Foundations- How to Read a Yarn Label

Welcome! Whiskey Knits is excited to launch a new series of articles designed to help you understand the absolute foundations of hand knitting. This week, we’ll take a look at the yarn label- one of the most helpful tools in deciding what kind of fiber to purchase for a pattern.

For this example, we’ll be looking at materials to create an excellent beginner’s project: a scarf. Made only in the basic knit stitch (more on that later), the scarf offers an excellent way to get comfortable with knitting. But what yarn should you purchase? A great way to select the yarn you’re looking for is to check the label.

yarn wall.PNG

The lovely folks over at the Craft Yarn Council have helped standardize some aspects of yarn by providing a series of labeling information and symbols. This will allow you to choose from a variety of fibers that share the same characteristics, so you can feel a little more confident about the yarn you purchase. I’ve included an example photo below that covers the most common symbols you’ll see on a label:

                 Label courtesy of Red Heart Yarns

                 Label courtesy of Red Heart Yarns

If you’re not familiar with these symbols, it can be easy to make a yarn choice that will make your project difficult. I’ve broken down the symbols, starting from the top left box:


Weight: Most yarns abide by the Craft Yarn Council’s standard weight system. This helps regulate the materials sold by most manufcaturers, and gives you a better sense of what you’re buying. There are currently seven weights of yarn commonly available. This particular yarn’s weight is a 4, which is also described as medium weight. We’ll talk more about yarn weights in next week’s article.


Knitting Gauge: Most yarns have both the knitting and crochet gauge listed, and you can tell which is which by the tools pictured in the center of the box. The knitting gauge has two needles, while the crochet gauge has a hook.


Gauge is important for garments, purses, or other projects where the finished size is important. Most gauges are made using a 4x4 inch square knit in stockingette, or straight stitch; we’ll learn more about stitches in a later article. For this gauge, you can tell how many stitches you need to make a 4x4 inch square by looking at the bottom and right hand numbers. This yarn will make the desired square if you start with 20 stitches (20 S in the example photo) and knit 23 rows (23 R) on size 8 needles. Your knitting tension may vary based on how loose or tight you knit, but this is a good starting point. The Foundations series of articles will list US sizes only, when applicable.


Crochet Gauge: The crochet gauge provides much of the same information the knitting gauge does, but applies it to the single hook used to create crochet stitches.


Care & Washing Instructions: Once you’ve created your scarf, it is important to properly care for it! I’ve seen too many projects ruined by water that’s too hot, or worse- the dreaded clothes dryer. The list of care instructions can be very confusing, but once you learn these symbols, you can easily care for all garments- not just knitted goods!


The last four boxes of the yarn label indicate care instructions. For this yarn, it’s ideal instructions are to hand wash in slightly warm water (86 degrees Fahrenheit), dry it flat, and not to bleach, iron, or dry clean. You can find a full list of garment care labels courtesy of Lion Brand here.


Now that you know more about the yarn label, you can make a choice with ease! In our next article, we’ll talk more about yarn weights.