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Even complete beginner knitters wouldn’t consider making a baby blanket from the scratchy hemp used to make industrial sacks, right? That’s an extreme example, of course, but the same principle should apply to all knitting projects. Before starting, you’ll need to consider the best type of yarn. Will an item from this knitting yarn feel good? Drape well? Be durable? Be warm or cool enough?
Here, we cover everything you need to know about the huge variety of different knitting yarns so you can choose the best type for your next project. Note that many of these yarns are also suitable for crocheting, too.
There are two types of natural fiber yarns: those that come from animals and those that come from plants. In general, animal fiber yarns are warmer and plant fiber yarns more luxurious (read: expensive!) and vegan-friendly.
Wool yarn comes from the hairs of an animal. We may immediately think of sheep wool, but there are other types of wool that can be used for knitting, including alpaca yarn, cashmere yarn (from goats), pashmina yarn (from Tibetan mountain goats), shahtoosh yarn (from Tibetan antelopes), Angora yarn (from Angora rabbits), and mohair yarn (from Angora goats). Each has its own qualities—for example, merino wool is fine, soft, and warm, while mohair yarn is fluffy. Those made from goat wools tend to be light yarns.
Silk is made from fibers produced by the silkworm. It’s smooth, shiny, fine, and quite delicate. When made into knitting yarn, silk fiber is often mixed with another fiber, like cotton, to increase its strength.
Cotton yarn, along with the other plant fibers listed below, is lightweight and breathable, making it a great option for knitting warm-weather items. Cotton is a natural fabric made from fibers from the cotton plant. Organic and recycled cotton are more sustainable, environmentally friendly versions of this fabric as they don’t require as much water or land resources as conventional cotton.
Linen is made from the flax plant. It’s more expensive than cotton as it tends to take longer to produce, but it’s stronger and will usually last longer. Linen is also more environmentally sustainable to produce than cotton. Linen yarn often comes in natural colors, but it can also be dyed.
Along with linen, bamboo yarn scores pretty well on the eco-friendly fabrics scale. It’s made from the fibers of the bamboo plant and is hypoallergenic, insulating, and soft. You may often see yarn labels that read “bamboo viscose” or “bamboo rayon”, meaning that bamboo plants have been used as the raw material for these types of viscose or rayon.
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Synthetic fibers mimic natural fibers but tend to be more durable. They’re often less environmentally sustainable, though, especially when compared to my eco-friendly natural fibers like linen or organic cotton. Synthetic fibers are often blended with natural fibers to increase their durability and reduce their cost.
Acrylic yarn is great for beginners as it’s inexpensive, so it doesn’t matter if you need to try your project again (and again). On the other hand, it doesn’t make the highest-quality items and isn’t as soft or warm as some natural fibers. Some natural fibers may be blended with acrylic fiber, though, to increase the yarn’s durability and lower the cost.
Nylon is tough (it’s made from plastic!), so nylon yarn, or yarns that blend nylon with natural fibers like wool, tend to be strong. Even if you don’t want to make an entire garment from nylon yarn, it’s a good yarn to have on hand for high-traffic areas, like the heels of hand-knitted socks.
Rayon was invented in the late 19th century as a cheaper alternative to natural silk. It’s soft and lustrous like silk but tends to be more durable (and easier on the pocket). As it’s made from plant-based raw materials (wood pulp), it’s sometimes called a semi-synthetic fiber.
Recycled Fiber Yarns
Recycled yarns come in various types and may be natural or synthetic. For example, recycled silk is still a natural fiber, even if it’s been through a few more processes than non-recycled silk. On the other hand, some recycled yarns are made from items that didn’t start “life” as yarns or fibers at all—like repurposed plastic bottles. As always, consider how the particular recycled yarn you’re looking at would feel or behave in the project you want to knit.
In addition to being made from types of fibers, yarns also come in different weights. These range from 0 (lace weight, a super fine yarn) to 7 (jumbo). Just like you wouldn’t knit a delicate clothing item from a scratchy yarn, you wouldn’t knit a winter hat from a super fine yarn or lightweight yarn on the lace-weight end of the scale.
Lace Weight Yarn
For making very lightweight items, such as lace, fine lace weight yarn is your best option.
Fingering Weight Yarn (Sock Weight)
Fingering weight yarn is also sometimes called sock weight because it’s used to make socks. It’s soft and fine, so it’s also good for making shawls and items for babies. Hand knitting with fingering weight yarn requires thin needles.
Sport weight yarn is commonly used to knit clothing for kids, as it’s pretty light.
DK Weight Yarn
While a bit heavier than sport weight yarn, DK weight yarn is also commonly used to make children’s clothing or other lightweight items.
Worsted Weight Yarn (Aran Weight)
Worsted weight yarn is usually recommended to beginners as being the easiest to work with. It’s a bit chunky, a bit delicate, and great for knitting sweaters, scarves, or hats that are cozy but not uncomfortably thick. Worsted yarn is also sometimes called Aran yarn, even though it doesn’t have anything much to do with the Aran Isles that lent their name to a type of cable-knit sweater.
Bulky Weight Yarn
This chunky yarn is also a good option for beginners because it won’t slip off your needles easily. Bulky yarn is ideal for making cozy items.
Super Bulky Weight Yarn
Another step up from bulky yarn, super bulky weight is, well, an even more bulky yarn. It’s best for really chunky sweaters or scarves or for blankets. Super bulky yarn used to be the highest on the scale until the advent of…
Jumbo Weight Yarn
Jumbo weight yarn is the thickest and is usually used for home decor projects, like blankets, throws, and rugs. You can even try the fun crafts of loop knitting or arm knitting or crocheting with jumbo weight yarns!
Now you have a better understanding of the fiber types and weights of different yarns, here are some other types you’ll want to know about.
Gradient yarns are those that aren’t uniform in color. They may vary from light to darker tones of the same color or combine hues. Gradient yarns are fun to work with if you want to knit an item in various shades without having to change the ball of yarn you’re working with.
Single-Ply Yarn and Plied Yarn
Single-ply yarn is yarn made from a single strand of thread, whereas plied yarn is made from two or more threads that have been wound together to increase their durability. Depending on your project, plied yarn is usually the better option because it’s more resistant to breaking.
Core spun yarn goes a step further than single-ply and plied knitting yarn: It twists multiple strands of fiber around a central core. The central core fiber is usually made from polyester, which is very strong, even if the outer fibers are made of other fibers. Core-spun fiber yarn tends to be much stronger even than plied yarn. Often chunkier than other types of yarn, it’s good for decor projects or weaving.
Knitting and crocheting are fun hobbies that let you express your creativity and end up with a practical item to wear or use. Unless you learned from a young age, however, they can look quite daunting to a beginner. If you want to learn to knit (or crochet), it’s a good idea to watch a visual tutorial to see how the stitches come to life.
Once you’ve mastered some basic knitting techniques, it’ll be easier for you to build on your skills and to take on more complex projects. Have fun and see where this creative outlet takes you!
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