Yarn – A Weighty Issue

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originally posted July 19, 2010

About 5 years ago my sister taught me how to knit and I’ve been hooked ever since. In that time, I’ve completed a felted bag, an afghan, a million scarves, and I have several unfinished projects in the works as well. I haven’t ventured into knitting garments yet…the reason being that I really don’t understand the technical aspects of knitting.

I’m the type of person that learns visually. When first learning how to knit, I sat and watched my sister cast on her first row of stitches and learned by simply repeating what she was doing. I didn’t care why I was doing it or what actually was happening with the yarn as it was going onto the needle. The fact that I was making the stitches stay put on the needle was all I really cared about.

From there I learned how to knit and purl and was well on my way to making one hideous scarf after another, and feeling quite proud of myself to boot. Now I’m feeling the need to expand my knitting knowledge and attempt something a little more complicated than a scarf or a simply knit afghan.

Two main things come to mind that I need to learn more about: The differences in yarn weights and the importance of checking gauge – up until now my attitude has been “gauge smage.” So far my approach with knitting is to read the pattern, use the yarn called for, figure out how to perform the stitches called for in said pattern, and do exactly what it’s telling me to do. That’s all fine and dandy until a mistake is made, and I make a lot of knitting mistakes. I need to know more about this craft, so today I’ll start off with looking further into yarn weight and gauge.

Evidently, there are categories of yarn weights. The most common categories are numbered as such:

1. Super Fine: Sock, Baby, Fingering

2. Fine: Sport weight, Baby

3. Light: DK, Light Worsted

4. Medium: Worsted, Afghan, Aran

5. Bulky: Chunky, Craft, Rug

6. Super Bulky: Bulky, Roving

The weight of the yarn actually means the thickness of the strand of yarn. So according to the above categories, worsted weight (medium #4) is thicker than light worsted (light #3) and baby weight (fine #2); sock weight (super fine #1) would be a much thinner yarn than chunky (bulky #5). In most cases, the thicker the yarn the bigger the needle used. Each yarn weight category also has a gauge range of stitches. For example, the gauge range for knitting stockinette stitch to 4 inches in Category 1: Super Fine is 27 to 32 stitches. For Super Bulky (Category 6), the gauge range is 6 to 11 stitches in 4 inches of knitted stockinette stitch.

Apparently, gauge is pretty important, especially when knitting garments. If your gauge isn’t correct, that size medium sweater you thought you were knitting could end up small enough to fit your chihuahua, so you want to pick the right weight yarn for your projects and make sure your gauge is correct.

Always remember that a pattern is going to tell you the size of yarn you need and the gauge of the pattern. Most yarn labels also have the category info, gauge, and recommended needle sizes printed on them to help you decide what type of yarn to buy for your projects.

Here are some helpful links about yarn weight and gauge:

I actually feel like I understand yarn weight and gauge a little bit better. There are other more complex things I need to learn about knitting, but that will all happen over time. More knowledgeable knitters are welcome to weigh in on the subject. Feel free to add your 2 cents worth of wisdom to enlighten those of us who are less informed about this wonderful craft.

Happy Knitting!

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3 responses

  1. I really appreciated this post. I must same I am very simular to you – I learn by doing and have never paid much attention to gauge details. Basically I just use the directions on the pattern in terms of wool weight and needle size. But it is important to understand the reasons behind the materials and this is a great intro to wool. Only issue in Australia we have a totally different labelling system for yarn, which makes things a little trickier…
    🙂