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What is the Bradford Count?

Monday, 18 September 2017  |  Tom

The quick answer is, “The number of single-ply hanks, measuring 560 yards each, capable of being worsted spun from 1 pound of wool tops”.

The slightly longer answer is:

Back in the day the wool merchants of Bradford needed a standardised way of advertising how fine their wools were. This was before the days of strong microscopes and accurate scales, so they devised a system amongst themselves. Trials were done with various wools to establish the standard. Then with an experienced eye they could say just how many hanks could be spun from the tops they were offering. A coarse fibre might be able to produce 30 hanks. These would be quite rough, but also very strong. Finer wools would be able to manage 100 hanks of very soft, fine yarn.

Being done purely by eye alone meant that there could be a fair amount subjectivity. But a merchant who purposefully misled his customers as to the quality of his wares wouldn’t stay a merchant for long. As such the Bradford count, also known as the English Worsted Yarn Count, became a fair and accurate method of grading wools.

Advances in technology mean that today we’re able to measure and grade wool down to the micron thickness of an individual fibre. So how come we still use the Bradford Count. Tradition plays a part; we buy our fibres from merchants who still use the old system, and as such it gets passed down through to the customers. The fact that it’s been around for so long means that when you discuss Merino 70s (21 micron) with someone, who may have bought from a different supplier, you know that you’re talking about the same quality wool.

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