Weights of Wool
A little guide and some hints and tips for a new knitter, about the huge variety of wool and yarn to choose from.
Weight means how thick a particular yarn is. Nowadays you can get the finest spidery thread to enormous chunky novelty yarns, and everything in between. The right weight of yarn needs to be known so you can choose the correct needles - too big yarn with too fine wool will produce knitting with massive stitches and lots of gaps. Too chunky yarn with thin needles will be extremely difficult to knit, make your hands ache and produce a fabric that will buckle under its own thickness.
Your pattern will tell you exactly which needles and which specific yarn you will need. But what if that yarn's too expensive? Often pattern writers have a deal with yarn companies, and suggest you use theirs. Rowan wool is particularly dear (though lovely), and produces many popular patterns. More confusing still, what if you have a pattern from a relative, or that you found online, that simply suggests 'worsted' or 'DK'?
Even if you think you're only going to make that one project, beware: knitting is addictive! You may find that you need to know weights of yarn in the future if you take it up again, so here's a list of the most common...
Weights of Yarn
- Laceweight - 2ply The finest yarn you can get. About as thin as you'd want - anything thinner would be a labour of love to make into anything of respectable size. The word 'ply' refers to how many threads are twisted together - twist yarn one way then another, and you'll see the threads separate and spring back into place. The greater the ply, the thicker the yarn. This weight is recommended for - you guessed it - knitting lace patterns, or tiny things.
- Fingering - Sock Wool Thin enough to be dainty, thick enough to make a good sock. I would say this is the second most common weight of yarn you will encounter - it is thinner than double knitting, but attemptable. Comes in a variety of gorgeous colours, like any yarn, and is a nice thickness to work with. Use it for any pattern (with correct needles for the weight, of course) that you want to come out a bit smaller, or finer. Or knit socks with it.
- Double Knitting - Light Worsted Undoubtedly the single most common weight of wool, you probably worked with DK when your grandmother taught you, and I'd bet it was some eye-watering colour like neon green. This is great for toys, jumpers, cushion covers, anything you'd think of. Socks knitted in this will be thick, but a good beginner's wool, as it is good to hold, and durable.
- Worsted - Aran A little thicker than DK, this will make authentic Aran jumpers, or give throws and jumpers a hefty, cosy feel. A yarn on the finer side of chunky. Use bigger yarns with the right wools for a pattern, and it will turn out bigger, so if you want a giant teddy bear, go for it!
- Bulky - Chunky For throws and cosy cardigans, chunky cannot be beaten. Despite its size, chunky is easy to work with because it is always soft on the hands, not easy to lose, and builds confidence because bigger yarn means a lot gets done, and quickly. Very luxurious, but for specific projects. A sock knitted in this would be a big Christmas stocking indeed.
- Super Bulky - Super Chunky The big boy. More like soft rope, this yarn is really only for novelty projects, big fluffy scarves knitted in a minute (that's how many inches it covers in five stitches), and for hugging and looking at because it is so darn big and soft. For the adventurous knitter!
How to Determine the Weight of Wool Yourself
If you come across some yarn you want to use, but the band has fallen off or been chewed by the dog, don't panic, and you don't have to swallow your pride and consult the matriarch knitting expert down the road. There is a simple formula for telling you which needles are best.
Take a piece of your yarn and fold it in half. Twist it slightly, so it's doubled up. The thickness of your doubled yarn should equal the thickness of the needle you use. Simple! Or, alternatively, from Wikipedia:
"Wrap the yarn around a large needle or a ruler. Make sure the yarn lies flat. Push the yarn together so there are no gaps between wraps. Smooth it out so it is neither too loose nor too tight. Measure the number of wraps per inch (2.5 cm). For better accuracy, measure the wraps at the centre of your yarn sample."
Remember, knitters: no gaps between wraps.
In this article, I have used a mix of English and American knitting terms. This is habit - being English myself, I call every kind of yarn 'wool' (e.g. knitting wool). But not all yarn is woollen... confusing, eh? If you want more information on wool (or yarn) types, please see my article, Types of Wool. You may also call needles 'knitting pins'.
The English and Americans call a lot of their wool weights different things, but I have done my best to accommodate everyone (Worsted, for example, is American, while the English use Aran). If you're still unsure, there's always that old knitting matriarch that's sure to be down your road! That might be you in fifty years, you know!
Happy knitting, everyone!