Types of Yarn

Last year, I sent myself down the rabbit hole of learning to knit and crochet. Knitting isn’t rocket science but it sure can be quite confusing. It’s a entire world I knew nothing about. But determined to figure it out, I’ve enjoyed the process. 

Working at the Art of Yarn in Kelowna for close to a year also helped me pick up some great tips.

Of course, Martha Stewart has a great explanation for those wanting to know the basics and types of yarn. And my blog post Help with Patterns has a list of great stitch directories and resources. Plus my blog post Help with Math has a list of knitting calculators to help you along the way.

But the best advice, I can give you from my time at the yarn shop are these 10 principles…


Like fabric, a lot of yarns are blended fibres. Knowing the fibre content will help you figure out if it is the best yarn for your project.

a) Wool, merino, cashmere, angora – all require hand wash lie flat to dry. Merino is softer than wool.

b) Superwash, acrylic or nylon – any yarn blended with these can usually be machine-washed. “Superwash” is a coating that allows yarn to become machine-washable.

c) Alpaca – super warm but often people find it a bit itchy

d) Cotton – has little stretch to it so can easily slide off your needles. This maybe frustrating for beginners. But is a cooler option, as is linen, and is often made into summer tshirts.

e) dummies.com has a great list of the different kinds of yarn available


They pack so much information onto the tiny print of yarn labels. That is the best place to start to figure out what yarn to choose for a project. The labels give fibre content and care instructions, as well, as yarn weight, needle size and how much yarn is in one skein or ball.

You can find the following weight information on every ball of yarn. All the above types of yarn come in the following weights.



It is super important to swatch out a small sample of knitting before you begin your project. You need to make sure the gauge that you are knitting matches the gauge in the pattern.

This is the biggest reason why projects don’t turn out as expected. Like handwriting, your knitting is personal to you. Beginner knitters tend to knit tight with tension. This could change the gauge just like a loose knitter.

If your gauge is off to what the pattern calls for, change your needle size until the gauge matches. If you follow the pattern exactly without matching the gauge recommendation, your sizing could be off regardless if you follow the instructions to a “T”.

This great video by Creativebug explains gauge brilliantly.


Knitting patterns are often written for specific yarn by the yarn company to sell their particular yarn. Unfortunately, these yarns, a lot of times, can be discontinued while the patterns live on.

The best way to determine what yarn to use for any pattern is to visit Ravelry.com and search for the yarn mentioned in the pattern. Even if this yarn has been discontinued, this fantastic directory will give you details about that particular yarn.

If you can figure out the fibre content and the weight of the discontinued yarn, you will be able to find a similar product currently on the market.


Yarn is often sold in skeins, which is loosely twisted yarn. This needs to be turned into a ball, so that the yarn doesn’t tangle when you work with it. The skeins are put onto a swift (basically an umbrella like turning apparatus that spreads out the skein) and then thread onto a ball winder. This turns the skein into a cake (or a ball), which is more manageable.


Typically, if you are planning to make a sweater or a blanket, you are going to need approx. 7-9 balls of yarn depending on size. A cowl or scarf can often be made with 1 ball depending on complexity of pattern. A shawl requires approx. 2 balls.

It is best to pick your pattern 1st before heading to the yarn shop, so you know exactly what you are shopping for. It is more difficult to pick a pattern after you have purchased yarn.


Be sure to check the dye lots of multiple balls of the same yarn. It may look like the same color but the dye runs may be slightly different from one to the next. This will be visible for straight knitting.

However, if you are stuck with an odd dye lot number on one of your balls of yarn, you can use that particular ball for the sleeves, cuffs or neck without it being too noticeable.


There is no shame in ripping out knitting. All knitters, start and re-start projects because their gauge is off or the pattern is complicated and confusing to implement. This is all part of the process.


Knitting requires a bit more dexterity to mange 2 slippery needles. If you find knitting frustrating, crocheting seems to be a bit easier to pick up.


Traditionally, the fibre arts have been passed down generation to generation. The knitting community is very open and helpful. They want to see other knitters succeed in their projects. They love to trade tips like baseball cards. Be sure to connect with a knitting group to learn from their experience.