How Much Yarn is in that Skein? Kitchen Scale to the Rescue!

What on earth could a kitchen scale have to do with knitting? A lot more than you may think.

Take a look at your stash. See all those leftovers from projects past? Assorted oddballs and mini-skeins of this and that? What if you wanted to use them for a project? Some are still in the original packaging, but many have already been wound into balls and partly used. How on earth do you figure out how many yards they actually have?

Kitchen scale to the rescue!

A Case in Point


Let’s walk through the process. Last Christmas I knit my niece a pair of fingerless mitts. I have a sizeable ball of yarn left over, and I’d like to make a second pair of mitts. But I have no idea how much yarn is in there.
Sure, I could unwind the ball back onto a niddy noddy, count the number of wraps, and multiply that number by whatever the overall circumference of the niddy noddy is. But this can sometimes be misleading, especially with stretchy yarns. If the yarn is wrapped under tension (which it always seems to be on niddy noddies), it will seem longer than it actually is. And if the yarn happens to be hundreds upon hundreds of yards of lace, the unwinding could grow old very quickly.

Instead, I’ll let my trusty EatSmart Precision Pro Multifunction Digital Kitchen Scale tell me how much yarn is in there.

Key Numbers

For this to work, we need the original yarn label that came with the skein. Do you keep yours? I find life is much easier if you maintain a little archive of all the yarns you’ve used over the years. I wind off six or eight inches of yarn and attach it to the label for reference. (I don’t always remember what project went with what yarn or, years later, what that yarn even looked like.)

We need that label to know how many yards were in the original skein, and how much that original skein weighed. Don’t have the label, but you still remember what the yarn was? Good. Simply look it up on Ravelry or Yarndex, or try Google.

Once you have that number, you’re good to go. Pull out your scale and place it on a flat surface.


Very, Very Simple

Press the “On/Off Tare” button and wait a few seconds for it to cycle through all the numbers. The scale lets you weigh materials in grams, kilograms, ounces, and pounds, with a maximum weight capacity of 11 pounds (5kg). That’s more than sufficient for our purposes, as I have never encountered an 11-pound skein of yarn. Yet.

My scale defaults to grams when I turn it on. If you need something else, you can just press the “unit” button repeatedly until you see the weight option you need. If your label has the skein weight in ounces, you’d go with ounces. Otherwise, weights tend to be listed in grams.

Check to make sure the scale reads 0. A few times I’ve noticed that my scale can periodically slip into a negative number instead of zero. Pressing the “On/Off Tare” button resets the scale at zero. This is also helpful if your skein doesn’t want to sit on the scale’s six-inch surface area. Simply place a bowl on the scale, hit the “tare” button to re-set the weight to zero, and you’re ready to weigh.


Now, simply place your skein on the scale and wait for your magic number to appear. My yarn (String Theory Merino DK) originally came in a 4-ounce skein containing 280 yards. I set the scale to measure in ounces, weighed the ball, and got my magic number: 2.55.

Now comes the math. If a 4-ounce skein contains 280 yards, how much yarn does a 2.55-ounce skein contain? Stay with me, it’s actually quite easy.

To get the answer, multiply the original yardage (280) by the new weight (2.55), then divide this number by the skein’s original weight (4). In my case, the answer is 178.5—that ball contains 178.5 yards.

To repeat: To find out how many yards are in your skein, multiply the original yardage by the new weight, then divide this number by the skein’s original weight. Working in meters? It’s the same exact process, only using meters instead of yards. The ratios don’t change.

(Note: After this was published, a reader wrote with this suggestion: “Original weight=4oz; original yardage=280; original yards/ounce=70; yards in leftover ball=70×2.55=178.5!” If you figure out how many yards per ounce there should be, then you can multiply that times the new weight and also get your number.)

The scale manufacturer tells us that this scale is accurate to 1g or 0.05oz, so you’ll always want to maintain a generous fudge factor. My skein, for example, could have anywhere from 175 to 182 yards, depending on how the scale performs. I only need 135 yards for my mitts, so I’m good to go.

Other Scale Scenarios

Kitchen scales are also helpful for other yarn-related issues that require less math. Picture this: One skein, two socks. The yardage for your pattern is going to be tight. You’re already thinking you may need to shorten the cuff by a few rows. But how can you be sure you’ll have enough yarn for both socks?

Or try this: The sweater’s almost done, just two sleeves to go. You have one skein left and no way to get more. Whoops. Ever the resourceful knitter, you’ve decided to add contrasting stripes in another yarn. You’ll place them evenly on each sleeve, continuing until you run completely out of yarn. Then you’ll finish in the contrasting color and pretend it was your idea all along.

In both cases, you need to divide one skein into two smaller, matching ones. Sure, you could measure out each ball by hand, yard by yard. Potentially messy but possible.

If the yarn is in a hank, you could measure the total number of wraps in the hank and wind a ball until half the number of wraps remain. Depending on whether the wraps came from the inner or outer area of the loop, you could still have a little fudge factor. And if you’re talking about lace, you could go nuts counting all those strands.

Instead, pull out your trusty kitchen scale and weigh the original skein. Now, wind that skein into a ball, stopping when it weighs half of the original skein. Remember that 0.05-ounce fudge factor? Before you snip the yarn and declare the division complete, put the other half of the hank on the scale and make sure you have two identical weights. If not, make final modifications and then snip. Voilà, problem solved, two identical skeins. Now all you have to do is knit.

A Cross-Functional Tool

When you’re not using your scale to weigh yarn, chances are you’ll find other reasons to use it. For example, if you spin yarn you may want to wind off equal amounts of roving so you can spin equal lengths of yarn and ply them together.

In the non-fiber world, perhaps you’re unsure how many stamps to put on a letter? Presto, the scale has your answer.

Likewise, if you love to cook and are curious how recipes work, this scale will be an invaluable tool for exploring all the formulas in Michael Ruhlman’s eye-opening book Ratio. Either way, I consider it $25 very well spent. While I was provided a free scale by the manufacturer in the hopes that I’d review it, I would buy another one in a heartbeat.

[It’s been six years since I wrote this review and my original scale is still going strong.]

arrow Buy the EatSmart Precision Pro Multifunction Digital Kitchen Scale on

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Until I had a digital scale, I went to the Post Office to weigh yarn.