Class Notes: How to Match a Yarn

So you’ve got a pattern that calls for a certain yarn, but you’d really like to use a handspun yarn. How do you go about spinning a yarn that can be substituted for the one called for listed in the pattern? Rita answered this question in her Friday afternoon class.

When matching a yarn Rita says you should first consider the fiber. For the best results it’s a good idea to use the same type of fiber. So, if the yarn you’re trying to match is made of alpaca then use alpaca.  Fibers such as alpaca are much more inelastic than wool and thus will result in a fabric that drapes differently.  She also pointed out that crimp plays a key factor in how elastic a wool is.  For instance, Lincoln has much less crimp than merino. I’ve been aware of this “crimp” factor for awhile but I’ve been using commercial top (mostly Ashland Bay merino) which doesn’t appear to have any crimp. Well, Rita has a great solution for figuring out crimp in commercial top. Just carefully wash a sample and let it dry. The crimp should be  apparent after the sample has dried.

wpiAfter discussing fiber qualities, Rita  showed us how to measure yarn by counting “wraps per inch”.  She first created a measuring tool by taking a flat craft stick and wrapping a 1 inch tall computer address label around the stick to mark off a one inch.  She then spun some fiber into several yards of a single thread and removed this thread from her bobbin by wrapping the end  around the computer label on the stick, starting at one end and counting each wrap until the label was completely covered and was not longer visible. She then taped the ends of the thread to the back and marked the number of wraps per inch on the stick. She had us do the same, aiming for 20 wraps per inch. You can see my effort in the photo on the right (click on the photo for a better view). It’s the top one. As you can see, I didn’t do such a good job of covering the first label. We also practiced wrapping some 2 ply yarn (the bottom stick).

After finishing the WPI exercise, Rita explained that this method of measuring yarn can be used for singles and inelastic plied yarns (like alpaca) but that it’s not really all that accurate for puffy, elastic yarns. She pointed out that there’s no standard way to wrap yarns so two people can come up with different counts. As she discussed WPI, she also mentioned that gadgets such as the  spinners control card are also an arbitrary way of measuring yarn since it can be difficult to determine the width of a thread by matching it to a line on a gauge. Really, there’s no one quick way to accurately measure yarn. When matching a yarn, various attributes of the yarn must be considered. Rita has several tricks to fully investigate several attributes.

Loop TechiqueTo compare the thickness of two yarns Rita uses an old weaver’s trick. Take a piece of the  “goal” yarn and fold it in half. Now take a piece of a plied sample and  thread it through the loop so that the two yarns are connected loop to loop. Put tension on both ends  and then glide your fingers over each yarn, rolling it between your fingers without looking. You should be able to feel any difference in thickness.

I tried this loop techique  by putting a knot in one of the yarns and then hooking that yarn onto a knob on my wheel. I then linked the second yarn into the first and pulled tight with one hand while I felt the yarns with the other. It’s really amazing how well this works. As you can see from the photo on the left that Rita had us try this technique with several types of yarn and tape our samples to a card.

After comparing the thickness of two yarns,  she had us determine whether the twist in our plied samples matched our goal yarn by holding both yarns side by side under tension. Tension helps to even out the yarns so the twist in each yarn can be easily compared to determine if one has more or less twist than the other.  If the bumps created by plying line up, than each yarn has the same twist.

Next, to see if two yarns matched in elasticity, Rita cut a piece of each yarn the same length and then stretched each one, noting how far each could stretch. If both stretched to the same length then each proably had the same elasticity. To take this one step further, she advised washing and drying both samples to see if they stayed the same length.

The final and ultimate test is to spin and ply a sample long enough to knit a swatch. She showed us one of her swatches which was knit in stripes that alternated between a ” goal” yarn and a sample yarn.  She mentioned that if the two yarns matched well then we shouldn’t be able to feel a noticeable difference between the stripes.

For more information on this topic, see  “An Easy & Accurate Way to Compare Yarns” by Rita Buchanan in Spin-Off , Summer 1999.

2 thoughts on “Class Notes: How to Match a Yarn

  1. Thanks so much for the terrific reviews of these classes! Really interesting and helpful to those of us who have not been able to attend a class like this. And, I agree with your comments (in earlier posts) about Rita Buchanan’s articles – they are some of the best that have appeared in Spin Off.


  2. Thanks Kathy. I’m so glad that I can have an opportunity to share what I learned. I’ve only been spinning for about two years and know it can be hard to find new and interesting information about spinning on the web.
    I enjoyed Rita’s classes so much that I’m trying to write it all down before I forget. I have two more classes to write about.


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