Yarn Basics: Fiber & Weight


When you first get into knitting, all the information about the different types, weights, and brands of yarn can seem extremely overwhelming. Who knew you had to calculate yardage and purchase from the same dye lot? Who knew there was such a thing as a dye lot? The more you knit, the more you discover just how important knowing your fibers and their care is vital.

When selecting yarn for a pattern, you have a few options. The first is to just purchase the yarn specified in the pattern, if possible, and it should be smooth sailing. Or, if you are like many knitters, you want to venture out a bit or use something you already have in your stash. That is when you need to put a little thought into your yarn selection. Ask yourself: What type of item am I knitting? How much structure do I need? How important is softness? What type of care will I realistically be able to maintain? What it all really boils down to is fiber and weight.

Fibers: There are numerous types of yarn fibers, each with variations and blends. It is important to know the basics of the fiber before using it, especially its texture and care. When making a baby item, for instance, I avoid using wool because it may be too harsh for their sensitive skin. Or, if I am making a kitchen item, I like to use 100% cotton for its durability to heat and water.

The following table contains just a small sampling of some of the most common yarn types, where they are derived, a brief description, care, and general cost. Typically, synthetic yarns are cheaper, but natural fibers and blends are more luxurious.

Here are a few common types:

Fiber

Derivation

Description

Care

Cost

Wool

Sheep

Warm, breathable, may itch or pill

Most hand-wash, some are washable

$$

Mohair

Goats

Long, shiny, warm, may itch

Hand-wash

$$$

Cashmere

Goats

Luxurious, soft, warm

Hand-wash

$$$$

Angora

Rabbits

Very soft, sheds/pills

Hand-wash

$$$

Cotton

Cotton

Structured, no pilling

Washable

$$

Silk

Insect fiber

Strong, shiny, smooth

Hand-wash

$$

Acrylic

Synthetic

Washable, inexpensive

Washable

$

Weight: There are eight standard yarn weights. Most patterns will call for a specific weight in order to achieve the right gauge (number of stitches to a certain length). It is very important to use the correct weight for the project, but it is still necessary to check your gauge before proceeding. Even within weight categories there is variation in the actual thickness of the yarn, and your individual gauge may be tighter or looser than the pattern designer’s. I recommend changing needle size (going up or down a size) before subbing out the yarn.

Weight #

Category

Types

0

Lace

Fingering 10-count Crochet Thread

1

Superfine

Sock, Fingering

2

Fine

Sport

3

Light

DK, Light Worsted

4

Medium

Worsted, Aran

5

Bulky

Chunky

6

Super Bulky

Super Bulky, Roving

7

Jumbo

Jumbo, Roving

Keep in mind, there are a few other considerations, beyond fiber and weight. For instance, make sure to buy enough yarn to complete your project. The pattern should specify the necessary yardage, and you should see the yardage for each skein on the yarn wrapper label. Examine the yarn label carefully. It will tell you so much, including the care instructions for the yarn. Lastly, if you purchase from a local yarn shop, have them wind the yarn for you. It will save you a lot of heartache due to the mess it will be trying to wind your own (unless you know your way around a swift and winder and happen to have them).

I hope this guide is useful. Happy knitting!


Leave a comment


Please note, comments must be approved before they are published