Foundations- Yarn Weights: A Heavy Discourse

In this article, I’ll be giving you more information than you need to select the right type of yarn for your project.

Yarn weight describes the thickness of the thread only. It does not refer to the weight of the ball, or even the heaviness of the thread, itself.

At the time of this publication, there are seven weights of yarn recognized by the Craft Yarn Council. These weights are largely standardized to help make your yarn purchase from a major manufacturer more reliable. I’ve included a chart below courtesy of the Craft Yarn Council’s website:

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Each yarn weight has a number that appears like this on most yarn labels:

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Size 0: Lace

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Lace-weight ocean scarf designed by Eunny Jang
 

Lace is the thinnest standardized yarn available for use.

 

Examples of lace weight yarn include:

·         Thread- approximately the same thickness as sewing thread

·         Cobweb Yarn

·         Lace- also known as 2ply. This term is also used for any light yarn used to make lace

·         Light fingering- sometimes called baby weight

While lace yarns often call for size 1-3 (US) needles to obtain the desired gauge, many lace projects, including the example photo above, call for larger needles. This helps to create more space between the stitches, making the open, airy pattern it’s associated with. For projects that call for larger needles, most patterns will list either the size of needles used, or the gauge needed to create the desired size of the project.

What it’s used for:

Lace weight yarn is excellent for delicate or intricate accessories such as shawls. Because the yarn is so fine, you can achieve incredible levels of detail. Lace weight projects can take a while because of the thinness of the yarn, but the results are breathtaking when the right materials are used, and are intended to last a lifetime.

 

Size 1: Super Fine

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Every.

 

single.

 

time.

 

 

Despite its righteous name, super fine yarn is only slightly thicker than lace weight yarn, and is often used to make one of my favorite garments- socks.

 

Examples of Super Fine yarn are:

 

·         Sock weight- a useful term, but not a fixed standard

·         Baby- Baby yarn is not a standard weight, but usually ranges from weights 0-3

·         Fingering- also called 4ply

       

What it’s used for:

Because super fine yarn is utilized to make colorful socks and shawls, it comes in an amazing array of designs, such as self-striping, that can be used to create a specific pattern when knit in exactly the right gauge.

thapaintedtiger.com

thapaintedtiger.com

 

Shawls and sweaters are usually knit in fingering weight, as the fine yarn allows for intricate detailing. Ideal for colorwork, you can carry multiple strands across the back of a project without the excess weight bulkier yarns would create, while still maintaining excellent stitch definition. Fingering weight is an excellent garment yarn, but, due to the large number of stitches needed to obtain the standard gauge, it can take a while to make large or intricate projects, which is why handmade goods can be so expensive!

 

 

Size 2: Fine

This yarn is often called sport weight, but it has nothing to do with athletic materials. It resembles the look of sportswear when knit with the standard gauge, and is also an ideal weight for clothing and thin sweaters. Fine yarn is also popular with home goods such as dishcloths, and many cotton yarns are created in this weight. There is currently no international equivalent to sport weight yarn.

 

What it’s used for:

Sweaters, accessories, and baby clothes

 

 

Size 3: Light

 

Light, also known as DK (double knitting) yarns are some of the most common weights found at craft stores. They are versatile, and thick enough to easily see your work as it grows. Double knitting does not necessarily mean that two strands of yarn are used at a time, or double knitted, but it is certainly a popular weight of yarn to do this in.

DK weight is an excellent yarn for beginners- it’s not so large that it becomes cumbersome, nor is it so small that it’s hard to see. The needle sizes used to obtain the standard gauge are versatile, and the material options are nearly endless.

What it’s used for:

Light weight yarn is excellent for beginner projects, home goods like pillow covers or dishcloths, stuffed animals, bags, felting and colorwork.

 

Size 4: Medium

 

Also called worsted, medium weight yarn is versatile, and can be used for a variety of projects. While the terms worsted and medium weight are often used interchangeably, worsted refers to the method the fiber is spun in. Worsted yarn is made using the short-draw technique (more on this later), making the yarn smooth and dense, yet less elastic. This makes it ideal for large projects such as blankets and tailored garments, where the finished project is expected to maintain its shape. Worsted yarn can come in any weight, but it is one of the most popular for hand knitting.

What it’s used for:

Scarves, beanies, craft projects like stuffed animals, pillows

 

 

Size 5: Bulky

 

Bulky yarns are a favorite here at the Whiskey Knits headquarters. It’s smooshy (a term that deserves its own article), often textured, and makes for quick projects due to its thickness. This thickness can limit the detail of a project, when making a hat or scarf, as there are fewer stitches to work with.

Examples:

·         Chunky

·         Aran- not a standard size. Sometimes, aran can be grouped with worsted weights, or                  called heavy worsted

Bulky weight yarns don’t have a standard size, which can make substituting yarns difficult. As yarn sizes become larger, the terms get a little more loose; many companies put every weight above aran in to this category, so it is especially important to knit a test swatch. We’ll talk about the when, whys, and hows of swatching in a later article.

What its used for:

Bulky yarns have highly textured detail, making it an excellent style choice for wearables. Beanies, thick cabled blankets and boxy sweaters are common in bulky hand knits, and are making their way in to fashion for mass-produced goods. Bulky yarn is particularly warm due to its size, and, while it can ward off the chill because the amount of air between the stitches, it is recommended to line garments like these to keep elements and wind at bay.  

 

 

Size 6: Super Bulky

 

Until the latest Etsy trend of super think, squishy blankets made with near-raw wool, Super Bulky yarn was the largest weight for hand knitting. While the craft yarns council now recognizes seven different weights, super bulky is where definitions start to get a little murky.

 

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Most manufacturers consider any yarn heavier than aran to be super bulky, which can be a little troublesome if you’re trying to knit a project using any yarn brand other than what’s recommended on the pattern. It is vital to knit a test swatch, if the finished size of the project is important.

 

Examples:

·         Bulky

·         Super Chunky

·         Jumbo

·         Super thick

·         Finger Roving

 

The thickness of the yarn makes it difficult to get a lot of meterage from the skein, especially if it arrives to you in 50g or 100g balls. While projects made with this yarn are usually very quickly completed, cost can be a factor when the needed 200yds for a hat are divided between six balls of yarn.

 

What it’s used for:

Blankets, blanket scarves, shlankets (shawls so big, they may as well be a blanket), area rugs, and wall hangings. An increasingly popular home décor trend is to use super bulky yarns for macramé. While these can be very interested to look at, most jumbo yarns have very poor stitch definition when tied in to knots. Additionally, natural materials are porous, meaning they can absorb odors, dust, and anything else hanging out in the air. Hangings such as these are best treated or sealed before giving them a permanent home on the wall.

 

 

Size 7: Jumbo

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Full disclosure: I am in love with jumbo yarn. It’s so soft, so pillowy, and requires so little processing, you can get a sense of the kind of sheep it was sheared from. It’s darn-near perfect.

 

That said, it is important to consider the following when using such large yarn:

 

1.       It’s huge. Seriously, I’ve encountered some yarns that were as thick as my wrist. It’s wonderful for huge projects like blankets, comforters, and low traffic area rugs, but is completely unsuitable for wearables that will last more than a few washes. Speaking of washing….

2.       It’s darn near impossible. Most jumbo yarn is made of roving, which is any kind of long bundle of fiber. For this article’s purpose, I am only referring to wool roving, but it can also come in raw cotton and other plant materials. Roving’s intended purpose is to gather long fiber for spinning in to yarn, but has found a home in the umbrella of fiber arts.

Roving is easily found as undyed, raw, wool that has no kind of twist or ply, to it, causing it to fall apart easily. Because of the bulk, any usable length of roving is not able to be dyed on a small scale, which is why most of it is sold in white or natural shades. The bulk, combined with the looseness of the fiber don’t make it ideal for high traffic area rugs or everyday blankets, but the aesthetic appeal is undeniably attractive, and, with good care, a project made from this kind of yarn will last a while.

3.       It’s expensive. While it does seem odd that near-raw yarn would cost more than fiber that has been dyed, plied, and spun, the cost seems to come from the demand for the product. Quality roving, like most goods, is sheared and combed by hand, so there is labor to consider.

 

Examples:

·         Blanket yarn

·         Ginormous yarn

·         Finger roving

·         Roving

 

What it’s used for:

Blankets, area rugs, and some garments. Roving, if worn, can shed like a Christmas blizzard, but a little bit of felting can help with wear and tear.

 

Last, and certainly least

 

…weight for it….

 

 ....

 

(see what I did there?)

 

 

Novelty Yarn

 

Novelty yarns are the miscellaneous bin of the fiber world. Their weight can vary greatly, and some of the materials are suspect at best. While there are yarns that can add a decorative edge to a project, many are made from fabric scraps, artificial fibers, and other inorganic products.

Examples include:

·         Eyelash

·         Ribbon

·         Fur

·         Slub

·         Tinsel

·         Chenille

 

What’s it used for:

Craft or novelty garments, fringe, costumes, stuffed animals.

 

Novelty yarn, because of its skeptical origins, is usually wasteful in its production, and has the look of being dreadfully homemade. I’ve yet to find a responsibly-sourced novelty yarn, but if you are interested in pursuing projects made from these, it’s best to do a little research before purchasing.

 

Have an article request? You can get in touch with me any time at trex@whiskeyknits.com