grist :: it is kind of really important.

When spinners talk about grist, I think many of us glaze over. My knee-jerk reaction to grist is, “Well, that sounds serious,” and then subsequently beetle off and do something else. But grist is actually really important. For me, the main reason that the grist of a yarn is so important is that I can plan how much fibre I need to complete a project.


Fibre :: combo spin of Leading Men Fiber Arts Merino & Spunky Eclectic Polwarth

Yarn :: ~445 yards / 190 grams, traditional 3 ply

Specs :: Lendrum fast flyer (10:1) and plied on Hansen miniSpinner,

14 WPI, 1062 YPP


Grist is actually quite a simple calculation but I think the math tends to intimidate people. I’d like to spend some time breaking it down for you.  Remember, if one were to knit a sweater with handspun, they would need different quantities of fibre to spin based on the grist of their yarn. Yes, this is all about worsted versus woollen spinning!

Also, there has been much chatter on a thread on Ravelry about handspun yarn and handspun looking like handspun. I don’t particularly want to touch that discussion with a ten foot pole but I would like to say that I think sometimes ‘beginner’ yarns can be identified as handspun immediately due to the heaviness and this is due to the grist of the yarn. Controversial enough yet?

I sincerely hope not but I wish I had known a little more about grist when I was a knitter – I think it would have helped to inform my yarn choices and taken my knitting to another level! Yes, you can check grist of a store bought yarn quite easily – it is the same as checking your handspun.


The fibre pictured above was a combo spin that I recently completed.  My plan for this fibre was to spin a traditional 3-ply, from the fold with the tip of my finger pointing to orifice of the wheel and using a short forward draft but allowing the twist to enter the drafting zone before going back to my fibre supply to draft again. Confused yet? Jacey Boggs shows this draft beautifully in the Craftsy class, Drafting from Worsted to Woolen.

© Rachel Smith Anderson
Shown here, spinning staple length by staple length, from the fold. My finger was pointing at the orifice of the wheel the entire time. See the center of the thread-like web coming off my finger? That’s the core of woollen yarn :: Air.


This yarn is 14WPI (wraps per inch) and will knit up at roughly 28-32 stitches per inch on US 0-2 or 2-2.75mm needles. I know this from experience and my general gauge with various yarns. So, why is this important? Well …

For interest sake, let us say that I have spun a worsted skein and it is also 14 WPI. What is the difference? Seems like they would be pretty similar, right? Well … Yes … and no. Not at all.


If we are looking at purely knitting gauge and that’s all we care about, then we are finished here. But, how much fibre will we need for our project? That’s when things start to get interesting*.

*I’m not going to go into a discussion in this post about worsted versus woollen yarns, their uses and characteristics. That’s for another post, for another time. I’m discussing grist today only.

When I pop the same length of yarn onto the scale, things start to look quite different. Let us say that the worsted yarn was 300 yards in length and weighed 190 grams. The semi-woollen yarn here is 445 yards in length and weighs 190 grams. This is due to the air that is in woollen yarns. They tend to be lighter, loftier and airy. Worsted yarns are denser, stronger and can have a lovely sheen from the parallel fibres.

In order to visualize this, think of yarn as having a core. In a woollen yarn, the core has lots of air in it. In a worsted yarn, the core has fibre that we’ve smoothed down during the drafting phase. Worsted yarn is denser and lower in yardage per pound but it is wonderfully smooth yarn for great stitch definition (think cables and lace). The woollen yarn is airy, fuzzy and light which is warm!

One note of caution here :: Remember to set the twist in your yarn prior to calculating your finished length since it will usually relax and shorten once you wash it!


Calculating grist is a calculation that involves Yards Per Pound (YPP). It is easy to calculate grist in meters per kilo but in the Imperial system, it is a little more complicated. This is how we measure grist ::

___ yards / ____ grams x 453.592 = ____ YPP

Here’s an example using my pictured yarn and our pretend worsted yarn for comparison ::

Semi-Woollen combo spin :: 445 yards / 190 grams x 453.592 = 1062 YPP

Pretend Worsted yarn comparison :: 300 yards / 190 grams * 453.592 = 716 YPP

See the difference between the two? Remember that sweater we were going to knit with our handspun yarn? Here comes a little bit more math ::

Let us say that our sweater calls for 1500 yards of fingering weight yarn. Based on our spinning, if we were to use the semi-woollen yarn, we would need 1.4 pounds of fibre to spin to have enough yardage to knit our sweater. This also is taking into account consistent spinning of our singles and plying (ie. Think about having a recipe card with your unfinished singles, unfinished plied yarn and finished plied yarn wrapped around with your notes about how you achieved those results). If we were to knit our sweater from the worsted yarn, we would need 2.1 pounds of fibre to spin. That is a huge difference! It is a simple division calculation ::

___ Total yardage needed / ___ YPP = Total fibre in pounds needed

I think with a little bit of planning, some relatively simple math and a little bit of extra fibre (I like to add ~10%), a much more relaxed spinning experience happens when I plan larger projects. I’m not worried about having enough fibre to achieve my targeted yardage. Instead, I’m focused on the spinning, relaxing and enjoying the process.

Happy Spinning,


Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you, Rachel! This is just where I am at. I got comfortable with long draw during Spinzilla and now I feel like I will really be able to spin with intention to knit.

    1. I’m so glad! I think it’s definitely a topic we shy away from as spinners but it’s really important!!

  2. Wow. This is very helpful. Thanks?

  3. Where did that question mark come from. Bad computer. I mean Thanks!

    1. Haha our computer’s sometimes have mind of their own!! Thank you though! :) I’m glad it helped!

  4. Thank you so much for this article, Rachel. I notice that you used a full skein of yarn in your example, and I’m wondering if the wee samples we are doing for the Zero to Hero SAL/KAL are enough to use to calculate grist for our projects? I’d love to hear your thought on this…

    1. Yes! They absolutely are as long as your scale can measure grams :)

  5. Thank you, Rachel, for an outstanding explanation with clear examples of how to calculate grist. Well done!

    1. You are so welcome Mary!

  6. Love this post Rachel! I’ve always avoided this field on my Ravelry spinning page because I had no idea what it was asking for. I did a Google search and your post was the first link. You made it simple and a lot less scary than it sounds. And, it helped me realize I don’t have enough fiber in stash for the project I intended. Thanks again!

  7. I need to study this in detail. My mind got stuck at 14WPI=28 SPI. I was expecting it to be ~7 SPI.

  8. Jillaine Smith - ManicSpinner at Ravelry says:

    Thank you, Rachel. Could you explain 453.592 ? Why that number?

    1. It’s just the conversion to yards :) I usually measure my yarns in YPP but you don’t have to convert – you could leave it as grams per pound if you’d like! You’re welcome!

    2. RoseDark says:

      That’s the number of grams in a pound. If you’re trying to get yards/pounds, and you have yards/grams, you need to multiply by grams/pounds in order to get the answer you’re looking for. It’s just cancelling fractions. yards/grams x grams/pounds = yards/pounds. So (445 yards / 190 grams) x (435.592 grams / 1 pounds) = (1062 yards / 1 pounds).

      OP may not see this answer, but someone else will have the question.

      1. Susan Crosby says:

        Late to this conversation but I don’t understand what the / is. Does that mean divide? I’d like to be able to calculate the grist of my handspun using the total weight and yardage which is easy for me to measure with my available tools. I find the McMorran yarn balance pretty useless due to my inconsistency of spinning. I’d rather not have to measure out 10 yds then weigh it and calculate. I was hoping to use this formula here but am kind of math challenged.

  9. Jillaine Smith - ManicSpinner at Ravelry says:

    I’ve been dragging my heels on this topic for a couple of years. But what I’m now finding really helpful about grist is that, let’s say I got a 2.5-pound fleece from a recent festival. After scouring and combing it, let’s say I have only 1.25 pounds remaining. An understanding of grist tells me that I’m going to get more yardage if I spin what I’ve got woolen than worsted. So I *might* get a sweater’s quantity out of this fleece. Maybe. (Actually, I don’t think so in my specific case. I’m only getting 668 YPP.) Sigh. Another colorwork sweater… :-)

    1. It’s such a huge learning curve, isn’t it?! I hope your spin goes well!! Make sure to sample enough so that you get accurate girst numbers — that’s really key!!

  10. Hi, I love the thought of blazing new trails for Him and moving forward from out mistakes. We can use them as tools to learn from, or we can let guilt keep us in a rut. I choose to blaze forward. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. rachel Author says:

      Wonderful! You’re welcome!

  11. As a new spinner, grist sounds like something important to understand – thank you. I have two questions:
    1. Would you consider adding the metric calculations to your post?
    2. You have, “ knit up at roughly 28-32 stitches per inch on US 0-2” – should this be “per inch” or “per four inches”?

    1. rachel Author says:

      Great questions, Angela. I can definitely look into adding metric — that tends to be meterage per kilo. And yes, it’s supposed to be per 4 inches or 10cm.

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