s possible to calculate how many yards you have and what the sett should be. However, there are three different figures for yards per pound for 16/2 depending on the system of measuring for that particular cone. A YARN BALANCE would be a good tool to have. Available at weaving stores. you put your yarn on the scale and theN measure the length of the yarn it takes to balance the scale and multiply by 100 and that gives you the yards per pound. Then you can calculate how much you have, how much when you use 3 strands as one, and you can calculate the sett (ends per inch). Winding that thread on a ruler would be about impossible I think. If you like, you could send me several yards of the thread and I can do the calculations by using my yarn balance to start. Peggy Osterkamp 501 via Casitas, Apt. 813, Greenbrae, CA 94904.

          • You are so generous and so amazing! I’ve emailed the company to see if they can give me the yardage, but if not, I will send you a piece as you suggest. I have some empty cardboard tubes from some cotton that I could use to wind onto. I could weigh the tubes and then make sure all three weigh the same once i’ve wound on the wool, and that they weigh enough for the intended warp once I find out the yards per pound. All the info you sent is very helpful to me and I appreciate it a lot! I am thinking to make a shawl, with warp and weft from the same alpaca yarn. I’d like it to have texture and I found a huck pattern that I may use from the May/June 2009 issue of Handwoven. many thanks!

  2. Hi Peggy, thanks for your explanation. I’m still just learning about all this. 🙂 If I have some linen thread that is 30/3 and some other linen thread that is 30/2, will they be the same thickness? I do understand that the second number means the number of plies. Is the 30/3 made up of 3 thinner plies to make the same thickness as the 2 plies that make up the 30/2? OR do each have the same thickness of ply (as denoted by the 30) so therefore the 30/3 is 50% thicker than the 30/2? So I guess what I am asking is does the 30 refer to the individual ply or the thickness of the combined plies? Thanks so much!

    • The 30 refers to the size of the ply. Therefore 30/2 (2 plies) is smaller than 30/3 (3 plies). Yarn counts are described in my book, Weaving for Beginners. Grist refers to the size of yarns and is described in y book as well.

  3. Hi Peggy,

    Thanks for this explanation. It’s the most helpful one I’ve found online yet. I’m a beginning machine knitter and finding it very difficult to decipher the weight of the cones of yarn I’m trying to buy online without seeing the yarn itself. Is there an easy way to relate the fractions to the weight definitions that hand knitters are familiar with- fingering, sport, DK, worsted, ect.? It seems that the numbers are all a jumble and I can’t spot a pattern to them to clue me in to the weight description.

    • I had a hard time with knitters’ numbers, too and gave up trying to make comparisons. Seems yarns per pound is easier for me but knitters are used to other ways.

  4. I am am Australian and fairly new to weaving. So far, I have used patterns which indicated what yarn and what size reed to use. I use both a rigid heddle and a floor loom.
    I would like to now weave without using a pattern. How do I decide what size reed to use? For example, if I use 8/2 cotton, can I use a twelve dent reed, or do I need to double up the cotton for a balanced pattern?
    If I use what in Australia is known as worsted, do I use an eight dent reed?
    Our yarns are also metric just to make life more difficult and in many cases, the UK system of measurement is used, ie Aran, worsted, etc.
    So it’s putting the dimensions of the yarn with the size of the reed which is really confusing me.

    • For weavers, most everything is based on yards per pound. If you know that you can then decide on your ends per inch and from that the reed. (It’s highly desirable to have two ends per dent.) Other factors can come into the calculation of the sett (epi) eg. weave structure, slippery threads, etc. etc. I think it would be a good idea for you to get my book, Weaving for Beginners”. I have a lot of information on this subject as well as getting started and a series of weaving things to try as you progress. I made this book for you. Since the shipping to Australia is so expensive, I’ll enclose my book #1: Winding a Warp & Using a Paddle” as a gift. In it is a whole chapter on the subject (sett). I hope I’ll hear from you since you are getting started. Anyhow, you work with yards per pound. Hope this helps. Peggy PS You can order on my website–be sure to remind me to include the extra book. You can always email me with the reminder as well:

  5. Thank you for posting this tip. I have been weaving for many, many years and never fully understood how the numbers came into being. I understood the number for plys and that the smaller the number on top, the fatter the yarn (and thus, less yards per pound) but I didn’t know the background for how that number is determined. This information comes at a perfect time for me. We’re doing a series of STEAM based learning programs in my library and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce our teen patrons to weaving, while also showing them that there is a practical reason to pay attention in math class. I will be adding your information to my program. Thanks!

  6. Hi Peggy, Thank You so much for sharing your tips! Can you tell me the difference between “wool cut” and “wool run” in the chart above, and when to apply them? I was given a tub of wool cones and need to know which figure to use.

    Thank you in advance!

    • If you need more information, let me know what I should explain better. This is copied from my book, Weaving for Beginners. Peggy

      Yarn count is a system of describing the size of yarns.
      Usually, the number of plies is given as well. Together,
      they denote the size of the yarn by indicating the
      of yards per pound. (The more yards per pound,
      the finer the yarn is.) Typically, there are two numbers
      given in the form of a fraction. The size or count is given
      in the upper part of the fraction and (mostly) the ply
      is on the bottom. The ply portion of the fraction
      is explained below.
      To explain how confusing the system is for identifying
      the size or the count, I will explain how the count
      (size) for cotton was determined in the nineteenth
      century. Each fiber has its own way of determining its
      count, however.
      For cotton, number one is the size of one thread made
      from one pound of cotton with a length of 840 yards.
      This length came from measuring a cotton thread on
      a reel 1 ½ yards (54″) in circumference. 80 threads
      wound around the reel made up a skein of 120 yards,
      and 7 skeins made up one hank, or 840 yards, and that
      amount of yarn weighed one pound. The “base count”
      for number one cotton (one strand) is 840 yards per
      pound. Other fibers used different size reels and arrived
      at different base amounts, and some are shown on the
      next page. (All fibers are considered to be number one
      at their base counts, like number one worsted for wool,
      number one lea for linen, etc.)
      From number 1, other counts are derived. The count of
      2 is the size of a thread if twice this yardage (2 x 840 or
      1680 yards) weighed one pound. Number 3 would be
      three times the number of yards in one pound or 840 x 3
      = 2,520 yards. It is obvious that a very thin yarn will take
      more yards to weigh a pound than a thick yarn would.
      Therefore, a higher number would indicate a thinner
      yarn. Labels tell you how your yarn relates to the base
      number (no. 1) for that fiber (here, the example being
      cotton). Next, the bottom number of the fraction or the
      number of plies in the yarn must be taken into account.
      For example, 5/2 on a label for cotton yarn tells you
      that the size of the thread is no. 5 and that the yarn
      is composed of two plies. A plied yarn is a yarn that is
      made up of more than one strand. For example if you
      folded a one-ply yarn on itself, you would get a 2-ply
      yarn that would still weigh the same amount—in these
      examples, one pound—and would be half as long
      For the example of 5/2 cotton, we can calculate that
      the “5” signifies a thread that is 5 x 840 (4,200) yards
      long in one pound. The number 2 below the line in the
      fraction signifies the number of plies. So, if there are
      two plies in this one pound instead of one, there must
      be half the yardage in the pound (2100). And that is
      the way the yardage is calculated. You know what one
      ply of your yarn is (the count), so divide the total of the
      yards by the number of plies.
      Figure 497 shows what a plied yarn looks
      like where diagonal lines can clearly be
      seen on the yarn. If you look closely at the
      cut end in the illustration, you can see that
      there are 3 plies in the yarn, or 3 strands.
      Unfortunately, some yarn makers put their
      fractions upside-down. Usually, you can
      consider the smaller number to be the
      plies and the larger number to be the
      count or size. If after your calculations,
      you get a number that makes no sense, try
      flipping the fraction and recalculating. If
      you have the yarn in your hands, you can
      count the plies, so you can tell which part
      of the fraction refers to it.
      Summary: The fraction given for a yarn tells if it is
      a thicker or thinner yarn by indicating the number of
      yards per pound. If cotton has a base count of 840 ypp
      for one strand, you can see that by looking at the counts
      only, 10/2 cotton (ten times the base count or 10 x 840,
      or 8400) has more yards per pound and, therefore, is
      finer than 5/2 cotton (5 x 840 or 4200). Finally, by
      dividing the count’s yyp by the number of plies you
      get the yards per pound for 10/2 cotton as 4,200 ypp.
      The 5/2 cotton has only 2,100 yards in a pound
      (5 x 840 = 4,200 divided by 2 = 2,100 ypp).
      Otherwise, look at the label for the yards per pound.
      Thinner yarns have more yards per pound than thicker
      ones. Look at the Yarn Size Chart on page 264.
      In your weaving life, you’ll become familiar with some
      types of yarns and will remember some fractions and
      what they mean. See the Base Counts chart on the
      previous page.
      For more information, see my first book, Winding a
      Warp & Using a Paddle on pages 91 and 113-116.

  7. Hello Peggy,

    What about markings where the smaller number is higher, such as 12/6,12/9, 12/18, 20/6 as in seine twine? How do these compare to the ply based system?


  8. Is there an in depth resource that explains yarns other than those manufactured in North America? This is really helpful, it I find that sometimes I am looking for a very fine yarn that is likely only produced elsewhere. Thank you!

    • Yes. In my book Winding a Warp & Using a Paddle I discuss Deniers, Worsted count(WC); Metric Count (m.c. or Nm.); and the Tex system, tooell. there are conversions from one to another, as well. I think I covered all the bases.


Leave a Comment