What does "Yarn Count' mean?

Are you baffled by all the terms relating to thicknesses of yarn - counts, plys, ticket numbers? Here you'll find lots of information, broken down into the the most simple and useful terminology so you can get through this minefield. There are some useful tables, simplified explanations and links to other websites if you need further reading or assistance.

Contents:



COUNT

Every yarn will have a count whether it's a weaving yarn, a knitting yarn or a crochet thread. A spinner is spinning to a count even if the yarn is subsequently going to be called "Double Knitting" or "Tkt 12" - it's like spinning to the correct recipe regardless of how the yarn is going to be used or named.

Yarn counts are by far the most complicated because historically spinners in different parts of the country categorised their fibres and yarns differently from each other - Dewsbury Count, Bradford Count etc. and none of them ever seemed to be prepared to use the same system, which is why there are still lots of counts used today. We generally buy yarns where we know the count is either cc (Cotton Count), wc (Worsted Count) or nm (Metric Count) but that still doesn't really help without some key information.

Cotton Count - cc (Imperial)

This doesn't just refer to cotton yarns, but it is generally the case. The count is based on the number of 840yd (yard) units in a lb (pound) of yarn.

Worsted Count - wc (Imperial)

This is used most often for wool yarns as well as other fibres. The count is based on the number of 560yd (yard) units in a lb (pound) of yarn.

(Numero) Metric Count - nm (Metric)

This is a term used for many yarns as an alternative to a wc (much like stating km and miles). The count is based on the number of 1000m (metre) units in a kg (kilogram) of yarn.

All counts have two numbers - one is the count and one is the number of strands (or ends) that have been twisted together to create that yarn. A single yarn where you can't untwist it may not be listed with a second number, but would technically be /1 as there is just one strand. Roving yarns, some slub yarns or loop yarns would fall into this category, but most yarns have a number of single ends twisted together to create a thicker yarn and they will be stated as /2, /3, /4 etc.

As a general rule of thumb the finer the yarn the higher the count number (see below for why) and metric counts usually are expressed with the count first then the ends - 30/2nm whereas cotton and worsted counts tend to have the ends first then the count - 4/8cc or 3/9wc.

Without putting any of the above into context it doesn't really help, so here is more of an explanation (and it's much easiest to explain with metric counts as the numbers are nice and round - 1000, but the same principle applies to cotton and worsted counts too):

  • If a yarn is stated as 60/2nm (such as our Regency Silk) it means that there are:
  • 60 lots of 1000m per kg (see nm count above) i.e. 60,000m per kg. If the yarn was expressed as 60/1nm then a kg cone would have 60,000m wound onto it.
  • But it has a /2 which means there are two strands twisted together so the length is halved - it has 30,000m per kg. If it had a /4 then the 60,000 would be quartered and there would be 15,000m* per kg.

In a nutshell that's it!

*Some of the meterages may not half or quarter down exactly as there is a bit of "take-up" widthways across the yarn but at thinner weights this is negligible.

The above information explains why it's so important to have the count terminology (cc, nm or wc) when asking of referring to a yarn otherwise it's almost impossible to ascertain the correct yarn.

For a very comprehensive explanation of counts here is a link to a fabulous book called "Yarn Counts & Calculations" by Thomas Woodhouse 1921 that someone has taken the trouble to scan and upload. It is extremely detailed and I must admit that I have just had a bit of a skim read of some sections and there is a lot of algebra and maths, but it just goes to show how complicated counts, twists and plys are.

Whilst I was scouring the internet for information for this page I also came across the brilliant article (find it here) which helps weavers to calculate yarn requirements for plain weave weaving projects. It also shows how and why ends per inch is important and is written in a very simple, funny way - well worth a look.

For an "at a glance" guide here is a table of how we have split the yarns on our website. It gives you a rough idea of counts, how many metres to expect per 100g and what the ends per inch will be:

COUNTLENGTH (PER 100g)ENDS PER INCH
121/2nm & Finer6001m +100 +
61/2nm-120/2nm3001m-6000m63-99
31/2nm-60/2nm1351m-3000m42-62
16/2nm-30/2nm720m-1350m28-42
9/2nm-15/2nm351m-719m24-27
5/2nm-8/2nm220m-350m16-23
4/2nm & Thicker< 219m< 11



PLY

The ply of a yarn is terminology used by knitters and begins with the finest gauge a knitter is prepared to work with (2ply) up to the thickest (super chunky). Throughout the world there are differing terms for the same thicknesses which are illustrated below, but for the purposes of this explanation I'll reference British terms.

On Scottish Islands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries whole familes would knit sweaters, socks, accessories and stockings both to sell and use. It is believed that the first yarns to have a consistency of thickness that was measured and noted was from these islands. It was a yarn with 4 fine ends of wool twisted together and was the standard weight for knitting much of their knitwear. This thickness created a lightweight, flexible fabric that wasn't too heavy and was perfect for socks and executing complex designs such as Fairisle. This thickness is what is now known as 4ply, even though the knitters in Scotland probably wouldn't have called it that.

When two ends of this "4ply" yarn were twisted together they would have been used for thicker, warmer garments. Again the knitters might not have referred to this yarn as Double Knitting, but it is what we now call it. So 4ply was essentially the benchmark for knitting yarn thicknesses in the UK, double it up to create DK, double it up again to create Chunky, double it up again to create Super Chunky, and of course if you halve it you create 2ply. The very thinnest and very thickest of these terms are open to interpretation as not all 2plys and super chunky are quite the same as each other, but it's a guide.

There are two other main UK yarn thicknesses missing from the list and they are Aran and Guernsey. As you can see from the names they are place names that have lent their names to both a style of sweater and a thickness. There are also US and Australian yarn thicknesses that fall in between some of our UK weights which I have tried to slot in (see table below). Because there isn't a huge difference between any of these and a UK equivalent you will normally be able to substitute a yarn or adjust needles if you can't find quite the right yarn or pattern.

Confusingly for the modern knitter (or anyone else trying to explain plys and counts) 2ply doesn't have to have 2 strands and 4 ply doesn't have to have 4 strands. If two strands of a thicker yarn are twisted together they could create a 4ply weight and similarly 10 strands of a very fine yarn could create a 2ply - this is known as a "resultant" count where the result of the plys creates a particular weight.

In the US many knitting patterns suggest you have x yards or metres of a yarn that will knit to a particular gauge (tension), even if you they don't tell you the ply. A bit of maths is involved but if you knit up an unknown yarn on a variety of needles until you are happy with the result you will be able to calculate the ply and the gauge even if you've lost the ballband.

This is a brilliant website which is trying to standardise yarn weights and gauges and is an excellent resource if you are confused.

For an "at a glance" guide here is a table of how we have split the yarns on our website. It gives you a fairly accurate idea of how many metres to expect per 100g, what needles to knit on and what the gauge/tension should be.

PLYLENGTH (PER 100g)YARN STANDARD CATEGORYGAUGE
2ply820m +0Knit on 3mm pins to a tension of 32 stitches and 40 rows
3ply500m1Knit on 3mm pins to a tension of 32 stitches and 40 rows
Fingering400m2Knit on 3-3.25mm pins to a tension of 30 stitches and 32 rows
4ply350m2Knit on 3.25mm pins to a tension of 28 stitches and 36 rows
Sport250m2Knit on 3.25mm pins to a tension of 25 stitches and 34 rows
5ply230m2Knit on 2.25mm pins to a tension of 32 stitches and 36 rows
DK210m3Knit on 4mm pins to a tension of 22 stitches and 28 rows
Worsted200m4Knit on 4.5mm pins to a tension of 20 stitches and 25 rows
Aran170m4Knit on 5mm pins to a tension of 18 stitches and 24 rows
Chunky 110m5Knit on 6mm pins to a tension of 16 stitches and 20 rows
S/Chunky 50m6Knit on 10mm pins to a tension of 10 stitches and 14 rows
Jumbo< 25m7Knit on 15mm pins and larger to a tension of 6 stitches and 8 rows or less



TICKETS

Crochet, lace and tatting threads have traditionally been sold in small 5g or 10g balls of mercerised cotton as they tend to be very fine and go an awful long way. They have a different classification which is known as a ticket number (even though they will also have a count, but that tends not to be listed). The word ticket is sometimes abbreviated to Tkt or not even mentioned, so No.10 or No.3 will be all that is stated. As with counts, the lower the number the thicker the yarn so Tkt 80 is very fine and Tkt 3 is pretty thick.

Of course all the above crafts can be made using threads which aren't made from cotton (such as silk or linen) but the majority of commercial yarns from brands such as DMC and Anchor will be pure mercerised cotton with a ticket number. As crochet has become more popular in recent years most hookers just use regular knitting yarn as the plys called for are the standard 4ply, DK etc. Also tatters and lacemakers (especially bobbin lacemakers) are branching out and using thicker and textured threads instead of the smooth simple ticket threads.

However, we thought it would be useful to categorise our smooth threads with ticket numbers where we felt crocheters, lacemakers and tatters may wish to use a different fibre content or not have to buy 10 small balls when they could just purchase a 100g cone.

For an "at a glance" guide here is a table of how we have split the yarns on our website. It gives you a fairly accurate idea of how many metres to expect per 100g, what crochet hook to use and what the equivalent in ply terms would be.

TICKETLENGTH (PER 100g)EQUIVALENT KNITTING WEIGHTHOOK SIZE
3310m4ply2.00mm
5390m4ply1.75mm-2.00mm
8440m3ply1.50mm-1.75mm
10530m3ply1.25mm-1.50mm
12570m3ply1.25mm-1.50mm
15654m3ply1.00mm-1.25mm
20774m2ply1.00mm
30980m2ply0.75mm-1.00mm
401100m2ply0.75mm-1.00mm
501148m1ply0.75mm
601514m1ply0.75mm
801860mThick sewing thread!!0.60mm-0.75mm
1001960mSewing thread!!!0.50mm-0.60mm



MACHINE KNITTING

The gauges of yarns for machine knitting are no different from the counts or plys described above, however knitting machines have limitations as to the weight of yarn they can accommodate. It's not that the yarns have a gauge as such, it's that the machines do, often beginning with much finer yarns than the "Ply" we are used to with thicker hand knitting yarns. The gauge is the number of needles per inch – so the higher the gauge the smaller the needles and the finer the yarn to be used.

12 Gauge - Super Fine/Industrial Knitting Machine

You would probably need to use the 2/30’s and fine industrial count yarns for these machines as these are the type of machines that factories use. They have them in the uni’s etc. so that the students are familiar with them before they go out into the workplace.

7 Gauge - Fine Gauge (3.6mm)

No minimum, but for good results 3 ply would probably be a maximum thickness.

5.6 Gauge - Standard Gauge (4.5mm)

Beginning with 1ply and a maximum of 4ply. You can use really fine yarns like 2/30’s for lace shawls and the like and for draping fabrics.

2.8 Gauge - Chunky (9mm)

This gauge of machine can take Double Knitting and upwards. Aran or Chunky weight would be the maximum if you are knitting every needle, slightly thicker if you use every other needle. You can use really thick yarns to work knitweave as well which is where you knit with a thinner yarn and “weave” the thicker yarn through the knitted stitch.

The Guild of Machine Knitters were kind enough to supply us with this information and you can find out more about them here.

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