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The Fixed Weight System

Yarn on cones is often referred to by the yarn count (3/8, 10/2 etc). By using a traditional Fixed Weight system, knitters and weavers can refer to yarns in a stadardized way.

Using this system, the thicker the yarn, the lower the count.

For wool, the count is the second number. The number of plies (or folds) is the first number (we will discuss this later).

This example shows multiple plies of an 8 count wool. Over the years, a number of systems have been developed in the textile industry. Machine knitters and weavers who use yarn on cones employ the Fixed Weight System.

Fixed Weight System
  • The length is variable and the weight is constant
  • The thicker the yarn, the lower the count

In this example,
2/8 is thinnest and 4/8 is the thickest

2/8 | 2 plies of 8 count
3/ 8 | 3 plies of 8 count
4/88 | 4 plies of 8 count

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A pound of wool, spun ONE time sets the basis for this system

Let's look at worsted wool. Different fibers use different numbers.

Worsted wool is wool that is carded and combed so all the fibers are parallel. This is not the same as "worsted weight" yarn.

It isn't often that spinners and weavers work with wool that has only been spun one time. When the wool is spun a second (and subsequent times) it is thinner and longer each time.

Using this method, knitters can compare "apples to apples" no matter what the source of the wool (or the blend of fibers)

About plies

Knitters rarely use a single ply of yarn. In the textile arts, spinning is done by taking 2 or more strands that each have a twist to them and putting them together. The strands are twisted together in the opposite direction of the originally spun single ply.

In addition, by using multiply plies, manufacturers can create the wonderful yarns that we love.

Multiple colors and multiple fibers can be spun together. various techniques can be applied. An example is boucle yarns where one strand is held loosely and allowed to make loops on the other yarn while plying.

Although the number of plies is interesting, the weight of the singles that make up the yarn is what determines the weight of the yarn.

2/24 = 2 plies of 24 weight singles (spun 24 times)
2/18 = 2 plies of 18 weight singles
4/8 = 4 plies of 8 weight singles

"I only use 4 ply yarn"

Have you ever heard a knitter say . . . "I only use 4 ply yarn"?

What does that mean? 4 plies ARE NOT EQUAL!

Both of the yarns on the right have 4 plies. The needle on the left is from a standard gauge machine and the needle on the right is from a mid gauge machine.

It's obvious that the blue yarn would not knit well on the standard machine (the hooks would catch and split the yarn).

The grey yarn on the mid gauge would be very open and loose (a design feature?)

By understanding Yarn Counts for machine knitting, you can more easily substitute yarns in patterns and estimate your yarn needs.

Craft Yarn Council Yarn Standards

Compare yarn that is put up in balls, hanks, cakes, or skeins to weights of yarn on cones. Found a yarn you love? What machine can it be used on?

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