The Dish on Grist: Understanding Yards Per Pound in Handspinning
Often, a handpsinner will say that they spin yarn for relaxation’s sake, preferring “not to get all technical” and ruin the Zen of the experience. However, more practised spinners know the truth: the ability to spin any yarn you may need or envision is just added bliss. Becoming a more intentional spinner isn’t hard, but it does require tackling a subject that intimidates many: grist and yards per pound (YPP).
Now, before you peace out and stop reading, I’m here to tell you that grist and yards per pound aren’t difficult, and that the concept of grist is well worth tackling. (I’m also here to say that if I can tally the YPP of a skein of handspun, you can too.)
A few years ago, I started forcing myself to record the YPP of every yarn I spun. This has changed the way I think about my yarn and my spinning, and calculating YPP is now second nature. Ultimately, knowledge of grist can make you not just a more thoughtful spinner, it can help broaden your skill set exponentially, in ways you won’t believe.
Grist is the secret behind making wise choices in yarn pairings and substitutions, spinning consistently throughout a large spin, and more.
The Skinny on Grist and YPP
Grist is how we measure the density and circumference of the yarn in a skein, through the ratio of skein length to weight. It’s more than just gauge (or wraps per inch, or WPI), as this incorporation of density accounts for so many of the factors that affect the hand and weight of our yarn, including the traits of the fibre, its preparation, and the draw used to spin it. Yards per pound is a universal way of measuring and expressing this value. It tells us how dense a yarn is within this ratio. The denser, or heavier, the yarn, the fewer yards of it you’ll find per pound (a lower YPP). A longer length of yarn in a hank of the same weight is bound to be finer and thus will have a higher YPP.
Understanding this concept helps to explain why all yarns claiming the same gauge or WPI are not equal yarn substitutions.
There are two simple methods of calculating the YPP of a skein of yarn, and both should yield nearly identical results. If you opt for the (easy!) math formula, make yourself a cheat sheet and keep it handy until it becomes second nature. For best results, always wait until the twist has been set before using either method.
Think about YPP at its basic level: Once you know the per-ounce value of your yarn, all you have to do is multiply that number by 16 (the number of ounces in a pound) to get your YPP.
(Number of yards) (Number of ounces in skein) x 16 = YPP
Simply divide the number of yards in your skein by its weight in ounces to get the per ounce value. Multiply this number by 16. (Easy!)
If you typically weigh your yarn in grams, here’s your adjusted formula, which ends up converting your number back to the Imperial system through the multiplication:
(Number of yards) (skein weight in grams) x 453.592 = YPP
You don’t need to spin a full skein of yarn, either. You could spin up as few as 10 or 20 yards of yarn to check the grist of your sample. (I absolutely love using a one-yard niddy noddy sampler for this.)
If math just isn’t for you, invest in a yarn balance. Your yarn balance should come with instructions for use, but they’re all basically the same. Place the balance near the edge of a table. Snip off a several-inch length of your finished yarn and lay it over the arm of the yarn balance. Now carefully snip off tiny bits from each end of the yarn until the arm is balanced horizontally. Remove this strip of yarn and measure it against a ruler. Multiply this number by 100 and you have your YPP.
Note that a yarn balance works best with traditionally spun yarns, not art or textured yarns.
Tips for Greater Accuracy/Use
- In addition to using yarn that’s been finished, be sure to use a large enough sample, especially for larger spins. This accommodates for inconsistencies in your yarn.
- For the most accurate results, use the average number from a few samplings, no matter which method you choose to use.
- Don’t skip the swatch! Calculating the grist of your handspun is a good first step in planning any project or pairing, especially when looking to use handspun and commercial yarn together. Swatching and sampling can then help you plan any adjustments in gauge or needle size you’d like to make. (If swatch gauging hasn’t worked out for you in the past, watch Tabetha Hedrick’s Mastering Gauge course for better insight.)
As the logic of YPP starts to click for you, you’ll be able to put it to use more broadly, like identifying the yardage of those mystery or partially used balls or hanks of yarn in your stash, both commercial and handspun.
To calculate the yardage of your precious handspun leftovers, just weigh ten or so yards (this small sample saves you from having to rewind the whole ball or cake) and calculate the length per ounce value. Now weigh the larger, mystery amount in ounces, and multiply your length per ounce by this number.
This is just the beginning… Understanding grist/YPP helps us make better-informed decisions when putting our handspun to use in any application. (I’ve related it to knitting, but you can apply this information to crochet and weaving, too.)
So, don’t let intimidation limit you from broadening your skill sets. Grist is a topic well worth exploring!