Monday, May 3, 2010

Alpaca yarn and estimating yarn weights

If you are contemplating having some or your alpaca fibre spun into yarn you need to be aware of the different weights/thickness of yarn so that you can be sure that the finished product is a standardised product that both you and your customers will be able to use with commercially available knitting patterns, or alternatively have designs and knitting patterns written to conform to your yarn. Therefore, if you are an alpaca owner with no knowledge or experience of yarn or knitting you may find the following useful.

Fibre is spun by stretching and twisting into single threads. These single threads can vary in thickness and in tightness of twist or put more accurately number of twists per inch. Higher twists produce a stronger yarn, give more pattern definition when knitted but may feel less soft. Yarn produced with a lower number of twists are not so strong but may feel softer. These single threads can then be twisted together or plied to form a thicker stronger yarn.

Yarns are often referred to according to the number of plys (single threads) which are twisted together. For example two threads twisted together is 2 ply, similarly three threads twisted is 3 ply etc. However, to rely on such definition for yarn thickness or weight can be misleading as the single threads which make up the yarn or which are plied together to create the yarn will invariable be different thicknesses and the use of other descriptions of yarn weight, e.g. Chunky, sports, super chunky can add to the confusion. It is not unusual to have two balls of yarn and even though they both state that they are 4 ply and indeed they are; they can still be different thicknesses and therefore when knitted have different tensions which will effect the finished product.

A method of being able to determine a yarn thickness is to apply the “wraps per inch test” or in the modern world “wraps per cm”. In order to calculate this, yarn should be wrapped around a cylindrical object (pencil) for about 4 inches /10 cm. with the ends taped down. The threads should lie close together but not be pushed together. Using a ruler count the number of threads per inch or cm. This will give you the yarn thickness. The lower the number of wraps the thicker the yarn.

As yarn is a universal product it is given various names throughout the world. The table below gives some of the most popular UK and USA yarn definitions.

Yarn Type


Number of wraps per inch (cm)

Tension guide – number of stocking stitches per 10 cm

2 ply (laceweight)

25 (10)

34 - 38

3 ply (laceweight)

19 (7.5)

28 - 34

4 ply (fingering)

16 (6.5)

24 - 30

Double Knit (Sport/DK/light worsted)

14 (5,5)

20 - 24

Double Knit (worsted)

12 (5)

20 - 24


11 (4,5)

16 - 20

Aran/thick (bulky)

10 (4)

16 - 20

Double (double)

9 (3.5)

12 - 16

Chunky (super bulky)

7/8 (3)

12 - 16

Some typical uses for yarn weights.

2 ply/laceweight: Knitted or crocheted lace, baby clothes and fine shawls.

3 ply laceweight: Socks, baby garments, very fine sweaters, shawls or scarves.

4 ply/fingering: Baby clothes, sweater, mittens, scarves, hats, socks, toys.

Double Knit: Ladies and mens sweaters, scarves, hats, throws.

Aran: Heavy sweaters, thick afghans or lap throws and soft furnishings.

Double: chunky Sweaters, jackets, coats, rugs, afghans.

Chunky: Coats, heavy throws, rugs, handbags

Frances Bath 2010


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