Hunting for yarn on the Internet can be tricky. You need to know what you’re looking for. Sounds obvious? Well… Not so much if you don’t know a squat about yarn weights and have no idea how to read yarn labels.
Since the very beginning of my crocheting adventure I struggled to understand ballbands and, more importantly, yarn weights. Ready-to-use patterns would include details about required yarn types. Of course. Challenge is that many of those are not available in my area and I constantly have to search for replacements through Internet stores.
Not understanding how this works led me to purchase tons of balls which now happily reside in the depths of my closets as they failed to match my project needs (yes, I do look like a yarn addict!). When I reached that stage when you finally try to design your own patterns – situation got worse.
At some point I concluded that I must be doing something wrong (duh!). Believe it or not – it took me a while to research the topic and experiment with reading labels. But even after years of testing different approaches I still occasionally fail to get what I want. Why?
Yarn weights – first things first
I order to make a good decision you need to know some basics about yarn fibers. The fiber type not only determines the texture and overall look, but also impacts your perception of ‘bulkiness’. As a result, using unsuitable fiber type may cause your project outcome to look and feel more or less bulky than intended.
In general, fluffy and hairy yarns (like mohair or chenille) look much thicker than they really are. On the contrary – pure cotton, linen or bamboo threads are smooth and look less bulky, although they may be quite heavy. Wool and acrylic can work both ways.
Blended yarns are most difficult to assess. It really does require professional judgment and a bit of experience to determine the real thickness only by looking at their labels.
Standard yarn-weight system
Good news is that most of the largest manufacturers help us in determining yarn thickness. Using standardized measuring system each yarn is categorized into one of the buckets listed below. Pictograms are printed onto yarn labels and this is how we can identify yarn weight category.
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Here one important note: at times manufacturer recommended hook sizes differ to what is included in the standard above. If that’s the case, then go with what label suggests.
And a small trick: as a rule of thumb, if you combine two threads of a given yarn weight then you get a thread that is thicker by one ‘grade’. For example, joining two threads of Medium (size 4) yarn should give you Bulky (size 5) yarn. This may come in handy in emergency situations.
Yarn Weights – Step by step…
By now, you should already see that looking only at recommended hook sizes and weight category isn’t quite enough to make a proper assessment. Of course, depending on a project you may or may not care for yarn to be ideally fitted into the design. If you do care however, you may want to examine the label thoroughly and draw conclusions from there. I would suggest taking following steps while making your choices when purchasing online:
- Examine yarn image – if you zoom in then you should be able to see straight away what to expect in terms of texture (fluffy vs smooth).
- Look at weight symbol – search for something similar to what is shown in the table above. Note that not all labels would include this information. At times manufacturers or sellers would only describe the category (e.g. ‘Chunky yarn’).
- Analyze fiber content – labels or descriptions should detail out the fiber composition.
- Check recommended hook size – check what manufacturer suggests in terms of hook sizes. Sometimes those recommendations differ from the standard.
- Examine gauge – labels indicate the number of rows and stitches that make a square of a particular size, if you crochet with a recommended hook size. This will give you a pretty good feeling of yarn thickness.
- Calculate length (e.g. number of centimeters or inches) per weight unit (e.g. per gram or ounce) – I often do that when the standard yarn-weight information isn’t available or I am trying to compare different yarns in the same category. I then relate the result to yarns that I already have at home and that way I can estimate how thick the yarn is.
Experience, experience and once again… luck
If you carefully check the above and compare the parameters to yarn that you already have at home, then most likely you will get it right 7 times out of 10. There is always a chance that you would be slightly surprised when you get your stuff delivered. It’s like buying clothes online – typically you wear size M but at times it may turn out too small or too big, depending on a manufacturer, or even sometimes on a collection.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get perfect match straight away. As Master Yoda says – it “happens to every guy sometimes this does”.
I would suggest to get single balls of few different types at the beginning. Buy more only when you are sure about your choice. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
One more important decision to make is color – have a look at my post on yarn colors mixing if you are looking for inspiration 🙂 If you are fairly new to crocheting then you may find the ‘Crocheting for beginners‘ article useful.
If you have any questions or want to share your tips and tricks – leave those in the comments section below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May the Force be with You!