Knitting 101: Yarn Weights – A Shopping Guide

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Shopping for yarn when you’re starting out can be terribly confusing. I know when I first began, words like worsted, sport, DK, and bulky meant nothing to me. I didn’t know how you could tell!

To help you have a better time than I did initially, I want to walk you through what kind of projects you can do with different weights of yarn. Let’s start with the weight of the yarn! When it comes to weight, you are going to see one of two things, mostly. Some yarn labels just come out and say the weight in words. Others use a symbol system with numbers. The lower the number, the finer or thinner the yarn. The higher the number, the thicker the yarn.

The best source for reading the numbers to find out what weight a yarn is is by far the Craft Yarn Council’s Standard Yarn Weight System. The Craft Yarn Council explains weight with symbols and words, and they give you gauge ideas for knitting and crocheting. The symbols, like the one below (from the chart) are what you will find on a lot of commercial yarns.

0_LACE_3L

If you find yourself with a random, unlabelled yarn, there is still a way to figure out the weight. One popular method is WPI, or wraps per inch. Spinners often use this method to figure out the weight of the yarn they’ve made. I’ve seen this done a couple different ways, with pencils, rulers, and with specific WPI tools. What you do is wrap the yarn around the pencil/ruler/tool for about an inch or so. Then measure one inch and count how many wraps you have. That should give you a fairly good idea about what weight you have.

More Information for Each Weight

Below you will find the most common weights of yarn. Included are the numbers you may find on the label, other names for the weight (like 2-ply), example projects, and common brands. I hope this helps!

Lace (0): Also known as 2-ply in other countries, lace yarn is very fine, very thin. It is often used to make light, airy lace shawls. Lace typically is 18 or more WPI. Some popular lace weight yarns include Shadow and Alpaca Cloud from Knit Picks, Tosh Lace from MadelineTosh, and LB Collection Wool Stainless Steel from Lion Brand.

Fingering/Sock (1): Fingering, or 4-ply, is slightly thicker than lace but still fairly fine. You can use fingering weight yarn for anything from light sweaters to socks. Socks are probably my favorite use of this weight, actually. Fingering is usually about 14 WPI. Some popular yarns in this weight include Palette from Knit Picks, Kroy Socks from Patons, and Heritage Solids & Quatro Colors from Cascade.

Sport (2): Sport, or 5-ply, is great for hats. I think that’s the best use for this weight, although it’s far from the only use. Other projects include fingerless mitts, cowls,  and sweaters. Sport averages at about 12 WPI. Some popular yarns in this weight include Baby Cashmerino from Debbie Bliss, DROPS Alpaca from Garnstudio, and Grace from Patons.

DK (3): DK, or 8-ply, is a very versatile weight for yarn. You can make hats, sweaters, shawls, you name it. What I like is with DK, you get a little extra warmth without being hot. Think of those slightly chilly spring or fall mornings when you need just a slight extra layer. That’s what I think of when I think DK. DK comes in at about 11 WPI. Some popular yarns in this weight include Softee Baby from Bernat, tosh DK from Madelinetosh, and RYC Cashsoft DK from Rowan.

Worsted/Aran (4): I’ve grouped these together because sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Aran is a slightly thicker yarn, but not by much, maybe one extra WPI or part of one. Generally, though, (as far as I’ve been able to figure out) you can exchange one for another in a pattern. Worsted, or 10-ply, is the work horse yarn. You can make almost anything with worsted. I like cowls best in worsted because then they’re quick to knit up without being super hot like with bulky yarn. Worsted is about 9 WPI. Some popular yarns in this weight include Cascade 220 from Cascade, Simply Soft from Caron, and Sugar n Cream from Lily.

Bulky (5): Ah, yes, bulky. I picture bulky yarns with freezing temperatures. I get hot easily, so I use this yarn sparingly when it comes to accessories. Bulky, or 12-ply, works well with mittens, warm cowls, and quick hats. I swear, you can make a hat in a couple of hours with this weight. Bulky averages at about 7 WPI. Some popular yarns in this weight include Homespun from Lion Brand, Ecological Wool from Cascade, and Shetland Chunky from Patons.

Super Bulky (6): As far as I can tell, Super Bulky is a general term for everything bigger or thicker than bulky, with WPI at 6 or less. In my opinion, this weight is perfect for home accessories like poufs and pillows. It’s thick and durable. Some popular yarns in this weight include Wool-Ease Thick & Quick from Lion Brand, Charisma from Loops & Threads, and Big Wool by Rowan.

If I’m new to a yarn and just want to try it, I aim for about 200 yards. That usually gives me enough for some kind of project and a swatch. I don’t always shop with a project in mind, so this happens more often than not. If you want to make socks, I will give you this: look for 100 grams in fingering or sock weight. That will give you a pair of standard size socks.

If you’re not already a member, let me take this time to introduce you to Ravelry, your new obsession. Ravelry is an amazing tool, particularly the search functions (although the social aspect is great too).  Under Pattern Search, you can narrow the results down by the weight of yarn you have, as well as project type, fiber type, amount of yarn, and needle size. Under Yarn Search, you can find all sorts of yarn by weight, fiber, and blend (how many different types of fiber in one yarn). Both of these searches are incredibly easy to use. You just make your selections in the boxes on the left-hand side of the screen. I encourage you to go and explore! Have fun!

For the experienced knitters out there, what weight yarn do you prefer for most of your projects?

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26 thoughts on “Knitting 101: Yarn Weights – A Shopping Guide

  1. I just learned about WPIs and its very interesting. I tried to do it with a ruler and maybe my ruler was too thick, but it didn’t match the number of WPIs for that weight. Weird. I’m going to try a pencil. Is that about the same width as a WPI tool?

  2. Great blog – Thank You! I’ve been knitting a little more than a year now and I’ve been using worsted the most making scarves and cowls. I picked up some fingering last year to make socks (WIP). I also just started venturing into Sport & DK weights with some sweaters…they’re still in progress at this time too.

  3. Thank you for helping explain this topic. Just yesterday I saw a pattern that used the word aran and I had no idea what type or weight of yarn that was. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for posting this. I am new to crochet (self taught) and I am still learning as I go along. I have a better understanding of yarn….and a new appreciation!

  5. That’s really useful, having it all laid out like that. I usually stick to dk or 4 ply with my crochet but recently have been using garden twine.

  6. There is one time I don’t find the yarn weight to be very helpful and that’s eyelash yarn, and a few other novelty yarns. Generally eyelash yarn seems to be labeled as bulky yarn, when it acts much more like worsted at largest, because the portion you actually knit with is quite thin, but the extra eyelash bits hanging off make the yarn in total much thicker. This is important to keep in mind because if you knit eyelash yarn with a size of needle you would use for bulky yarn you end up with huge holes and a fabric that is extremely loose and floppy, which is generally not what I’m looking for.

  7. Thanks for this article. I’ve more or less figured yarn weights out now but I was so confused when I first started (and I often bought the wrong yarn) but this should be a big help for beginners!

  8. Thank you–I’ve gotten a few skeins lately that don’t say on the label what weight they are. One says 5 stitches per 1″ with suggested needle sizes. Can you presume what the weight is by the needle sizes suggested? Should I unravel a strand and count the plies? I’m still a little mystified by yarn weights if no ply count or name (like worsted or DK) is given. I like the nice orderly “4” for worsted that is all over the cheap-o yarn labels!

    • With the needles, sometimes yes! On Ravelry, the pattern and pattern page will tell you what yarn weight to use usually. Sometimes it just says the name of the yarn, so I Google at that point.

      Don’t unravel a strand; it probably won’t help. The plies are just alternative names. The problem is any weight of yarn can have any number of plies. I have worsted in my stash that’s only one ply. I guess, when in doubt, do a Google or Ravelry search on the yarn. You can usually find the weight that way.

  9. Thank you thank you… sooooooo much for this… ahhhh… finally all the mysteries solved.. I’ve learnt lots from this post. Cheers.

  10. Thanks for this explanation! I’ve been knitting for about two years, and I always struggle with yarn weights for projects. It doesn’t help that my gauge almost never matches the pattern (I’m a tight knitter).

  11. Wow, such very helpful information. Thank you so much, Anastasia! I read through the first part of this post but I’m definitely going to have to bookmark this and read through it thoroughly later this evening. I felt as if you were walking with me through the knitting isle explaining the all these things about yarn. You are so sweet.:)

  12. I’m really getting into fingering weight lately. Also for those unlabeled yarn skeins try the iPhone app “yarnpro” — it figures it out using the weight of the skein and the yardage/meterege.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!! I am VERY new to knitting and just the other week dragged down my mother’s massive plastic tote of yarn she has stored up in the attic for many, many years… and NONE of it has adequate labels, despite there being loads of it.
    Thank you so much!! You have made my life much easier today.

  14. I’ve nominated you for the Super Sweet Award for bloggers. Thank you for bringing more paradise to this world.
    Squnches 🙂

  15. See you didn’t mention baby wool – 3ply. Is it not used/ available where you are? Great for those soft newborn woollies when they need a little extra warmth but not ‘weight’.
    Like the Brits we Aussies have different names and terminology as well 🙂
    Cathy

    • I haven’t tried baby weight before. From what I’ve read, baby can be fingering to sock weight thickness. I’ll have to check it out! I also skipped cobweb and thread. I’m not too familiar with those two either.

      I wish the names were more standardised, and I don’t really mind which system. My mum-in-law is British and knits too. The difference comes up now and then.

  16. Pingback: Knitting 101: Yarn Weights – A Shopping Guide | Little Wooden Shoe

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