Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Printable Yarn Gauge Reference Tool

If, like me, you've despaired at the results you get with a WPI gauge, or you've struggled with a spinner's control card, here's an idea for a resource that could be a more tactile and visual alternative.


Last year I blogged about some handspun yarn labels that I'd designed, so that I could organise my stash of yarn that I'd spun myself.

I spent a good many hours weighing, measuring, calculating the wraps per inch (WPI) and labeling all of my handspun yarn so that I knew exactly what I had.  Unfortunately, when it came to actually knitting up my handspun yarn, I realised that I'd got nearly 50% of the gauges wrong.  

To further add to the confusion, there doesn't seem to be an industry standard for WPI and after a quick search, I found at least 3 different systems that give a wide range of figures, especially for finer gauge yarns, which pretty much makes the whole WPI system completely redundant!

If you're new to calculating the gauge of yarns, I should probably tell you that the wraps per inch method is widely considered to be the quickest way to calculate the gauge of any yarn. To put it simply, you wrap your yarn around a ruler or inch gauge and count the number of wraps it takes to fill up an inch.   Unfortunately, I'm coming to realise that this method is not without its flaws - especially when it comes to handspun yarn made from unusual fibres.  

Take the rose yarn above, for example.  I was comfortably getting 13 to14 wraps per inch on my inch gauge (on the left), making it between a 4 ply/fingering and a baby/sport yarn on the Ravelry WPI system, but when I came to knit it, it was knitting up much, much bigger and tighter than it should.  After quite a bit of swatching, I realised that it knitted up much closer to the stitches and row measurements of a worsted weight yarn.  A worsted weight yarn would have 9 WPI on the system I was using, so in an effort to work out what I'd done wrong, I wrapped my rose yarn around my homemade inch gauge, 9 times, as loosely as possible.  As you can see with the gauge on the right, there is definitely room for more yarn on there, but I'd already confirmed with swatching that it was a worsted weight yarn.

These three yarns are another example of how basing yarn gauge on thickness alone is an unreliable method.  The yarns above are all classed as double knit, yet at first glance, they decrease in thickness from left to right. The first is a loosely spun plied yarn, the middle is a densely spun single ply and the third is a mohair yarn with a halo - making it very difficult to determine the WPI.

The problem is, WPI does not take into account the density, elasticity, loft, drape, halo or the inconsistencies of a handspun yarn.  It's also incredibly easy to unknowingly stretch or compress a yarn - giving you a false WPI reading.  
Undoubtedly, the only truly effective way of working out the gauge of a mystery yarn is to knit a tension square to make sure that it knits to the correct size for that yarn gauge.
However, I decided to make myself a reference tool, so that I could learn exactly how WPI should be measured and I would then have a resource that I could compare future handspun yarns to.  I'd much rather knit a swatch for gauge once, rather than four times - as I did for the rose yarn.

My theory was that if I have a lot of yarns that I already know the gauge of, I can make a visual and tactile reference tool that would show me exactly how those WPIs should look, as well as being a useful resource for quickly trying to establish the gauge of handspun yarn.

Fingering / 4ply
14 wpi
Sport / Baby
12 wpi
Double Knit
11 wpi
9 wpi
Heavy Worsted / Aran
8 wpi
Bulky / Chunky
7 wpi
Super Bulky / Super Chunky
5-6 wpi

I used the Ravelry standard yarn weights to give me the WPIs of all the yarns that I knew the gauge of and worked backwards from there.  (I'm from the UK, so I'm used to slightly different yarn gauge terms than the US.  I've listed the UK gauge second - although we rarely use 'worsted' to describe yarn weight in the UK.)

How to make your own yarn gauge reference tool

Materials I used to make a Yarn Gauge Reference tool

First print out the sheet of yarn gauge tags onto cardstock.  I used some 250gsm linen card from Craft Creations.

Here's a close up of the tags, but if you print out the PDF here, the inch measurement should be accurate.

If there's one thing I've learned from making this inch tool it's that yarn needs to be wrapped as loosely as possible when you are measuring WPI on the Ravelry WPI system.  I realised that if you don't somehow attach your yarn to your WPI tool, it's virtually impossible to measure the WPI of a yarn, without inadvertently putting a little bit of tension into it.  I taped my yarn to the back of the tags and then wrapped it around the appropriate number of times for that yarn type.  The yarn above is labeled as a sport/baby weight, so I wrapped it around 12 times and then taped it to the back of the tag.

After writing on my yarn weight details I used my Crop-a-dile to punch holes in the top and bottom of the tags and then inserted the eyelets.  I used 1/8" and 3/16" eyelets as I found that yarn thicker than worsted would not fit through the 1/8" eyelets.  I had the Crop-a-dile and eyelets left over from my scrapbooking days, but if you're buying eyelets specifically for this project I would recommend the larger 3/16" eyelets.

I attached a 12mm jump ring to the top of the tag, opening and closing it sideways with pliers.

It's quite difficult to see in this picture, but I used a Big Eye Needle to thread about 30cm of yarn through the lower eyelet.  As mentioned previously, I needed larger eyelets for worsted/aran and above yarns. 

Here's one of the tags finished, with yarn attached with a lark's head or cow hitch knot.  I made 21 of these, 3 for every yarn gauge I wanted to reference.  I'll probably add more in the future to give me a wider reference for comparison.

I opened up the 2-inch loose leaf binder ring and threaded on my newly made tag next to the other two baby/sport yarns, making sure that the jump ring was facing in the same direction as all of the others.

Here's how my yarn gauge reference tool looks with 21 tags on.  I love it!  It's so visual and tactile and just seeing the yarns gradually increasing in thickness is going to really help improve my skills in determining the weight of a yarn.  It's going to be so much easier comparing yarn with yarn, rather than a line on a piece of paper or wood. It will also be an aid in reminding me of the different idiosyncrasies various fibres have, and the effects those characteristics have on WPI.  I don't for one minute think it will eliminate the need for swatching, but I'm really hoping it will help me to get it right first time more often.

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make this yarn gauge reference tool. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

At this point, I normally suggest similar related blog posts, however, my list of spinning-related content is becoming a little unmanageable...  If you'd like to read more blog posts about spinning and fibre preparation, please take a look at this page here where you will find links to all of my spinning and fibre articles.  

Thank you for reading, and happy spinning! 

If you found this DIY interesting, you might like to read some of my other 
spinning-themed blog posts -

How to Measure Handspun Yarn
Using an App

Free Handspun
Yarn Labels

Spinning Dog Hair

DIY Hackle

3D Printed Modular
Lazy Kate

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for the printable :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the printable :)

Sue L said...

A woman after my own heart/head...thank you, yet another excellent idea! I have had exactly the same challenges.!