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What is Yarn Count in Textiles?

In the textile industry, the yarn count is used to express how fine or coarse (or thin or thick) the yarn is. We use the English count numbering system, which is part of a larger group known as indirect counting systems. These systems, along with direct counting systems, consist of multiple numbering systems — simple languages that classify yarn characteristics for manufacturers all over the world.

Yarn count starts with a “bundle” of yarn

Knitters and hobbyists are familiar with “bundles” of yarn, like a ball of yarn that cats play with or a skein of yarn they can buy at a craft store. This type of yarn is sold in recognizable and manageable shapes for retail, but another type of bundle, known as a “hank,” is used for larger production.

The hank is a significant type of bundle for our purposes because it is the starting measure used in the English count — the system we use.

How long is a “hank?”

A hank of yarn in the English count system equals 840 one-yard lengths or 8.4 football fields (100 yards) long. The English count is the number of hanks required to weigh 1 pound of yarn. Remember that fact for later.

Of course, no one runs up and down a football field to measure a hank. The picture here is a vintage hank winding machine for early industrial use. It is can be set to spin the exact number of yards of yarn needed depending on the counting system being used. The yarn can then be labeled and transferred to spools to use for weaving.

Vintage industrial yarn hank winding machine

Systems used to determine yarn count

As mentioned before, there are multiple numbering systems used to arrive at the yarn count, which fall into two categories: direct counting systems and indirect counting systems.

The Tex, Denier, and Jute systems are direct counting systems that use a fixed length and variable weight to arrive at their result. These systems assign higher numbers to more coarse yarn.

Indirect counting systems, like the English, Metric, and Worsted count methods, use a fixed weight and variable length to get their results and assign higher numbers to finer yarn. Each numbering system is used for specific categories of yarn and thread.

The English Count method

The English count system is an indirect numbering system with a set length unit of measure at 840 yards, which is one hank. This system assigns a high yarn count number to finer yarn. The yarn count is denoted with the characters “Ne.”

To determine the yarn count using the English count method, you must determine how many “hanks” are needed to weigh one pound. In other words, figure out how many yarn lengths of 840 yards will weigh one pound.

We can simplify this concept by imagining a single strand of yarn that is 840 yards long or 1 hank. In this example, the yarn count for 1 hank will be 1/1 Ne. It is also commonly noted as 1S, meaning 1 single strand of yarn.

How many football fields equal one hank?

By comparison, 20 hanks would be equal to the length of 168 football fields long, and only weigh one pound.

REMEMBER… the higher the yarn count, the finer the yarn. The single strand of yarn would be thick and coarser than the 20 hanks of yarn because it still would weigh one pound, whereas 20 hanks would have to be 19 times finer (thinner) to weigh one pound. Higher numbers in this system represent finer softer yarns.

The finer the yarn is, the higher the density when it is woven. A thicker yarn, when woven, creates a looser weave, hence a lighter, less dense textile. When evaluating textile quality, high density and softness tend to go hand-in-hand. As a rule, you can expect textiles made with high yarn counts to be thicker and softer than textiles made with low-count yarns.

Yarn Count Math for 1/1 Ne

(or 1S Yarn)

1 hank of 840 yards of yarn weighs 1 pound
1×840 yards = 840 yards yarn = 1 pound

Yarn Count Math for 20/1 Ne

(or 20S Yarn)

20 hanks of 840 yards of yarn weigh 1 pound
20×840 yards = 16,800 yards yarn = 1 pound

How does single vs. double affect yarn count?

A single strand of yarn is straightforward math when determining yarn count. 1 strand of yarn is denoted as 1S. However, sometimes yarn strands are wrapped together to create a heavier yarn. A double strand of yarn is denoted as 1D. Once the strand is doubled it only takes half the length to equal one pound.

Yarn Count Math for 1/2 Ne

(or 1D Yarn)

2 strands of 1 hank of 840 yards = 420 yards of yarn =  1 pound
(2×20 strands) of 1 hank of 840 yards = 8,400 yards yarn = 1 pound

What does yarn count mean in the real world?

Compare some products and their yarn counts for a better understanding of yarn count.

Hospitality Admiral Towel Collection

The Hospitality Admiral Towel Collection is an institutional towel line that is made from a 12S open-end yarn. It has 100% cotton pile, on a strong poly ground for a longer-lasting budget-friendly hotel towel.

Aston & Arden Resort Towels

The Aston & Arden Resort Towel Collection is a luxury towel made with a 30 Double 100% cotton ring-spun yarn. As you can see, there is a vast difference between the lean design of institutional towels and plush resort towels.

Learn about other variables in yarn making

Blog Post: How Cotton is produced for the Textile Industry

Yarn count — A universal language

There are many ways to alter the characteristics of the final product when developing yarn for high-quality towels and other textiles. It would be nearly impossible to implement quality control and estimate consistent pricing in the textile industry without yarn counting and numbering systems.

Textiles come from countries all over the world. The English count system is a universal language for characterizing the basic elements of textile components and imperative for clear communication between all production personnel to ensure consistent quality in developing textile products.

Want to learn more about Monarch Brands textile lines?

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