fibre preparation · handspun · spinning · yarn

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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,

-Rachel

10 thoughts on “grist :: it is kind of really important.

  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.

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  2. 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…

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  3. 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!

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