An older woman visited my shop recently and expressed derision at my choice of language. "Yarn?!" she spat, "What an American expression. It's wool, surely?"
Although I have been a knitter for over twenty years, it was only when I started knitting for my son - and buying my own yarn rather than relying on my Nana's SABLE (Stash amassed beyond life expectancy) - that I discovered I was in fact knitting with 100% plastic. Not exactly what I wanted to wrap my precious newborn baby in, but I had no idea what the alternatives were or how they'd work. So here, I am going to share with you just a smattering of the information I've picked up over the years.
I frequently have customers in my shop who gravitate towards yarn they like and then ask, "What can I do with this?" and the best tool you can arm yourself with is the knowledge of what different weights (or thickness) of yarn you can get. I have tried to use the most common UK terms, but please me aware that the USA terminology is different and can be confusing.
Laceweight/2-ply - This is generally the lightest, thinnest yarn that you can get. I mostly see it used for shawls and scarflets.
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Sockweight/4-ply - Approximately 50% thicker than laceweight, 4-ply used to be the weight most commonly used for baby items. Nowadays, I mostly sell sock yarn at 4-ply weight.
Double knit/DK - This is a nice balanced midweight yarn. Thick enough for you to have quick results but thin enough to show detail.
Aran - Known of course for big sweaters with lots of cables and intricate detailing, aran is a fairly heavy yarn which knits up quickly creating a warm, thick fabric.. This is the weight of yarn that I recommend to beginners as there is an element of achievement with only a few rows.
Chunky - Thick yarn, knits up very quickly creating a thick but somewhat unwieldy fabric.
Super chunky - The yarn for lazy people! I jest, but this is pretty much the heaviest weight of yarn that I have ever come across. As with chunky, it works up very quickly but creates a very thick and unwieldy fabric.
Most commonly, yarn is sold in approx 25g, 50g or 100g balls. I say approx, as in actual fact most commercially available yarns are measured in meterage which is more accurate. Remember that the meterage in a 50g laceweight yarn will be vastly different to the meterage in a 50g chunky yarn!
Generally speaking Yarn can be divided into two sub-groups, those being natural or synthetic, but it is common to see either group diluted with a percentage of the other. For example, most sock yarns will have somewhere in the region of 25% nylon to give the yarn flexibility and stability when it is being worn.
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I hope this guide has been moderately helpful if somewhat info heavy! If you're a knitter or crocheter, I would highly recommend that you check out these websites as fantastic resources.
Ravelry - Just the best thing to ever happen to knitters & crocheters
Yarndex - A great website to compare yarn brands to substitute in patterns
This post has been written by Vonnie of The Life Craft. The Life Craft have both an online store and bricks and motor shop offering a range of sewing and knitting supplies as well as classes. Visit their site here: http://www.thelifecraft.co.uk/