Have you ever bought or downloaded a knitting or crochet pattern and found yourself confused about what type of yarn you should use?
Trust me, you are not alone. As if there are not enough different weights of yarn, there are also different systems of identifying those weights. That’s where it can become very confusing. I don’t consider myself an expert on this, but I can at least give you a bit of an idea of what to look for on yarn labels and what to do to help you find what you need.
When working with yarn, we rely on something called “gauge” to determine how a yarn will work up in a project. Gauge is determined by knitting a 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm) square in stocking stitch (also called stockinette stitch) or crocheting single crochets to the same dimension. Stocking stitch is where you knit on the right side and purl on the wrong side. The size of needle is identified along with the number of stitches by the number of rows needed to create this size of square. Usually a hook size is recommended for crochet. This is your gauge. When you are using a yarn other than the specific one recommended in a pattern, it’s a good idea to test the gauge of the yarn you want to substitute to be sure it will work. You can see on the photographs how the gauge is illustrated. From brand to brand the information is the same, although how they show it can differ a little.
It’s not a perfect science. Not every fibre spins up the same.
Each of us develops our own degree of tension that is comfortable to us as we work the yarn. From brand to brand there can be subtle differences in weights that are classed the same. So you will notice that many yarns show a range of needle sizes and numbers of stitches and rows to achieve the gauge. Generally speaking, if a yarn is called worsted and your pattern calls for worsted yarn, you will get the result intended by the pattern designer. That having been said, without doing up a gauge swatch, there is no guarantee.
When you work up a gauge swatch, you can change the outcome by changing the size of needles/hook you use. If your gauge comes out too large, use smaller needles/hook. Likewise if it comes out too small, use larger needles/hook. Once you get the gauge you want, you can then decide if you like the look you achieve. Sometimes the fabric can end up too dense or not dense enough. If so, you may have to switch to a different yarn to obtain the outcome you want for that particular pattern.
Most yarn is made up of layers of spun fibres that are in turn spun with each other. The individual strands within the yarn are referred to as the ply. So for instance a 4 ply yarn is made up of 4 strands or ply within the one thickness of yarn. The exception to this is what we call roving. Roving is either not spun, or spun very lightly. Roving is usually quite “fat”. The number of ply is one way that yarn is identified. 2 ply is also called lace-weight; 4 ply is commonly called sock weight; 6 ply is between sock and DK; DK (double knitting) is 8 ply which is like knitting with 2 strands of sock weight: thus double knitting. We don’t usually see yarn identified by the number of ply beyond 6 ply. Thicker yarns include: Worsted; Aran; Chunky; Super-Chunky and Polar.
There are helpful charts available that break down the ranges that make up each weight of yarn, like the one found here: http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/weight.html