For the neophites among us. Call a friend – Some helpful tips on yarn selection.

Natural Fiber Yarns

Although yarn can be spun from various animal fibers such as alpaca, angora, mohair, cashmere and silk, the most commonly used is sheep wool. Those spun from animal hair tend to be very warm, breathable, slightly elastic and very absorbent. It can also be spun by combining various natural fibers together; this is common with more expensive fibers such as alpaca and cashmere. Other natural plant-derived fibers including linen, bamboo and cotton can also be used, but these are less elastic and retain less body heat than animal hair. On the other hand, the plant fibers are stronger than the animal fibers and can be machine-washed, therefore it is important to evaluate what qualities are best for your knitting project. Keep in mind that the finished look of a garment created with cotton or linen is very different from the look of wool.

Garments created with natural fiber yarns tend to require delicate handling as they can shed, fade, be eaten by moths and even potentially shrink. There is also a wide variety available that have been treated to fix the color, strengthen it or to enhance other properties.

Synthetic Yarns

Synthetics are often created from acrylic or polyester based fibers. Because synthetics are made up of long strands (natural fibers are short) there is no pilling, as is the case with natural fibers. Synthetics are very durable, can be produced with interesting visual or color effects, they are also machine washable, light in weight and stain-resistant.

Combined Yarns

It is very common to find yarns produced with a combination of natural and synthetic fibers. By combining these materials it inherits properties of each fiber. How much of each property (heat retention, stain resistance, strength, etc.) depends on the proportions used when combining the fibers.

Combining both synthetic and natural fibers lowers costs, increases the strength and lightens the garment weight while retaining its warmth. It also makes the garment easier to clean and care for. The most common blends are wool-acrylic and cotton-polyester fiber blends.

Choosing a Yarn

It is important to think about how you’re going to use your knitted garment or item. Do you want it to be heavier and warm or light and cool? Casual or dressy? Machine or hand washable? (Instructions are found on the label) With these choices in mind you can then choose the appropriate yarn for your needs

The label on the yarn package provides important and useful information such as:

  • Type
  • Fiber content
  • Amount in the skein
  • Care instructions
  • Recommended needles
  • Colour
  • Dye lot

Yarn coloring

Most have a single uniform color, but there is also a wide selection of variegated types to choose from, which can add style and depth to your project.

  • Ombre – variegated with light and dark shades of the same colour
  • Multi-colored – variegated with two or more distinct colours
  • Tweed or Heathered –flecks of various coloured fibers
  • Self-striping – dyed in lengths so that the stripes will be automatically integrated into the knitted item
  • Marled –composed of various coloured yarns twisted together

Whether you buy yarn online or in store before you begin a knitted project, it is best to take note of the Dye Lot Number (indicated on the label). This way, if you need to buy more you will ensure that there is no colour variation between your previous purchase and the new one.

Yarn Weight and Gauge

The industry has adopted a standard weight system and uses numbers to represent the weight. The numbers range from 0 to 6; 0 being the finest and 6 being the thickest.

Quantities are measured in ounces or grams, but most labels include a measurement in meters or yards to give you a better idea. A yarns thickness is referred to as its weight, not to be confused with the gram measurement above.

Labels will usually include information about the yarn gauge. This measurement refers to how many stitches across and how many rows down fit in a 4 x 4 inch square (10 x 10 cm) when using a specific knitting needle (also indicated).

If you plan on knitting a scarf or throw, you can pretty much choose which ever yarn you fancy, but if you want to create a garment such as a sweater it is best to choose your pattern first and then choose from the gauge and type that the pattern suggests.

Yarn Considerations

The combinations, colours and patterns can sometimes be confusing for a beginner; therefore, here are some suggestions to help guide you in your decision making.

Cable and stitch patterns – a solid colour in a smooth plied yarn will give your item a crisp and sophisticated look. The same cable and stitch pattern used with a soft single ply will have a softer and more relaxed appearance.

Striking colour – a simple stockinette (see image below) sweater knitted with colourful or sparkly novelty yarn will be a true show-stopper with little effort. To avoid tricky stitch work or textures showing up in your garment, it is favorable to work with a simple stitch pattern.

Fair Isle patterns – choose smooth plied for contrasting colours to create a clear striking pattern. A different option would be to choose a variegated type as one of your contrasting colours. The light and dark effect will add a nice watercolour effect to the pattern.

General rule – Plain yarns are best for textured and shaped patterns. “Wild” ones are best when used for a simple sweater shape and pattern stitch.

Yarn Bombing

A form of artistic expression similar to graffiti. The practice of wrapping objects in knitted yarn is believed to have started in Texas and has since spread to many other cities in the world. Here at Maker Savvy we’ve been known to organise/participate in the odd yarn-bombing.