A Guide to Different Types of Knitting Yarn

Do you enjoy the relaxing, creative art of knitting? Besides being a creative outlet for many, it’s been proven to help your mental and physical health. Knitting yarn is at the heart of this creative hobby but there are so many different types to choose from, which can be tricky! The truth is, not all yarn is created equal. It can be difficult to know which yarn is right for a specific project, or even how to select it. But no need for despair, there’s a solution! There are some basic guidelines and a few tips that will help you determine which yarn is best for your project.  

types of knitting yarn
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What Are the Different Yarn Weights? 

There’s always quite a bit of confusion around the different yarn weights. Choosing the right yarn weight is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when knitting a project. So knowing what counts as what seems like a pretty basic topic, but it’s actually pretty complicated.  

The specific weight of a yarn is indicated by its thickness in the number of wraps per inch (WPI). Superfine yarn will have a high WPI whereas bulky, on the other hand, has a low WPI. While knitting charts can be used with any yarn weight type, there are some standard gauges and recommendations for each.   
Yarn comes in six categories of thickness: fingering, DK, sport, aran, worsted and chunky. Note that these cover a range of thicknesses; fingering yarn can be thinner than sport yarn or thicker than worsted yarn.  

Fingering weight yarn is suitable for all kinds of knitting, from warm and cozy accessories to sweaters and scarves. Light, airy and silky virgin wool yarns are best suited for garments that are worn next to the skin. Apart from these, there are also blends of different types of wool with silk or alpaca that can be used as a substitute for pure wool.  
The next is double knitting yarn shortly called DK. DK knitting yarn is a lighter type of yarn, used for jumpers, cardigans and summer knits. The weight is lighter compared to jumper weight, but it’s still quite suitable for many patterns. It’s also the most popular of the lace weight yarns.  

Sport is a 5 ply thinner yarn that can be slightly lighter or heavier than DK knitting yarn depending on brand or manufacturer. It is a popular choice for baby clothing and large projects such as blankets and throws due to its generous yardage.  

Different Yarn Weights
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Aran yarns are the best yarns for making items like jumpers and cardigans. They are heavier than other types, but also much less elastic, so they will sit well on your body and won’t stretch out of shape as you wear them.  
Worsted yarn is a thick and heavy yarn that looks similar to Aran as far as thickness goes; however, it is a lot more stable than Aran and is less prone to stretching out of shape over time. It has a soft sheen to it and is an excellent choice for cosy jumpers, scarves and hats.  

Chunky yarn is not actually a specific, standard size. It is more of a category that contains all those types of yarns that are thicker than worsted weight and thinner than bulky weight. The term “chunky” can be used in reference to any type of yarn that falls within this range including super chunky, bulky and roving/ragg wool.  

What Kind of Yarn Fibres Can You Choose From? 

There are three kinds of yarn fibres: animal, plant, and synthetic. The most common animal fibres are wool and silk. Common plant fibres include cotton, linen, and ramie. The only common synthetic fibre is nylon. It was originally made from petroleum products but now often comes from corn or soybeans.  
Generally speaking, animal fibre is warmer, lighter, softer and more elastic than plant fibre; it’s also usually cheaper.

Natural plant fibre is durable, but not as elastic as animal fibre; it’s also usually more expensive than animal fibre because it takes longer to grow plants than animals. And synthetic fibre is durable and doesn’t really care what temperature it is — its only limitation is cost: the most expensive synthetics can cost four times as much as the cheapest natural fibre. Note that all these yarns can be blended with other yarns to produce entirely new fabrics. The advantages of blending include adding strength, stretch and wicking properties to a variety of fabrics or creating new colours or textures.  

Animal, Plant and Synthetic  

Animal Fibres

Alpaca and llama, mohair, angora, cashmere and silk come from animals. Often they are processed to make them look different. For example, merino wool is often processed with a natural enzyme to give it a softness that is not present in the original fibre. Animal fibres are good for garments worn next to the skin like socks and undergarments as they wick moisture away from the body and can be warmer than synthetic fibres. They are also more biodegradable than synthetic fibres, although this is not something most people consider when choosing between fabrics.  

Animal, Plant and Synthetic  
Source: therugbycatalog.com

Plant Fibres

Natural fibres come from plants, but there is a wide variety of plant sources, including cotton, flax, jute, hemp, sisal, raffia and silk, to name just a few. Plant fibres such as cotton and flax are often not very strong, but they are easy to grow and therefore cheap. Natural fibre clothing is less damaging to the environment than synthetic fibres. It is made from natural resources and can be recycled, unlike synthetic fibres which are regarded as non-biodegradable and are almost always thrown away after first use. This means that natural fibres are less harmful to the environment since they do not contribute to landfill sites or incinerator ash.  

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibres are artificial fibres made in a factory. Many synthetic fabrics are as strong and durable as natural ones, but they don’t have the same kind of feel or look. They may be cheaper than natural fabrics, but they aren’t always as good as natural fabrics in terms of comfort or appearance. In other cases, synthetic fabrics are better than natural ones.

Man-made fibre comes from various chemicals or compounds that have been turned into a filament form. The most common man-made fibre is polyester or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make clothing such as T-shirts and weave carpets, for example.  

What Does the Ply Number Mean? 

There are various types of yarn, depending on the number of strands that were spun together. The most common is 2-ply, which means two strands were spun together. The other numbers are 3-ply, 4-ply, 5-ply, and 6-ply. The ply numbers give you an idea of how strong the yarn is. For example, if you have a sweater that seems to wear out too fast, you might want to choose a stronger type of yarn next time.   

Ply Number Mean
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If you have a pattern that calls for a certain weight yarn, but you can’t find a yarn with that exact weight in the type you like, try using a different type of yarn instead. And if you’re making something where a lot of stitches will be used up by bulkiness (like a blanket), it might be easier to use a thicker but less bulky type of yarn.  

Smaller numbers mean finer yarns; larger numbers mean coarser yarns. The most common sizes are fingering weight (3-ply), sport weight (4-ply), worsted weight (4- or 5-ply), bulky (5- or 6-ply), and super bulky (6-ply).  

To Sum Up  

In the end, you’ll want to choose a yarn that matches your knitting project. There’s no rule that says you can’t mix and match fibres and weights to create your own unique fabric, try it! The best thing about knitting is that you only have to follow the pattern if you want; do what feels right for the final product.