This page is about yarn.
Specifically, this page is about the things you need to know about yarn if you want to buy or commission a yarn. It is directed largely at people who are not fiber-arts people themselves.
That is, this is what to know, or what to figure out, if you’re a normal person (often referred to as a muggle), who wants to buy a yarn for your fiber-artist friend/family member/whatever.
I’m going to write this as if you’re commissioning a yarn from me. That is if you’re paying me to make you a specific yarn. The questions are the same if you buy a premade yarn, you just answer them yourself, rather than directly to me.
So, the first thing I will ask you is what size yarn you want.
Also called gauge, size is important (stop snickering). I’ll list them from largest to smallest.
These gauges are self explanatory. Big, thick, squishy yarn, good for some kinds of hats and scarves and such. Not good for anything where the texture or pattern is very complicated, as the chunkiness obscures it.
This is a “workhorse” of knitting. The cheap stuff you can get at walmart is often in this gauge. NOT to say anything in this gauge is cheap. Almost anything can be made out of this gauge, as long as you don’t want a real thin fabric. It’s thick for socks, and not so great for lace. Great for scarves and hats that are still warm but not puffy. Knucks and mittens are often made with this weight. Sweaters are VERY often made with this weight.
I think of this as the “cross” yarn. It makes a thinner fabric than worsted, but isn’t in the fine “more yardage and longer knit time” category. A little better for texture than worsted. If you can’t figure out what else to get, this is a good default. Some lighter sweaters are made with this weight.
A good weight for fine work where you still want some heft. A lot of color work, cables, and some lacey shawls are done in this size. Lighter scarves, heavier socks, things like that are made with this yarn. Fine sweaters are made with this weight, but they often take long enough to deter knitters.
A little lighter than sport, socks are made mostly with this weight (surprised?). A lot of more lacey shawls and wraps. (Note: If you want to google this, use “Fingering Yarn” or you may regret it)
Laceweight (joked about as “frog hair”) is used… for lace! Shock and amazement, I know.
Note: There are some few knitters who prefer one weight to another on principle.
“So, what fiber do you want it made out of?”
There are a lot of fibers out there. Not all fibers were created equal, and this is good. Just among sheep there are dozens of varieties. And that’s before you add in alpaca, and silk… and bamboo, tencel, soy, seasilk, etc. It can be vastly overwhelming, even for a fiber person.
So, what do you need to know? Well, the first thing to know is if they’re allergic to anything. If touching wool makes them break out in hives, well, then you don’t want to buy them wool.
After that… what are they going to be making? Different fibers have very different properties. Is it going to be next to the skin? Outerwear? Is it going to take heavy use?
Here’s a full list of the fibers I’ve had on my shop. A lot of common and uncommon sheep breeds especially. Don’t be intimidated, just read along. I’ve tried to include descriptions of all the basic qualities and most common functions.
Merino is probably the best known sheep breed. Considered the standard of soft wool. Not very durable, however. It’s not, practically, the best fiber for every purpose but it’s one any knitter/crocheter/weaver will recognize.
Alpaca – Very soft and silky, but not bouncy. Not much memory, very “flat” drape.
Silk – Mmmm sleek and soft. Largely used pure in finer yarns. Stronger than most of the soft fibers.
Cashmere – From adorable goats. VERY very soft. But not durable at all.
Nylon – A synthetic polymer, added to yarns and fiber to increase their durability and wear.
There are many others, but those are the basics I work with. I’ll continue expand the full list as I use/include more fibers. If you have questions about these or others, please feel free to drop me a note at dan at gnomespunyarn.com
The next thing I’ll ask you about is ply.
“Ply” means the number of threads that make up the yarn. There’s technically no limit, but beyond a certain point it’s hard to get more plies without making a rope.
Ply is fairly simple. The more plies there are in a yarn, the rounder it will be. The more plies the more proportionally strong and durable it will be.
What this means for you, buying a yarn…
You *can* make anything with any ply of yarn. However, if you’re doing more complex color work, or cables, you tend to want good “stitch definition” which means your stitches are all very regular in shape. The way to get that, is to have a round yarn, so more plies.
3-ply is sufficient for most things. If you don’t care about stitch definition, then 2-ply is often good (and cheaper) if it’s not a super high wear sort of item. Hats, scarves, etc. are often good in 2-ply. Lace is largely done in 2-ply because the look of lace is created by the play of yarn and space.
Mostly, you don’t make gloves and socks out of 1 or 2 ply, though some people do (to those of you complaining about the term 1-ply, it’s easier for the explanation, so hush).
I know this seems obvious, but it isn’t, necessarily. You need to know how much yarn you need. And how much DO you need? Well, what do you want them to be able to make?
Also, do they crochet, or knit? Crochet takes an average of 1/3rd more yarn than knitting. So it’s important.
Here’s a few suggestions, numbers in knitting, crochet numbers in parens. These are for adult sizes, kids are smaller. The sweater measurement is for worsted weight, as you use smaller yarn, you’ll need more.
Scarf: 300-500 (400-800) yds (variable according to yarn and scarf)
Socks: 400 (540) yds
Hat: 150-200 (200-270) yds
Mittens: 150-200 (200-270) yds
Sweater: 2000-2500 (2700-3300) yds
Final note. I estimate large. If I were you, I’d get a little more than a large estimation unless you *know* it’s not going to take extra. Scarves can be made shorter or thinner to use less yarn. You can’t not knit the end of a mitten.
Also remember, as part of that, that most of the yarns I make are one time deals. Even if I make more, the chance of it matching perfectly in color and size is almost nil. So get enough the first go-round.
And that’s what you need to know. Besides color, of course, I can talk to you about what colors/patterns are possible/coordinating if you want, but I think I’ll pass on writing a full color/design entry for now.