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How to Knit

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.

Fingering, or baby, weight yarn; sport weight yarn; DK weight yarn; worsted weight yarn; bulky, or chunky, weight yarn.
From top to bottom: fingering, or baby, weight yarn; sport weight yarn;
DK weight yarn; worsted weight yarn; bulky, or chunky, weight yarn.

Within each of these categories are all sorts of yarn made from many different fibers. The fiber most often associated with knitting is wool. Wool is a beautiful, durable yarn that is a pleasure to work with and holds its shape well. Check the fabric care symbols on the label carefully -- many wools aren't machine washable. Before you choose wool, make sure you're willing to care for it properly.

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.

Handy Knitting Accessories

It's li­kely you'll eventually want to add the following tools to your knitting bag.

  • ­Bobbins:Bobbins are usually made of plastic and hold small amounts of yarn cut from the main ball. Knitters use bobbins for working intarsia knitting (patterns with a lot of color changes). The yarn is wrapped around the bobbin and then pulled through one end and joined to the knitting at the appropriate place.

  • Cable needles: These short needles are used when crossing cable stitches. There are three basic types: a short, straight double-pointed needle; a double-pointed needle with a dip in the center (to hold the stitches); and a U-shaped needle with one leg longer than the other. The style you choose is a matter of preference.

    Cable needles are available in different diameters. Choose one slightly smaller than your project needles. You only need one cable needle for a specific project because it is used only once for each cable twist.

  • Crochet hooks: These hooks have many uses: picking up stitches, rethreading dropped stitches, closing seams, or working crocheted edgings around knitted pieces. Some cast-on methods use a crochet hook.

  • Needle-size gauge: This tool features a window that allows you to measure stitch and row gauge at the same time. Some styles also have holes with which to measure basic needle sizes.

  • Stitch holder: A stitch holder holds stitches off the needle until you need them. There are several types available, including one that works like a safety pin. Many knitters use a length of smooth cotton yarn and thread it through the stitches, tying the ends into an overhand knot to prevent the stitches from slipping off.

  • Stitch markers: These little tools help mark pattern sections, increases or decreases, or the beginning of a round in circular knitting. Markers are slipped onto your needle or are attached to the work through a stitch. When casting on many stitches, place a marker after every 20th stitch, and speedily count across the row in sections of 20 stitches. To hold your place in a pattern, slip the marker from left to right needle on every row. Markers come in assorted sizes; use the size closest to your needle size. Using one that is too large may stretch and distort your stitches.

  • Little extras: Other useful things to keep in your bag are knitter's coilless pins, safety pins, a small notebook and pen or pencil, rustproof T-pins for blocking, sticky notes for marking your place in patterns or taking notes, an emery board to smooth a rough edge on a needle, and a travel pack of tissues.

    Knitting Accessories
    Clockwise, from upper left: cable needles, stitch markers,
    stitch hooks,
    crochet hooks, needle-size gauge, bobbins.

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