Knitting How To’s: About Yarn
A GUIDE TO PICKING OUT YARN FOR BEGINNER KNITTERS
Many times, when I go buy yarn, I find some confused beginner knitter, or someone who hasn’t done any knitting in years, who needs help with either buying needles or yarn. And I voluntarily help them, because I understand how confusing it can be for a first-time knitter to figure out what to buy: there are so many types of yarn, different in colour, size, material, etc. And knowing how much and what to get is something I guess that comes with experience. And even I buy too much. But it’s better to have too much than not enough, I guess!
I’m only going to talk about yarn here, because that in itself is quite complicated.
(NOTE: I really want to stress the last point, about the dye lot. It’s really important!! You might not want to read everything, because, well, long, but read that!)
Under the break because it’s a long post!
Disclaimer: I’m not trying to say that I know it all, or that my way is the best way. In fact, I would encourage you to seek knowledge elsewhere, as well as experiment and make mistakes. Also, I’ve sourced every photo I’ve taken from tertiary sources, but I’d like to point out that any brand that ends up on these photos is not affiliated with me.
I don’t know what you might want to make, but most likely, you’ll be doing a scarf. It’s the basic thing to start with—it’s definitely a good place to start. It’s easy, and most people do only a garter stitch to begin with, which is, if you don’t know, just knitting. It’s a lot easier this way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick out a more complex pattern. After all, why not? I’m not going to talk about the execution of this pattern though, that’s something else.
Here’s the thing about knitting patterns/stitches though. They don’t take the same amount of yarn, or have the same dimension. A garter stitch will condense vertically your work (it’s stretchable along the vertical axis), while a rib, for instance, is condensed horizontally (being stretchable along the horizontal axis). That’s why when you measure your gauge, it’s made for stockinette stitch.
Top to bottom: Garter and stockinette stitches
I experimented with this many times, and I guess it all comes down to experience.
BUT I’m just going to assume that all this doesn’t matter because you’re making a scarf.
Yarn weight is basically the thickness of the yarn. If you’re a beginner, stay away from the thin stuff. It’s harder to knit with. Many people have told me that beginner knitters should knit with larger yarn and larger needles. But in the end, it all comes down to you!
If you’re following a pattern though (a scarf doesn’t matter so much, but if you happen to be making clothing that has to fit a certain body, like sweaters, hats, etc.), you have to pay attention to the weight required. (I actually don’t, so I often have to change the pattern in consequence, and I also waste time undoing and redoing. I don’t recommend.) I find that most patterns will reference a specific brand of yarn, which I hardly pay attention to. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get the same weight! Gauge can be very practical to use as reference in that case: that’s why it’s written on the tag.
On the left: yarn weight. Next on the right: gauge with specific needle size.
I think I mostly buy medium size yarn, which I think happens to be the most common.
I’m not going to pretend I know anything about the actual size of yarn. I think there are names for each of those different ball sizes, but I hardly pay attention to any of that. I just adjust my purchase according to what I’m making.
I usually see three typical sizes.
There might be more, like in-between sizes, or way bigger sizes. But these are the more common. (To note on the last, I’ve often found that these are a lot more expensive, so I never buy them.)
I usually buy the big bulky ones—it also makes it so that I don’t have to change yarn so often. This is especially practical for larger pieces of clothing. But the thing with these is that I always end up having huge amount of leftovers, and I don’t know what to do with them.
Material is important for different reasons. It’ll give a texture to your work, and will permit you to do some things versus others. Wool is often fuzzier, and a lot itchier. (It also starts smelling when it’s wet).
Also, it might shrink in the wash. My aunt tells me acrylic doesn’t shrink, but wool and cotton do. I would honestly just be careful in general. But being lazy, I just dry it naturally, and still machine-wash. I would definitely pay attention to the tag though and what they suggest.
Material will also greatly influence price. Acrylic is definitely the cheapest (and the most common in the big stores like Micheals). But you can get nicer, higher quality stuff in specialized stores. It’ll also depend on where you are. I bought a bunch of wool in Iceland, because Iceland! And it’s cheaper there than elsewhere, at least for Icelandic wool.
Then there’s if you do blocking, which is a technique to make your knitting lay flat with an iron. It’s a lot harder with acrylic, it being plastic, and, well, will melt under your iron. There are techniques though, but I would definitely keep that in mind, depending on what you’re making. But if you’re doing a simple garter stitch (which, yeah, most likely) or a rib stitch, you don’t need to worry about this.
You can really get plenty of nice and fancier yarns made from all sorts of materials! The best thing to do is to feel around and touch everything.
This is where I get more questions from people in the store. If you shop in a small independent or yarn-specialized store, probably asking a sales-attendant might be good, they certainly have expertise. That might not be possible, they may not have knitting knowledge. That’s where I usually come in.
The thing about quantity is that you usually know how much you need by experience. Or you always get too much, if you’re like me.
Obviously, it’ll depend on what you’re making (refer to pattern in that case). Let’s just say you’re making a garter stitch scarf without a knitting pattern. It’ll also depend on the width and the length of your scarf. I tend to make mine longer and wider than most people. But I also remake the first few rows many times until I can figure out the actual width I want.
I’m assuming you make your scarf about ten inches wide (about twenty-five centimeters for non-North Americans) and long enough to wrap once around your neck and fall down low enough. And that you’re using medium weight yarn. What you need is therefore two of the larger sizes of yarn (1st img in the size section) or three of the medium size (2nd img). I don’t know about the smallest, the third image I posted. I never use that. I’m gonna assume around five of the smaller ones (3rd img). But if anyone has another figure, don’t hesitate!
If you’re making an infinity scarf, you usually need less, but I don’t want to give a quantity. I don’t often do infinity scarves, so I really have no idea…
If you make your scarf bigger, you’ll obviously need more. And that just depends. This will also depend on the weight of your yarn. The thicker the yarn, the less you need. Check the gauge on your tag to give you an idea. But pay attention to the needle size.
About needle sizes: the bigger your needles, the less stitches you need. You can tell with these two tags, which base themselves on US sizes 7 & 8, but are supposed to be the same weight. One says 17, the other 18. It may not make a different with 4 inches, but when you make larger pieces, yeah, it does make a difference.
Remember: It’s better to have more yarn than not enough. You can’t go buy more yarn, because of what I’m going to explain next which is really important. And because your colour may not be sold anymore, for whatever reason. I know, I’ve lost scarves before and tried to find the yarn once more to remake one, but I was never able to find it again.
This is the most important point of this post!
If you pay attention to the labels, some of them will have a sentence such as:
Top: Suggestion: Please purchase a sufficient quantity of one dye lot to ensure uniformity of color.
Bottom: Please purchase sufficient yarn of same dye lot to complete project.
It doesn’t matter if it says it or not, to do this is really important. Why? Well, like when you cook, if you remake a recipe, it’ll never taste the same way twice. It doesn’t matter that it’s a precise recipe—the dye probably does have a precise recipe—but there might be small differences every time.
And I can testify for colouring. I study in graphic design, and once, I made a flip book. I’d printed all sixty pages on the printer I had at home, and began trimming my pages. Well, I messed up one page. So I went to reprint it. It didn’t matter that the printer was the same, or that I hadn’t touched the image on my computer. It just came out different. Because of different things: temperature, time of the day, whatever.
Yes, the differences might be very slight, and you might not see it if you put two strands of yarn one next to the other of two different dye lots, but when you make a big piece, with the colour in a concentrated block, the difference, however small, will be visible. If it’s what you want, fine, but if you want a uniform colour, you have to pick yarn from the same dye lot.
So how do you do that? Well, no matter the yarn, the label will have a set of printed on numbers. Sometimes it will be written “lot”, which definitely greatly helps, but sometimes it won’t.
The dye lot is the printed number, not the name of the colour.
(The last one was a tag that didn’t indicate it was a lot number. That doesn’t mean it isn’t. It probably is. It might be only one of the two numbers, I don’t know. But I take the whole number as being the dye lot.)
What you have to do is make sure the numbers are the same. You’ll see. You’ll most likely find dye lots with the same number in the area. All you have to do is find the appropriate number. And it has to be exactly the same number. Even if it’s “1406” and “1407”, it doesn’t count as the same. There is as much difference between those two as there are between “1406” and “5489” (which are random numbers I came up with).
IN THE END
In the end, everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made so many. I just learn from them, and gained experience from them, understanding why what I did wasn’t right. Just last week, I began a dress with yarn way too thick for it. It doesn’t matter, I just adjust the pattern in consequence. I could’ve went out to buy more, but I’m too lazy. And I always buy too much yarn, no matter what project I make.
And in the end, you’ll just gain experience.
Hope this helped!