Understanding Yarn Counts

What are yarn counts

Yarn counts can be a confusing topic but it is a useful piece of information.

The yarn count tells us the thickness and ply of the yarn. All yarn has a yarn count although this is not so obvious in some yarns such as knitting yarn which are often described in words e.g. double knit etc.

Counts are expressed as two numbers separated by a forward slash followed by the count system abbreviation e.g. 16/2 nm, 2/16wc etc. One number is the count, this tells us the length of yarn for a given weight of each individual strand of yarn. The other (usually smaller number) tells us how many strands of yarn have been plied together.

Some counts may be expressed with the ply number missing e.g. 16 nm. When a count is expressed like this it is assumed the ply is 1. Generally, the larger the number the finer the yarn.

The twist is not measured within a yarn count as each manufacturer sets this themselves. The twist of a yarn is sometimes expressed separately as twists per inch (tpi) or twists per metre (tpm).

Different measuring systems

There are many different systems used for measuring yarn. I am just going to cover the most common ones in this post.

Count systemYarnDefinition
Cotton count (cc or ne)Cottons840 yards/pound
Worsted count (wc)Wools560 yards/pound
Linen count (lea or nel)Linen300 yards/pound
Numero metric count (nm or mc)Silks1000 meters/kilo

Although the different systems are commonly used for specific yarns they are often used for other types of yarn too. The numero metric count is particularly used across different yarn types.

Imperial counts (cc/wc/lea) are written ply/count
Metric counts (nm) are written count/ply

Working out the yards/pound or meters/kilo

When you know the count of a yarn this enables you to work out how many metres/yards you have per kilo/pound of that particular yarn. To work this out you multiply the number of yards/meters per pound/kilo by the yarn count. Then divide this by the ply. See the table and example below:

Cotton countyards per pound = (840 x count) / ply
Worsted countyards per pound = (560 x count) / ply
Linen countyards per pound = (300 x count) / ply
Numero Metric countmetres per kilo = (1000 x count) / ply

For example:

16/2 nm
m/kg = (1000 x 16) / 2
8000 m/kg

2/12 cc
y/lb = (840 x 12) / 2
5040 y/lb

When yarn is plied there is a little bit of take up so the amounts may not work out exactly but in thinner yarns this is negligible.

Being able to do this calculation is useful because it enables you to work out how much yarn you are going to need for your project.

It is also useful to be able to convert between the two:

y/lb to m/k multiply by 2.016
m/k to y/lb multiply by 0.495
(these are rounded to three decimal places)

For example:
5040 y/lb x 2.016 = 10160.64 m/kg

To convert directly between metres and yards use the following calculation:
metres to yards – multiply by 1.09
yards to metres – multiply by 0.91

Twist and Ply