Need to choose yarn for a project? How do you know if your yarn is the right thickness? Use the Standard Yarn Weight System to find out!
If you’ve ever been yarn shopping, you know that there are loads of different types of yarn out there. There are so many different colors, textures, and fibers that if you don’t know what to look for, it may be a bit overwhelming to choose just one yarn for your project.
But there’s another thing to consider before you decide which yarn to use: thickness.
The thickness of a yarn can have a huge effect on how your project turns out. If you’re following a pattern, using yarn that is the correct thickness is very important.
Too thick, and your stitches will be too large, making the project come out bigger than you wanted. If it’s too thin, your stitches will be too small, and your project won’t be big enough. Getting a yarn that is the wrong thickness can throw off your gauge and ruin your project. (See this post for more info on Knitting & Crochet Gauge.)
So, how do you compare the thickness of a yarn? How do you know if the yarn you want to use is the right size for your project?
This is where the Standard Yarn Weight System comes in.
Yarn weight does not refer to how much the skein of yarn weighs in ounces or grams. The “weight” of a yarn actually refers to the thickness of the yarn. The Craft Yarn Council has designated 8 different yarn weight categories. These categories help us know how thick a yarn is, and whether it will be suitable for use with the pattern we want to follow.
We can know what weight category a yarn falls into by checking the yarn label. Yarn labels are required to list the weight category of the yarn, as well as the fiber content and the amount of yarn in the skein.
Some manufacturers use the symbols provided by the Craft Yarn Council, which show a little picture of a skein of yarn with a number on it. The number and the category name below the symbol tell us what weight the yarn is.
However, some manufacturers only give the name of the yarn weight without the category number. That might not seem like a big deal, but sometimes, the weight categories are called by different names. This is why it’s important to know the other names used to denote yarn weight, so you’ll know which category a yarn falls into, even if the number symbol is not given.
The photo below shows examples of 7 out of the 8 weight categories. Notice how the yarn gradually gets thicker as the category number goes up.
Source of Yarn Weight Symbols: Craft Yarn Council’s www.YarnStandards.com
The #0 category is for the thinnest of yarns. Lace weight yarns are made for making knitted or crocheted lace, which is often done on larger needles or hooks for an open, lacy look. Size 10 crochet thread also falls into the Lace weight category.
This category is one of my favorites! #1 Superfine yarns include sock yarns and fingering yarns, and make a lightweight fabric. These yarns are great for socks, shawls, scarves, clothing, and just about any project where you want a light, drape-y fabric.
The #2 yarns are often labeled as Sport Weight. These yarns are a bit thicker than Superfine / Fingering yarns, but still create a lightweight fabric. Many baby yarns are sport weight.
The yarns in the #3 category also tend to be rather lightweight. These yarns may be labeled as DK weight or Light Worsted, but both terms refer to yarns of the same thickness.
Use #3 Light yarn for these free patterns:
Now we’re starting to get into the medium weight and heavier weight yarns. #4 yarns are very common in stores, and I think they are probably the most popular. Worsted weight and Aran yarns fall into the #4 Medium category, but some Aran yarns tend to be slightly thicker than Worsted.
Use #4 Medium yarn for these free patterns:
Bulky yarns are great for when you want to make a thick, squishy project in a short time. #5 yarns may also be labeled as Chunky, Craft, or Rug yarns.
#6 Super Bulky
These yarns make any project work up quickly. They are very thick, so you’ll need some pretty large hooks or needles to work with them!
Use #6 Super Bulky yarn for these free patterns:
The Jumbo category is relatively new. These yarns are so thick, you knit or crochet them using your hands and arms instead of hooks and needles! I have not tried working with Jumbo yarn yet, but if I do, I’ll be sure to post a photo. 🙂
The Craft Yarn Council has a page on their site with a chart (here), showing the recommended hook and needle sizes to use with each yarn weight, as well as the recommended gauge.
The Length to Skein Size Ratio
Although the weight categories give a guidelines for yarn thickness, there is still some variation in thickness, even among the same category. For example, two yarns may both be labeled as #4 Medium, but one may be slightly thicker than the other.
In most cases, as long as the yarn you want to use is in the same category as the yarn used in the pattern, it should be okay to substitute. However, if you want to be even more precise with your yarn substitution, you can look at the ratio of yarn length to skein size.
Comparing the Length to Skein Size Ratio Between Yarns
For example, let’s say I’m following a pattern that calls for #3 DK weight yarn. If the yarn my pattern calls for has 127 yards in a 50 gram skein, and the yarn I want to use has 123 yards in a 50 gram skein, those two yarns will be very similar in thickness. However, if the yarn I want to use only has 105 yards in a 50 gram skein, even if it is still #3 DK weight, that yarn will be slightly thicker than the yarn called for in the pattern.
If the yarns you are looking at do not come in the same size skeins, say, if one comes in 50 gram skeins and the other comes in 100 gram skeins, you can just divide the numbers on the 100 gram skein in half to know how much yardage would be in 50 grams. Or, if you prefer ounces, you can divide the number of yards in the skein by the number of ounces to find the number of yards per ounce for each skein.
Again, it is generally fine to just pick a yarn that falls into the same weight category as the yarn called for in your pattern. The length to skein size ratio is just a way of making an even more precise yarn choice.
Standard Yarn Weights in Other Countries
The Standard Yarn Weight System is mainly used in North America. However, the UK, Europe, and Australia use a different classification method for labeling yarn by its thickness. If you’re yarn shopping in another country, you’ll want to check into the yarn weight system that is used there. Here’s a conversion chart comparing Standard Yarn Weight to the other terms used around the world.
So when you want to follow a pattern, and you go to buy yarn for the project, make sure the yarn you’re getting is in the same weight category as the yarn used in the pattern. Along with checking your gauge, this will help make sure your project comes out the right size!