There are numerous types of yarns that you can use for your knitting. Whether you are doing it as a hobby or for profit, finding the right type of yarn to use ensures that you will create the fabric pieces you envisioned, from the texture to the overall appearance.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the different types of yarn that you can find in the market, yarn weights, and the knitting projects they are best suited for. This way, you’ll know just what to look for the next time you decide to embark on a knitting project.
What are the Different Categories of Yarn?
While some yarn kinds come from animals, others are created from plants. All these come with different textures and each has a unique way of knitting up. The yarn may inspire your project idea and push you towards starting a knitting project.
Generally, the following are the types of yarn you will find being sold today:
Animal Fiber Yarn
Wool yarn is a wonderful choice for winter clothing accessories. It offers a warm feel, even in the rain and will last you for years without losing shape. It can also be cleaned rather easily when it gets stained and this is why so many knitters around the world prefer this natural yarn fiber over others.
On the downside, wool can be slightly itchy, especially for individuals who are allergic to some types of wool.
- Wool type fine
- Wool type medium
- Wool type long
- Wool type double-coated e.g. merino wool
Types of Wool Yarn
There are four different types of wool yarn, and these consist of:
Pure new wool, also known as virgin wool is one that has been manufactured directly from animal fleece. It does not come from existing or recycled wool garments.
Meanwhile, Shetland wool originates from the tiny and hardy native sheep of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Icelandic wool produces soft and rustic yarn balls whereas Washable wool is wool that has been treated, either electronically or chemically, to eliminate the fuzzy fiber layer.
Wool yarn is used to make both winter and summer garments. It produces great scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters, and other pieces of garment. One interesting fact about wool is that it has the property to keep you cool in the hottest climates.
It also comes with fire-retardant characteristics and that’s why you’ll find it being used in fire blankets.
Fun Fact: Every Major League baseball features wool grown at a tiny mill in the town of Massachusetts.
This is one of the softest wool types around. It originates from Cashmere Goats, as well as other goat species. The word “Cashmere” was used to spell the old State of Kashmir, South Asia from the earlier days.
It is soft and wooly, but it’s not as strong as sheep fiber. Cashmere wool is known for being quite expensive! Have you ever stopped to think why it is so highly-priced?
Well, harvesting wool from the Cashmere Goats is a long and demanding process. You see, the goats shed their undercoat once annually. It is very near the skin and has to be separated from the outer hair. It is also taken from the back and mide-side of the goat, not the belly as in other animals.
Unlike sheep where the wool is shorn from the animal, Cashmere Goat undercoat is combed and collected; a labor-intensive exercise that also requires a good amount of time.
The amount of fiber produced by one goat will only make about 4oz once it’s been processed. This means it will take fiber collected from close to four animals just to knit a sweater.
Cashmere is very soft and is not known to be itchy. It’s an ideal pick for knitting clothing accessories such as socks, gloves, jumpers, etc.
Fun Fact: 60% of the world’s Cashmere comes from Mongolia, China, and Tibet. The fiber is also six times finer than human hair.
This fiber comes from the Alpaca (a type of Lama domesticated in South America). It is natural wool with a super warm feel and that’s why it mostly used to knit sweaters.
It is almost as soft as silk, although it does not maintain its shape as well as other kinds of wool; you don’t want to throw it into a washing machine with the rest of the laundry.
There are two kinds of Alpaca yarn; Suri and Huacaya. This fiber will also cost you more than you’ll spend on regular wool. Alpaca wool is preferred for knitting winter fabrics thanks to its soft and warm properties.
An interesting fact you may not know about Alpaca yarn is that it is water repellant and doesn’t easily catch fire.
Merino wool yarn is widely used for knitting. It produces chunky fabric accessories and comes from a special breed of sheep known as the Merino sheep. The uniqueness of Merino wool lies in the fact that it is super soft and does not cause allergic reactions.
Fabrics knitted from Merino wool tend to maintain their shape for a long time. However, the fiber creates tiny fuzzballs called “piling”, which can be annoying to some extent.
Merino wool is ideal for creating winter woolies and would impress any special person in your life. Jumbo Merino yarn is the type that is used for extreme knitting.
An interesting thing about Merino wool fiber is that it can withstand being bent back 20,000 times without breaking!
Mohair comes from the hair of the Angora goat. It is super soft, durable, resistant, and has a notable shine. This should, however, not be confused with the Angora rabbit which produces Angora wool.
Mohair offers excellent moisture evaporation and insulating properties. It is a luxury fiber that will work in all the seasons and that is why it comes with a hefty price tag compared to ordinary wool.
Mohair can be worn in both summer and winter. Nevertheless, some people find it to be itchy. Mohair is also very good for dyeing. It is sometimes known as Diamond Fiber because of its luster.
This yarn is produced from wool that hasn’t come into contact with any chemicals. It is taken from sheep with no artificial additions. The animals have not been exposed to drenches, dips, antibiotics, or back lining. Organic wool yarns are cleaned using hot water and detergent only.
The majority of organic yarns are sourced from Merino sheep and the wool is mostly used for knitting garments. The sheep that produce organic yarn are usually thought to be happy and healthy. The procedure of getting this wool fiber is also environmentally friendly.
Silk yarn comes in different types (spun silk yarn and reeled silk yarn). This fabric is quite easy to work with, although it can also be very slippery. You need to know how to work your way around it before you embark on a silk knitting project.
Silk is also strong and shiny. It has a shiny appearance and feels quite soft on the skin. This is the most expensive yarn fiber on this article. Its strong and relatively cool feel makes it a great choice for summer garments.
You might also want to know that silk is the strongest natural fiber available!
Plant Fiber Yarn
Cotton is produced by the cotton plants. It is grown in many parts of the world, especially those with warm climates. The leading cotton producers in the world are China, the USA, and India.
Cotton yarn is strong, breathable, and comes in a variety of types. The fabric doesn’t hold shape well when blocking, which means your stitches won’t appear as uniform.
Cotton’s breathability makes it an ideal fabric for knitting summer garments, scrubbies, and dishcloths. Cotton can also absorb as much as 27 times its weight when placed in water.
So, it won’t be a good idea to get into the swimming pool with a cotton knitted swimsuit.
Until recently, hemp was not commonly used as a knitting fiber. It is a delightful natural fiber that is amazingly soft to the touch. It also offers a great stitch definition and is hard-wearing.
Hemp yarn is mostly used for making coats, fishermen type sweaters, as well as boot socks. The hemp plants can produce up to 250% more fiber compared to cotton.
Bamboo is a natural fiber. It wears pretty well and has long been considered to have antibacterial qualities. The fabric has a very soft feel, as well as a wonderful drape.
Bamboo is ideally used in making garments that require drape. Given its high breathability, Bamboo is a cool natural fiber that would be great for summer tops or sweaters.
Bamboo can also be softer than silk when it’s spun into yarn.
Synthetic Fiber Yarns
Acrylic is man-made and offers a much cheaper option compared to most natural fibers. It cleans up easily and is color-fast, making it a nice choice for amateur knitters.
Different types of Caron yarn and Sashay yarn are examples of acrylic fiber. Although they may be great for beginner knitters, it’s always good to proceed to the natural fibers once you gain some experience.
Acrylic is ideal for creating yarn braids.
Novelty yarns are available in different types of colors and textures. They add interest to any knitted garment. They are made of artificial yarn blends and provide texture.
The common kinds of novelty yarns are:
- Chenille-It is smooth and velvety and can be tricky to work with.
- Bouclé- Bumpy and loopy.
- Faux fur- These are extra fluffy fiber strands on a strong nylon thread base. The final fabric appears like faux fur.
- Thick-thin- The final knitted fabric spots a bumpy look as a result of thick and thin sections.
- Railroad Ribbon- This yarn fiber features small tracks between parallel thread strands, which make it appear like a network of rail.
Novelty yarn is ideal for adding feel and interest to your knitted items.
Polyester yarn consists of cotton/wool/ and blends of yarn. Many novelty and bulky yarns are polyester yarn. Some examples of polyester yarn are as follows:
Glow in the dark- For a long time, this yarn was made by organizations but its production came to a halt. There are many tutorials on the internet where you can learn to produce one.
Types of ribbon yarn- This is a novelty yarn that has been manufactured from anything like nylon, cotton, and even rayon. It spots the feel and looks of a craft ribbon.
Ribbon yarn makes excellent accessories such as headbands, bags, and belts. However, you should know that the fiber tends to twist and spin whenever you’re knitting with it. Some people say that it’s generally difficult to knit with.
Self-stripping yarns come in multiple colors that have been spun together to make unique and immaculate effects. This comes from an evolved method of dyeing that results in the yarn coming out in intricate patterns.
Self-stripping yarn can also be referred to as “painterly” yarn and the colors slowly change as you continue to knit or crochet. The final result is usually a knitted fabric with different color stripes.
The color change can be bold or subtle, and this will depend on the self-stripping yarn you decide to knit with. For instance, some finished projects may appear like a Fair Isle pattern.
When knitting with this yarn, the colorful striped effect from one continuous strand makes it seem like you changed the color of the yarn. Different patterns and stitches will also help to blend in the colorways differently.
Self-stripping yarn comes with several advantages, as well as disadvantages. Some of its desirable characteristics are:
- There is no need to keep on changing the color of the yarn if you want to design a multi-colored fabric since all these colors are contained in one strand.
- The yarn is an excellent choice for newbie knitters who are interested in creating something fun and colorful.
- Each yarn comes with dyed colors that blend in well together, resulting in a beautiful, stripy effect.
On the other hand, some of the things knitters won’t like about self-stripping yarn include:
- Buying self-stripping yarn may generally be more expensive than buying an assortment of solid color yarns.
- When knitting, you don’t have control over when the color of the strand changes. Essentially, you’re just waiting to see the outcome, which could either be neat or uneven.
- You might have to put extra effort to find stitches and patterns that are compatible with the self-stripping yarn you decide to use.
Self-stripping yarn is great for creating colorful knitted projects, including scarves, socks, sweaters, cowls, beanie hats, afghans, etc. You never know what will come out when you’re working with this yarn. It’s just like magic!
Specialty yarns are knitted to create items with unique looks as follows:
- Heather- Blended from dyed or different-colored fleeces, then spun together.
- Tweed- Features a main color that is flecked with bits of differently-colored fibers.
- Marled fabric rag- These are created by twisting together different color plies, which results in a single strand sporting multiple colors that wound around one another. They can contain any number of plies; 2, 4, 5, etc.
Specialty yarns are great for adding interest and texture to your knitted fabrics. There is a certain type of specialty yarn called Eyelash because of its resemblance to eyelashes.
Wool Blend Yarns
Just as the name suggests, this yarn is created from a combination of wool and other yarns such as silk, cotton, and synthetic. For instance, you can have a cotton-acrylic yarn blend or even a wool-cotton yarn blend.
Manufacturers blend wool for several reasons, although this is done mainly to mix the best features of the individual yarns contained in the blend. Blended yarns make cozy knitted items.
A blend with 50% wool and 50% cotton makes a great yarn since these yarns have qualities that complement each other.
Yarn Types and Weights of Yarn Go Hand in Hand
For example, Jumbo yarn, which is relatively new in the yarn family, is extra thick and used for Arm knitting.
At the other end of the scale, you’ll find lace yarn which is among the thinnest yarns you can get. This is often used to make delicate shawls with a lace pattern. It is always important to check the right yarn weights before embarking on a knitting project.
The yarn thickness determines the final look and dimensions of the knitted project.
Weights of Yarn Categories for the US and Equivalents for the UK, AUS/NZ
This is the first yarn type on the chart. It is the thinnest and lightest yarn out there and is used in lace knitting patterns, including scarves and shawls. It is also known as Cobweb, Thread, Light Fingering Yarn.
#1 on the chart! This yarn is composed of sock and fingering yarn and is generally used for making shawls. Its weight is a tad thicker than lace and if you want your stitches to be fine, this will be a good choice for you.
Superfine is often used in making fabrics like socks, sweaters, hats, mittens, etc. Making a sweater from such yarn weights offers impressive results, although it takes a lot of time and conviction.
AUS/NZ- 3 Ply and 4 Ply
UK- 3 Ply and 4 Ply
#2 on the chart! This yarn should not be confused with lightweight yarn-slightly thicker. It features sport and baby weight and is a great all-rounder when it comes to the making of scarves, socks, cardigans, hats, and sweaters.
AUS/NZ- 5 Ply
#3 on the Chart! Light worsted and DK weight yarns fall under this category of yarn weight. These are generally used for knitting socks.
AUS/NZ 8 Ply
#4 on the chart! This category includes Aran and worsted yarns. It is popular among newbie knitters and applicable in various knitted projects.
AUS/NZ- 10 Ply
UK- Aran/ Worsted
# 5 on the chart! This consists of rug yarns and chunky yarns. They are excellent for those who want to spend the shortest time creating knitted projects. The final result is normally chunky and bulky but makes for a comfortable scarf or cowl.
AUS/NZ- 12 Ply
#6 on the chart! Super bulky yarns are used to knit hats in a very fast process. They result in very warm garments with a bulky look.
AUS/NZ- 16 Ply+
UK- Super Chunky
#7 on the chart! This is a relatively new entrant into the yarn weight chart. Jumbo and Rovings fall under this category. They are mostly used to make blankets, arm knitting scarves, and for general home décor.
What is the Meaning of Ply?
The word “Ply” is used in yarns definition of different yarn weights in the UK and AUS/NZ weight chart. It simply refers to two or more strands that have been twisted together.
Single strands are spun together with the twist done in the opposite direction. This is how to ply yarn. The number that comes before the “PLY” doesn’t necessarily determine the thickness of the yarn for crochet.
You can get a very bulky 2 Ply yarn or even a thin 4 Ply yarn and this will depend on the thickness of the individual strand.
Finding the Ideal Yarn for a Pattern
Patterns always include the weight, color, and brand of the knitting needle used. If you plan to make use of a different yarn brand, it’s always crucial that you select the same type of yarn weight and fiber used in the pattern.
In case you choose to go with a different type of fiber, you should know that the final result might feel and even look different from the pattern. Be sure to make a swatch using the yarn and needle you’re going to use for the pattern before the start to ensure you’re knitting the appropriate gauge.
The gauge can vary from one person to the other as some people tend to knit tighter than others and remember to adjust the needle size according to the gauge.
Patterns will inform knitters about the grams or yardage of yarn used for the knitting project. Remember to purchase more yarn than what the pattern suggests so that in case of any mistakes or gauge issues, you’ll still have more yarn to work with.
Understanding the Label
Each ball of yarn for knitting you purchase in the store comes with a ball band (label) that tells you everything you ought to know. This includes information such as weight, content, amount, gauge, recommended needle size, care instructions, dye-lot number, etc.
Yarn Weight- This refers to the total thickness of the yarn and is usually expressed as wraps per inch (WPI). The Ply count will also factor into this and may range from the heaviest to the finest weight (between Ply 1 and Ply 14).
Fiber Content- The material used in the yarn and this is expressed as a percentage e.g. 80% Merion wool, 20% Cashmere, 50% Angora.
In the US, the categories range according to the symbols numbered 1-7 in the Standard Yarn Weight System.
Amount/Weight of ball: This refers to the total yarn length and is usually expressed in yards and ounces or grams and meters.
Care Instructions- This provides knitters with information on how to wash (either by hand or machine), as well as dry your knitted fabrics (air dried or tumble dried). It also tells you whether the fabric can be dry cleaned or ironed.
Suggested needle size and gauge- The yarn gauge is specified by the number of rows and stitches within a 10cm by 10cm or 4 by 4-inch swatch. It’s always essential to check the yarn gauge.
This tells you whether you need to go up or down a needle size.
Dye-lot number- This tells you the yarn color. Remember to ensure that the dye-lot numbers match when you’re buying more than one ball of yarn for knitting on the same project. This is because the yarn balls may appear the same color to the naked eye when they are different colors. This will be evident once you have finished the knitted project.
Things to Consider When Shopping for Yarn
Knitters have to keep in mind what season it is and how they’re going to use the final knitted fabric. This should also encompass the functions it will have.
Texture and Fibers
If you are knitting a shawl for a newborn, note that the fiber feel has to be soft. Also, consider how often you’re going to use the item to see how long it will be able to last. Furthermore, the feel of the fiber will determine the care instructions and how to wash them.
Choose a color that best suits the person you’re knitting the project for. If it is meant to sit inside your home, does it match the décor of your space?
It’s always wise to spend within your budget. Remember that numerous types of yarn come with different price tags. Choose one that you’ll be comfortable spending on.
As knitters, you should be able to enjoy the yarn you choose for your knitting project. Considering how demanding knitting can be, everything from the yarn color to the weight and texture needs to be considered to get the best experience.
This is the only way your hands are going to create an art masterpiece that will make your efforts worthwhile.
There is no denying the numerous types of yarn you can get in the market. Knowing the properties and ideal use of each one of them helps to make the knitting project easier and more satisfying.
This article should help you work your way around the different yarn balls when you visit a store and make sure that you leave with exactly what you came looking for!
Enjoy your knitting!
What are the 3 major yarn categories?
Several fibers are used to make different types of yarn needed for knitting and crocheting. These come from various sources and will normally differ in characteristics such as texture, weight, price, and durability, etc.
Generally, the three main types of yarn are:
1. Animal fiber-based yarns. These yarns are sourced directly from domesticated animals and include yarn types such as Cashmere, Angora, Merino wool, and silk.
2. Plant fiber-based yarns. These originate from plants and consist of cotton, bamboo, and hemp.
3. Synthetic fibers yarns. These are artificially processed by human beings and include yarns types like rayon, acrylic, etc.
Each yarn type offers unique advantages and disadvantages, so you can be sure to find the perfect fit for your project.
What is the softest type of yarn?
The answer to this question may boil down to an individual’s definition of what "soft" is. Generally, the softest yarn is that which has been processed to reinforce its properties.
But in my opinion, the softest yarn can either be Cashmere or Angora. Angora is sourced from a type of a rabbit (note that there is also Angora sourced from a goat species) that requires to be groomed and the fibers cut from the rabbit.
On the other hand, Cashmere comes from a special species of goat found mostly In China and Mongolia and is plucked from the coat of the animal. In both cases, the fibers are spun into yarn with the help of a spinning wheel to produce the final yarn.
Cashmere also happens to be one of the most expensive fibers in the market because the procedure involved in creating is labor-intensive and time-consuming!