How to Select Knitting Yarn
The only thing more fun than finishing the last stitch of a project is choosing the yarn you'll use for the next one. There is a huge selection of yarns and colors available, and choosing one can be the most difficult part of your project. Arm yourself with the following information, and you'll be sure to choose yarn that you love and is perfect for your project.
Once you find a pattern you like, read the materials list carefully. It tells you everything you need to know about the yarn you'll be using. Most patterns specify the exact brand and color used, which makes shopping much easier. Check with your local yarn shop to see if they carry that yarn, and in what colors. If they don't, they should be able to suggest an alternative. Or search for the yarn at one of the many online shops.
When substituting yarn, always choose a yarn from within the same weight category, that is a similar fiber, and has a similar gauge. Once you know these three things, you can consider other brands of yarn to substitute.
The pattern tells you what weight of yarn to use. Yarn weight falls into several categories. The basic five are: fingering, sport, DK, worsted, and bulky. Fingering, or baby, weight yarn is very fine. It's often used for socks, lacework, and baby clothes. Sport weight yarn is heavier than fingering weight and can be used for almost anything, including afghans, baby items, crafts, and sweaters.
DK weight stands for double knit and is thicker than sport weight. It is primarily a European yarn weight, though several American companies are now importing it under their own company name. Worsted weight is the most commonly used yarn. It's used for sweaters, afghans, pillows, and many other items. It works up quickly and is a good weight for new knitters. Bulky, or chunky, weight yarn is used for rugs, coats, and heavy sweaters. It is thick and heavy and works up very quickly on extra-large needles.
From top to bottom: fingering, or baby, weight yarn; sport weight yarn;
DK weight yarn; worsted weight yarn; bulky, or chunky, weight yarn.
Cotton yarns are very popular because they make a cool and comfortable product. Cotton is usually labeled as hand-wash only. Blends are any imaginable combination of fibers, including natural and synthetic. While most knitters prefer natural fibers, synthetics have their advantages. They are often inexpensive, readily available, offer a wide color selection, and are easy to care for.
Choose a yarn that's right for your pattern and based on your personal taste. A good tip is to buy one ball or skein (called the ball from here on) of the yarn you want to use before starting the project. Knit up a large swatch in the stitch pattern, and wash or dry-clean it in the same manner you'll use for your finished project. You'll learn several things from this experiment: your gauge, if you like working with the yarn, if the yarn shrinks or stretches after cleaning, and, most important, if the dye runs.
The next question is "How much yarn do I buy?" That information is found in the pattern materials list and on the yarn label. If you buy the brand the pattern calls for, simply check to see how many balls are needed for the size you're making.
When substituting yarns, first determine if the new yarn ball has the same number of yards or meters as the pattern yarn. Check the yarn label to see how many yards or meters the ball contains, and divide this number into the total yardage needed to determine how many balls you need. Round this number up to the nearest ball to make sure you'll have enough yarn.
Before purchasing, check the dye lot number on every ball of yarn you've selected. Yarn is dyed in huge lots, or batches. When distributed to retail stores, dye lots are often mixed together. You may not be able to see any difference when comparing two different dye lots in the store, but after completing a project, you'll realize just how "off" two balls of "Off-White" can be. The probability of buying or finding matching dye lots months later is unlikely. Check each dye lot number, and buy all the yarn you'll need before you start your project. You'll be very glad you did.
Now that you have your yarn and needles, you're ready to get started! Learn all about casting on stitches in the next section.
It's likely you'll eventually want to add the following tools to your knitting bag.