7 Important Knitting Yarn Questions Answered

Last Updated on July 2, 2022 by Cheryl Moreo

knitting yarn

One of the most important decisions you must make when knitting is what knitting yarn to use for your project. The yarn you choose has everything to do with how your finished project looks and stands up to time and wear. The last thing you want to do is spend hours making something only to have it fall apart in the wash or look worn out after the second wearing. Therefore, choosing the suitable yarn will help make your knitting projects enjoyable and successful.

Here are the answers to your top seven knitting yarn questions:

Knitting Yarn Questions Answered

1. What does the yarn label tell me? 

The most accessible place to learn about yarn is simply by reading and comparing labels. Yarn labels should include the following information:

knitting yarn questions answered
LionBrand image
  • Brand name
  • Fiber content
  • Color name and number
  • Dye lot number
  • Number of plies or strands
  • Yarn weight category 
  • Knitting and crochet gauge
  • Cleaning instructions
  • Yardage and weight of the yarn ball/skein

By reading the labels and comparing them, you can quickly learn all you need to know about yarn. 

2. Why do I care about the yarn weight category? 

Yarn category symbols

The term yarn weight category does not refer to the actual physical weight of the knitting yarn. Instead, the yarn weight category refers to the diameter of the yarn strand. Therefore, the smaller the strand, the smaller the weight, and vice versa. 

Eight basic yarn weight categories (0-7) tell you how thick the yarn is. The Craft Yarn Council establishes these categories, and each category has a corresponding name and symbol. You’ll probably find this symbol near the top of the label near the gauge information, recommended needle and hook sizes, and yarn care information.

For more yarn weight categories, read my article, “Yarn Weight – What Does It Mean?“.

3. What is a yarn gauge?

gauge swatch
Image by Berroco

A gauge measures the number of stitches in one inch of fabric. Gauge is essential in knitting, and you will see it referenced in several places. Once you have selected a pattern to knit, look for the designer’s given gauge.

Gauge is specified on patterns to ensure that the end project is true to size. Because everyone knits differently, it is essential to make a test swatch with your project needles and yarn to check that your gauge matches your selected pattern. In addition, an exact gauge is crucial to the proper fit of clothing. Remember that a half stitch per inch can make your finished garment several inches too big or too small.

To learn more about creating a swatch, you should read my article on swatching, “Save Time: Swatch a Gauge Square.

4. Can I substitute one yarn for another one? 

Knitting yarn substitution can be a tricky thing. Knitting yarn substitution is where you use a different yarn than the one recommended by the designer who wrote the pattern you are following.

It is important to note that designers write patterns with a chosen brand and the weight of knitting yarn. Therefore, patterns almost always will tell you the brand, weight, color, and the size knitting needle used.

If you are talking about switching the size of the yarn, the answer is no. Because your yarn weight has a lot to do with the finished size and look of a project, by using a yarn of a different weight, you risk your project coming out the wrong size. Generally, you cannot substitute yarn weights unless you are making something like a blanket or scarf where it will not matter as much, and you can easily adjust your project for the change in size.

If you choose to use a different type of fiber, the result may look and feel other than the pattern.

If you are switching to a different brand with the same yarn weight,  the answer is yes, but there are several things to consider:  fiber, drape, yarn construction, and gauge. It would be best to use the same yarn thickness recommended by the pattern. I recommend reading the following article from A Bee in the Bonnet: “The Knitter’s Guide to Yarn Substitution.”

5. Where does knitting yarn come from?

textile mill
Textile Mill

Yarn spinning uses both natural and synthetic fibers. 

  •  The most common plant fiber is cotton. However, you can also use other natural fibers such as bamboo, linen, and ramie. 
  •  Synthetic fibers include polyester, acrylic, nylon, metallics, and microfibers. 
  • Animal fibers include sheep wool, goat cashmere, rabbit angora, llama, alpaca, musk ox qiviut, and silk.

Some fibers are blended to take advantage of their best properties.

6. What is a dye lot, and why do some knitting yarns have one and others do not?

knitting yarn dye pot

Dye lot numbers refer to the factory dye batch of a yarn skein. Because dying is not an exact science, the same color or shade of yarn from different dye lots may differ. The color can vary slightly from one dye lot to another, and while it might not be noticeable to the eye in your lined up rows of stitches, a stripe can appear with different dye lots. For that reason, it is wise to purchase a sufficient quantity of the same dye lot knitting yarn for your project. Also, because some yarn fibers are first dyed and then spun, they cannot list a dye lot number.

7. How do I care for my knitted fabrics?

The easiest way to know how to care for a knitted fabric is to check the laundering instructions on the yarn label. Taking care of your knitting yarn after your project is complete is essential for maintaining the quality of the fabric over time. These symbols indicate how best to care for an item made from the yarn.

When giving a hand-knitted or crocheted item as a gift, it’s helpful to include a label from a ball or skein of yarn used for the project so that the recipient will know how to care for the item. Generally, you will want to hand wash all of your hand-knitted things in a mild detergent and then dry them flat.

hand washing knitted item.
Hand washing knitted items.

If you do not have a yarn label, you can sometimes find a similar knitting yarn at your local craft store and read that yarn label for care directions.

You can find a thorough explanation of the Yarn Council’s symbols here.

Final Thoughts on Matching Your Yarn to Your Pattern

  • Patterns call for specific yarn and needle thickness and gauge.
  • When the yarn, the needles, and the pattern match with the correct gauge, your project comes out the right size and looks and feels good.
  • When they don’t match, your project might turn out the wrong size or look and feel unpleasing.

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