Unravel any confusion around yarn weights for knitting and crochet with this beginner friendly guide.
As a beginner knitter or crocheter, the woolly world of yarn can be incredibly overwhelming. With so many different brands to choose from with different fibres and varying weights it can be hard to differentiate or know where to start if you have only just started stitching. So what does it all mean?
I remember when I started to take my knitting hobby seriously. 11th December 2014 to be exact. I bought a couple of knitting magazines because I ‘want(ed) to learn how to knit shapes’. I’d mastered the art of the classic rectangle/square, a shape of enormous potential, but I was ready to conquer the knitting world. I was already a Mollie Makes subscriber, but I made the journey to my local WHSmith to scour the craft magazines for a knitting mag specifically, spotted a free ‘Tom The Teddy’ Kit in Knit Today and that was it. With this first project, I began teaching myself how to read a knitting pattern and from that, I soon started to understand exactly what all the different knitting needle sizes and yarn weights meant. I distinctly remember having a conversation with my Mum, trying to explain to her why the super chunky 10mm knitting needles wouldn’t necessarily work with the aran weight yarn she had lying around. Turns out she didn’t really care much and had a great time knitting up a series of squares which piled up for a length of time, but I remember the satisfying feeling which came with the learning and understanding of my craft.
Before long, I was able to make sense of the shelves at my local yarn store. I started to realise that it did matter whether or not I had the right size needles that the knitting pattern I had bought asked for. And no, I couldn’t use the yarn I already had lying around because, whilst a convenient choice, it wasn’t the correct weight for the project.
So what exactly is a ‘yarn weight’?
I’ve used the word ‘weight’ a few times now, but what exactly does it mean? And how does it affect your yarn choices?
Yarn weight essentially means how thick the yarn is. The thickness of the yarn is a big factor in figuring out what yarn is right, whether you’re designing your own knits, or following someone else’s design, but particularly if, for whatever reason, you don’t want to use the yarn recommended in your knitting pattern.
Like most things, yarn weights sit on a spectrum so unfortunately, they don’t always fit perfectly in a ‘one size fits all’ box. 2 yarns of the same weight category can vary from each other which is why it’s important to knit up a swatch to check your gauge, but that’s another blog post in itself to add to my list!
In general, though, there are 8 different categories of weight ranging from lace to jumbo. Each weight then tends to create a standard number of stitches when using a specific needle size, all of which you can find laid out in the yarn weight chart I created below (with thanks to resources from Craft Yarn Council and Ravelry). Thankfully, most yarn manufacturers make it easy to determine the weight of a particular yarn and will also include gauge and recommended needle size on the yarn label. Having said this, I will always recommend knitting a test swatch to check your gauge when starting a project as tension can differ from knitter to knitter, something which, again, I am making a mental note as I type to write a further blog post about.
What if I don’t have a yarn label to refer to?
I don’t know about you, but as a crafter I have often inherited big bags of scrap yarns, largely from my Nan. Most of which would be unlabelled in various ball sizes; a real good mystery yarn pick’n’mix. Super chunky and the like are a bit easier to distinguish from the rest, but the finer weights like DK and baby can be harder to decipher. Thankfully there’s still a way of getting a good idea of the yarn weight even without a label. Wraps per inch (WPI) is a helpful, if not old school method for identifying the weight of mystery yarns so you can put those precious donations to good use. All you’ll need is a ruler and something to wrap the yarn around, like a pencil.
Start by wrapping the yarn around the pencil for a few inches keeping the yarn snug, without any overlaps or gaps. Then, use a ruler to measure how many times the yarn is wrapped around in an inch. The number will refer to a certain weight as illustrated in the the yarn weight chart above.
Weight/Ply. What’s the difference?
Now that we have a bit more of an understanding, there’s also another layer to this fibre onion of yarn size and that’s the ‘ply’. What is ply? Well, a ply refers to a strand and most yarns are made up of several strands twisted together. Please note: this is not to be muddled with the fine weight category which is also referred to as 4 ply, named as such if not just to be confusing!)
However, it’s important to add that the ‘bigger the ply’ doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘thicker the yarn’. You can, for example, have an 8 ply yarn that’s a lighter weight yarn than a single ply; ply is simply a matter of how many strands are spun together to make the finished product as opposed to how thick the individual strands are.
It can be a little baffling as you can get a single ply super chunky yarn, like Lauren Aston Designs Super Chunky Merino which is a roving, or ‘unspun’, yarn and the on the other hand have a finer yarn like the Scheepjes Chunky Monkey we stock which is something called and S-on-S plied yarn, also called multi thread yarn. For all you knitter nerds out there, this is defined in this exceptionally useful article by Yarn Sub as yarns that “are constructed from ultra fine single plies that are twisted into 2 ply yarns that are themselves plied together with an S-twist, hence the name S-on-S”.
In short, it’s a measure of how many individual strands are wound to create the yarn, not how thick the finished product is.
Which yarn is best suited for my next craft project, then?
Let’s take a brief look at what each yarn weight lends itself to best so you can get an idea of which you might like to pick for your next knitting project.
Lace (fingering) – Made for delicate projects like lace shawls
Super fine (sock) – You guessed it… grab yourself a set of teeny double pointed needles and some super fine yarn and with a little patience you’ll have yourself a gorgeous pair of handmade socks for your tootsies!
Fine (sport, baby) – Again, the clue’s in the name, but these fine yarns are a favourite for baby clothes or lightweight garments
Light (DK) – Ever the versatile choice, DK yarns can be used for a variety of projects such as jumpers, cardigans, baby blankets, hats, scarves etc and as such is a popular choice amongst knitters and crocheters.
Medium (Worsted, Aran) – I’m sure you’ll instantly recognise the term aran and that’s because it was originally created for fisherman’s jumpers. As such, yarns of this weight lend themselves perfectly to stitching up jumpers and cardigans and playing around with colour work and fair isle knitting.
Bulky (Chunky) – Yarn of this weight works up beautifully and is a great choice for winter jumpers and blankets
Super Bulky (Super Chunky) – The perfect yarn choice for beginners because of its size and quick results. A personal favourite for the cosiest oversized jumpers and great for furnishings such as big blankets and winter hats and scarves
Jumbo (Jumbo) – Big, bold and beautiful. Jumbo yarns are all about making a statement. Think cosy arm knitted blankets and cushions or fantastically audacious scarves.
In short, different yarn weights lend themselves to different projects, but if I’m honest, in the end it’s all down to your own personal preference: what are you looking for in your knitting or crochet project?
Do you want something that is satisfyingly quick to make? Well, working with super chunky yarn is great for that. Or maybe you want something to enjoy at a slower pace? In which case a DK or aran weight is perfect.
It also depends on what exactly you wish to make too. Jumpers, cardigans, blankets, hats and scarves; these were all made for a variety of weights, but a jumper made using super chunky yarn will look different to one made in DK so it’s important to bear in mind the finish when you are selecting your yarn too.
Finally, what about finding the right yarn substitute?
If you’ve purchased a pattern from a knit or crochet designer then the chances are they’ve recommended an exact yarn, or at least given you the yarn weight required and the gauge you need to meet. Sometimes you might not want to use the exact yarn suggested for the pattern. Perhaps, like me, you’d rather choose a vegan friendly, synthetic fibre over animal fibres, or you’d like a cheaper, or more local alternative. Substitution websites such as yarnsub has an incredibly vast database and are fantastic for helping you find the right yarn that’s suitable for both your chosen project and meets your own requirements too. It’s a site I use regularly when selecting yarns for my own knitting projects.
Now that we’re all yarn experts, you’re well equipped to start filling your yarn stash with goodies. Check out our selection of vegan friendly yarns. Larger sites such as Wool Warehouse and Love Crafts have an extensive selection for you to browse and you can narrow down your search by brand name or yarn weight too. The only hard job is resisting buying everything…!