Handspun Yarn Gauges – Super Bulky?

Posted on: 09/29/2012

I  often get asked questions regarding handspun yarn gauges, what super bulky is and the different breeds of wool I use for my yarn.  I put this information together to help you better understand my shop, my yarn and my choices.

Here’s a recent inquiry:

I still quite don’t understand between ounces and yards. But, is this a super bulky yarn?

My reply:

Oh dear, you have such a cute shop!  Awesome!  I see you’ve worked with some handspun, so you are not a complete newbie.  Purchasing handmade novelty/art yarn can be very different than purchasing commercial spun yarn.  Traditionally, commercial yarns are sold by the yard (and yes weight) but for the purpose of this writing, I am addressing questions coming from folks that wish to purchase handspun yarn, often for the first time and are looking for my information)  – but even so…the mill or factory had to start out with x amount of material to make the yarn they produce.  So from my wool – I can take 2 oz. and make a super duper bulky yarn and get 10 yards…OR I can take 2 oz. and spin it super thin and get 800 yards. Would I charge the same for those skeins? no.  why? because it took me a few minutes to make 10 yards and it took me 3 days to make 800 yards.  Same 2 oz, but a LOT more labor. Commercial yarns have automated processes that allow them to pump out kagillions of yards in no time.  Apples and oranges. With handspun you get to choose your own specifics.  Maybe that helps to clear up some of the ounces vs. yards confusion.

And to answer the question is this a super bulky yarn?  That definition gets mucked around quite a bit by artisans.  How I try to bridge that is by using the wpi method.  How many times can you wrap a piece of the yarn around a standard US ruler in the space of one inch? (not too tightly, not too loosely) count them..that gives you the wpi (wraps per inch).  Now that’s a number we can work with to compare your commercial yarns with.  And don’t hesitate to ask the spinner what the wpi is before you purchase.  It’s info you need so you can gauge how much yarn you’ll get, what you need for your project and your tool size.  But be ready for slight variations with handspun in both aspects of color and spinning style from the same shop or others shops even.  It is the absolute wonderful beauty of hand made handspun yarn.   And if you need it all to be from the same dye lot for a bigger project..request that in advance. Or forget it.  Most folks find a spinner that provides them with the yarn they like/need and buy from there some and eventually migrate from there as your skills, abilities, likes, preferences change.   I don’t spin many medium #4 yarns.  I don’t spin many straight yarns.  I can only claim to try to spin as straight/thin as requested (if I were inclined to entertain offers but I’m not)  – but all of my yarn has variations.  I am not a master spinner that can do this.  I am better skilled at thick and thin yarn so this is what I mostly  market.  If you need a more skilled spinner for thinner yarns I do have references and someone I would love to refer  you to,  just ask me, I’d love to share! 🙂

From my website you can choose your gauges of my thick and thin yarn.   I have them in the options like this:
bulky – 2-3 wpi, 30 yds US size 13-15+ knitting needle, size N or P crochet hook
med. – 3-4-5 wpi, 40 yds, US size 10.5-11+  knitting needle, size M crochet hook
thin – 6-7-8 wpi, 50 yds, US size 9-10.5+ knitting needle, size L crochet hook

I consider all of my yarn gauges as “bulky” – here’s wiki’s standard chart:

My yarn is off the chart. But in my application, when I spin 2 oz. into a 50 yard skein and I use a size 10.5 – 11 (sometimes a 13) knitting needle and can build a newborn baby hat – that are made to fit, not larger – avg. newborn head circ – 13-14″.  If you are skilled enough to make one and have yarn left over for some small poms..then I think that is a success, or a shorter tail ect.  Some folks can’t manage to make one newborn hat from 2 oz. – I don’t know why.

The delight comes in the differences in wool.  Here’s a great place to start reading about wool – wiki wool.  I use superwash merino – my top of the line fiber – colors are striking it is super soft and fluffy, has luster (a photogs dream) and when spun thinner – still makes respectable “puffs”.  It’s a beautiful white – (my whitest) it has anti-allergen properties and you can google more.  It is chemically treated to resist felting – spun at this gauge it will still pill when used heavily – like in a blanket.  Used occasionally for photo props – gorgeous! top of the line.  It is also the most expensive of the three wools I sell. Spun thin and plied it provides good memory and would make sturdy garments used heavily without piling that could last for several decades.

I also use regular merino (regular meaning..not superwash treated)- nice, soft sturdy yarn – nice creamy white the dye color doesn’t strike as  hard as on sw merino – but you can still get some great effects.  No luster.  It is made from the curly wooly type traditional sheep like you see in many fields.  The wool has a lot of crimp from all those curls – so the yarn has a good memory.  Although sock builders using reg. merino often also desire a longer wool fiber additionally maybe a 90/10 type ratio (for a garment with design that requires the yarn to have memory – as in cuffs or brims often add a longer wool fiber for strength – wensleydale, mohair types).  Makes for not as many holes to darn – smarter sock builders will also use superwash treated wool – so they can wash/dry them more easily.
And I also use bfl wool – it is a long fiber wool  commonly referred to as a “traditional” wool.   The sheep grow dread locks and the fibers are longer – 3-4-5 inches.   It’s not quite as long or white as mohair but has some of the same characteristics.  Compared to merino, where merino is smooth, bfl is more fuzzy.  In feel and look.  Spun to my thinner – 50 yds/2 oz…it doesn’t have as big of “puffs” as the other wools I use.  More of a straight yarn is spun from this fiber at that gauge.  Because of it’s super luster (photo’s dream again) It’s great for drape-y items – shawls, blankets, and it’s also has memory and is great in work horse items, but again – spun thinner.

The thick and thin style that I spin my yarn is mostly for novelty and items used occasionally.  The soft spin shows more wear because the softly spun fibers are able to move and the ends work loose within the yarn.  Fiber ends work loose mostly from the top layer of the yarn (from use) and it’s able to do this and still remain to be a sound yarn.  Spun high and tight and of course they don’t/can’t move as much. I made two blankets from thick and thin superwash – spun to 40-50  for my grand daughter and we use them regularly.  They’ve had everything spilled on them..they are a bit pilly looking and show that we’ve used/washed them..but we don’t care for/need the perfect look (like photogs do) – the absolute heavenly warmth and softness it retains is dreamy still.

Cashmere is a popular favorite yarn.  It’s a super soft fiber to begin with that is shorter – so you see  sweaters marketed made from very thin spun and plied yarn.  You don’t see many items offered from cashmere..spun in a bulky single…it’s too expensive and will work loose to easily.  Camel fiber is comparable – lots and lots of men’s suits on racks out there made from camel – shorter, finer, soft fiber spun high and tight.  Then too, some yarns have halo’s – which is different from pilling.  Rabbit (angora  yarn) gives a dreamy halo – and that is exactly what happens to create that…the ends are working loose.

All of these wools hold air nicely against the body and maintains body temperature with breath-ability – so you don’t over heat – like you can when wearing acrylic/nylon items.  Important for anyone wanting optimum warmth without perspiration and  also with newer babies that need their heat.  I use acrylic/nylon yarns all the time.  For our grand baby/toddler…I’m using acrylics so they can be easily washed by mom.  Ok..she has a nice wool hat and sweaters too..but..not for the most part.  And she’s probably gonna need a nice set of mitts soon. ..then so will mom..and this goes on and on. 🙂

Generally speaking –  Choosing if your item is meant for regular, practical, every day use or occasional use are factors to be considered when selecting the yarn for any project.  If you select an art  yarn like thick and thin and use  a simple stitch instant texture and interest can be created.  Thinner singles or plied yarns can be used to enhance a stitch pattern that might not be as easily seen or otherwise appreciated in a project vs. using a largely textured yarn, or yarn with bold colors or many color variations.  Stitch patterns can offer benefits beyond pattern beauty.  They can create a fabric that can effect the fit and performance of the entire garment.  My stockinette stitched hat, for example,  made from a straight thin single will not provide the same warmth and texture as my ribbed brim hat, using a thinner plied yarn and  stitch pattern  (that will trap more air and retain more body heat) even one as simple as a 3 x3 rib stitch.  If your desire is to create an item that will easily create texture, with simple stitch patterns, thick and thin handspun and other novelty yarns are a fun choice.

Remember – google is your friend – there’s a LOT of great info on the web.

I hope this helps.

Nyana, your fiber friend from ilashdesigns


1 Response to "Handspun Yarn Gauges – Super Bulky?"

Thanks for taking the time to post this. I’m totally still new to this yummy yarn and reading this answered a lot of questions I’ve had stirring. I have many future plans to purchase this quality yarn and now I feel more knowledgable about it 🙂
I’ve had a lot of my customers and friends ask questions and sometimes thry have stumped me. Oh, and by the way.. everytime I open a package of this yarn.. it smells Sooooo great, like im right on the farm!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: