When you start gathering your materials, choosing yarn for knitting will be one of your first and most exciting tasks.
First, a bit of vocabulary to help you get started: a ball of yarn is often called a “skein.” You will see that word come up a lot in knitting, so it’s best to know it from the beginning.
While picking out yarn can be one of the most exciting parts of knitting, it can also be intimidating. From basic wool to luxurious silk blends, there are countless types of yarn to choose from. Yarn strands can be thick, thin, and everywhere in between. And you can find yarn in almost every shade in the rainbow; some created in bulk by machines, and some handcrafted with natural and plant-based dyes. Learning about yarn sizing (“yarn weight”) and the materials from which yarn is made can help make choosing yarn much less overwhelming.
When you first hear the term “yarn weight” you may think of putting yarn on a scale and measuring it in ounces or grams. However, in knitting and other fiber arts, “yarn weight” is a term that refers to the thickness (or thinness) of each strand of yarn.
The Crafty Yarn Council has standardized yarn weights in a convenient chart called the “Standard Yarn Weight System.” This system organizes yarn into categories based on weight (strand thickness). This chart can help you determine what kind of yarn you will need for your project. You can find it at the Crafty Yarn Council’s website: http://craftyarncouncil.com/weight.html.
To find out the weight of your yarn, start with the yarn label. Almost every yarn label has the yarn’s weight listed. Many packages note the weight by displaying a “yarn weight symbol.” Those symbols look like little balls of yarn with numbers on them; the number represents the thickness of the yarn.
Yarn weights range from 0 to 7. Yarns with a weight of 0 are thinnest, while yarns with a weight of 7 are the thickest. The weight symbol is often placed on the label of yarn you will purchase. Not only does the symbol indicate the thickness of the yarn you are looking at, but also can give you a guide on whether it is suitable for the project you wish to make.
One of the most commonly available yarn weights is Medium (4) Yarn; it is often called “worsted” weight yarn. Worsted weight (4) yarn is a mid-weight yarn that is suitable for a variety of craft projects. The thickness of this yarn makes it is nice for basic garments like hats, mittens, scarves, and blankets. The wide availability of worsted weight yarn can also be quite useful. You will frequently find basic worsted weight yarn in big box and bulk crafts stores. It is also often handmade by boutique yarn sellers in luxurious materials and a rainbow of colors. Because of its versatility, I recommend worsted weight yarn for beginners.
Yarn weights smaller than 4 are thinner than worsted weight yarn. These yarns take longer to knit into clothing, since you will need to make more stitches to create the same sized garment. Your final product with a thinner weight yarn will also be thinner, making light (3), fine (2), superfine (1) and lace (0) yarns perfect for garments like socks, shawls, and lace. Finer yarns are often made of luxury fibers like silk, angora, or alpaca; because knitters spend more time on a pattern made with thin yarn, many prefer to work in higher quality materials for these projects.
Heavier weight yarns (5, 6, and 7) will knit into final projects much more quickly. Because each stitch will be larger, when made with a thicker yarn, fewer stitches are required to make a project with chunky and bulky yarn. A finished project in this type of yarn will also be much thicker than those made on thinner yarns. The larger the yarn weight number, the bulkier your item will be. People often craft chunky knitted clothing and accessories from bulky (5) and super bulky (6) yarn. Jumbo (7) is usually best suited for oversized blankets, rugs, and other home décor projects.
When you start looking for your first ball or “skein” of yarn, you will find that there are numerous materials from which yarn is made. Acrylic, wool, and cotton are frequently used yarn materials and can be very cost effective. Fancier materials such as alpaca, silk, and bamboo are usually spun into beautiful luxury yarns. Often, yarn is created by combining different materials.
The price of yarn can vary greatly, even among yarn made of similar materials. Different factors impact yarn price. Some materials, like alpaca and angora, are more expensive because it is more difficult to acquire the extra-soft wool. Yarn that has been hand-spun or hand-dyed tends to be priced higher, since it requires much more labor and artistic ability.
Yarn price can also be affected by the amount of yarn that a company can produce at once. Less expensive yarns are generally made by larger companies, which can produce larger quantities of yarn. Each batch of yarn that is colored at the same time is called a “dye-lot.” Because “cheaper” yarns are often made in bulk, they can have large or no “dye-lots.” A bulk yarn maker can create more skeins of yarn that are perfectly matched than a smaller craft yarn maker would be able to make. As a result, yarn made in bulk with large dye-lots is usually much less expensive.
Having yarn available in larger or no dye-lots is useful because it ensures better access to the correct color. For example, if you underestimate the amount of yarn you need for a specific project, you can get more of the exact color you need; this is not usually possible with yarn that is dyed in smaller batches. And while the materials used in less expensive yarn tend to be less unique, it does not necessarily mean they are always of lower quality. If “fancy” yarn is not in your budget, you can still find plenty of soft, beautiful, and economical yarn to work with.
Choosing Yarn for a Knitting Project
The yarn you choose should always depend on what you are making.
Hats, mittens, scarves, and other items of clothing turn out well when made in acrylic or wool yarns. Both acrylic and wool are stretchy, warm, and do not tend to hold water and moisture. Acrylic yarn is often softer, can last longer, and your finished piece will not be eaten by moths. However, acrylic is simply another name for plastic, so classic sheep’s wool is a more environmentally friendly option for a cost-effective clothing yarn.
If you plan to make washcloths, towels, or anything else that should be absorbent, choose a cotton-based yarn. Keep in mind that cotton does not stretch like wool and acrylic, so do not expect the things you knit with a cotton yarn to have a huge amount of give.
When you start learning to knit, you will probably have to throw out some yarn. The string will tangle. You will drop a stitch off the needles. You will make mistakes. That is ok! It is part of the learning process. With any luck, you will be able to salvage practice projects to reuse the yarn. But, in case your yarn becomes hopelessly tangled, you may want to save the fancy yarns for later. Starting with an economical ball of yarn may save you some heartache if your yarn gets damaged while you are learning.
Yarn to Knit a Face Scrubby
If you are following my Learn to Knit Guide, you will start with a small Face Scrubby. Select a worsted weight yarn made of cotton in any color you like. You do not have to choose a solid color; multi-colored yarn looks nice, as well. You can find cotton yarn at most craft stores and on Amazon by using the affiliate link below:
- One skein of soft worsted weight yarn made of cotton (a 120-yard/2.5-ounce ball of Lily Sugar ‘n Cream 100% Cotton Yarn is pictured, but you can substitute brands)
Face Scrubby Knitting Pattern
You will also need a knitting pattern to get started. You can find my Free Beginner Face Scrubby Pattern. I suggest this for your very first knitting project because it is very small and simple; you’ll have a finished project quickly.
Yarn to Knit a Scarf
If you want to invest a little more time in your first knitting project, a Beginner Knit Scarf is made in the same way as a Face scrubby, but it is larger. If you’d rather start learning to knit with a scarf, you will need the following yarn (Amazon affiliate links below):
- One skein of soft worsted weight yarn made of acrylic or soft wool (a 315 yard/6-ounce ball of Caron Simply Soft Yarn is pictured, but you can substitute brands)
Scarf Knitting Pattern
You will also need my free Beginner Knit Scarf Pattern. Find it here.