Coned yarns provide good value. If you compare, often ounce for ounce coned yarns are less expensive than those found on balls or skeins. Think of it as bulk buying. The put-up is easier for the manufacture and they get to sell more yarn.
We often get asked if there is a difference between coned yarns and other put-ups. The answer is yes and no. Often yarn found on cones is made for weavers. The yarn may have a harder twist and the manufacturer may leave a little spinning oil on the yarn so that it will hold up under the stress of warping and weaving when used on larger multi-harness looms. This is why some coned wools feel scratchy on the cone, but when washed they bloom and become unbelievably soft.
That said, some companies (Brown Sheep for instance) offer their yarns on cones, skeins, and balls and there is no difference between the different put ups.
What Do Those Crazy Numbers Mean?
Those weird number on coned yarns, like 10/2 or 22/2 are an expression of the count system, where a yarn size and composition is expressed as ratio of numbers. The system is a bit archaic, but here are the basics.
Let's look at the top number first. For a long time, every natural fiber—cotton, wool, linen, silk, etc.—was controlled by its own trade group. This group would base all its measurements off of how many yards of a standard size of yarn a pound of fiber would yield. That "standard size of yarn" was different for each group. That number for cotton is 840, so you could get 840 yards of this "standard size" from one pound of cotton. If you look at the top number 1 is the thickest yarn available based on its count.
If this makes absolutely no sense to you, don't worry, you really don't need to know. What you do need to know is the larger the number the finer the yarn.
The bottom number is the number of plies in the yarn. So 10/2 is thicker than 22/2, but both are 2-ply yarns.
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