Yarn buying guide

With so many beautiful yarns to choose from, selecting the right one can be overwhelming. If you're looking for advice from our LoveCrochet experts and some top designers to get you started, you're in the right place.


First things first: choosing the right yarn

Crochet is a wonderful craft for beginners and first-time crafters. All you need to get going is a crochet hook, some yarn, and some basic instructions. The wide availability and variety of affordable and high-quality modern yarns means that from these simple beginnings, crochet is one of the most accessible and exciting yarn crafts.

Modern yarn production techniques provide every imaginable colour and texture. It may be this dazzling array of choice that draws new crocheters to pick up a hook and yarn in the first place. But finding the right yarn for a project is not always simple, and there are a few things to consider before spending money on potentially costly materials, particularly if you don’t have a specific project or pattern in mind. For example, a soft and super chunky yarn would be ideal for making simple and stylish winter accessories, but it would not be necessarily suitable for patterns involving highly detailed lace stitches.


A brief note on yarn substitution

Sometimes you may not wish to use the recommended yarn for a pattern or project, or it may be unavailable - for example, it may have been discontinued, or you might want to make your project in a different weight or fibre. Occasionally patterns will make alternative yarn suggestions, but you can also find plenty of tips and advice in the Blog section of the LoveKnitting website here.

The simplest approach is to pick an alternative that is the same weight and feel, so that the new yarn behaves in a way that is likely to work well with the original pattern and give you the best chance of completing your project successfully.


Fibers, natural and synthetic

Textile fibres can be manufactured from an astonishing range of natural and synthetic source materials. Natural sources range from the most familiar, such as wool, to unlikely materials such as metal or seaweed extract.

Many yarns are made from a mix of fibres, combining the advantages of each fibre into one product. Sock yarn, for example, is often a mix of wool and nylon. The wool is soft, breathable, and warm, while the nylon adds durability.


Animal fibers

Wool

Sheep’s wool is probably the most familiar, versatile and widely available animal fibre. It is warm and breathable, and it has thermoregulating and absorption properties, as well as being naturally fire retardant. It comes in a wide range of types and textures, and the right wool can be found to suit almost any crochet project.

Some of the most commonly available wool types are:

Merino: Merino is valued for its smoothness and luxurious softness, and well established large-scale production in Australia, New Zealand and Italy makes it affordable for both luxury crafting projects and commercial garment production.

Blue-Faced Leicester: The Bluefaced Leicester sheep is a unique British breed, producing fine lustrous wool for making fabrics with a satiny finish and plenty of drape.

Peruvian Highland: Peruvian Highland fleece makes durable yarn that absorbs dye particularly well. It is especially valued for felting, and for gorgeous garments and accessories, such as bags and slippers.


Other animal fibers

Alpaca

Similar to the llama, the alpaca is related to the camel, and produces very smooth fibre. Alpaca wool was highly valued by the Incan people, and reserved for making textiles exclusively for royalty. Many people are lanolin sensitive, or simply find most wool too scratchy. Alpaca is lanolin free and hypoallergenic, so it is suitable for even the most sensitive skin. Baby alpaca is an even softer yarn, taken from the first shearing of the alpaca cria (baby).

Mohair

Mohair is a luxury product, made from the coat of the Angora goat. It is a glossy, silky fibre, notable for its distinctive fuzzy halo. It has superb dye absorption properties, and is therefore available in a wide range of spectacular and vivid colours, or in elegant softly blended ombrés.

Yak

Soft yak hair is very similar to cashmere. With a downy, velvety feel, it is often blended with other fibres to add a touch of sumptuous luxury.

Silk

Produced from the cocoon of the silkworm, silk truly is the ultimate luxury fibre. For ambitious crafters and crocheters making those precious heirloom projects, silk is smooth and delicate to the touch, but also surprisingly strong and hardwearing. It is often mixed with other fibres such as wool, alpaca or cotton to bring its drape and sheen to a yarn blend.

Plant fibers

Cotton

Produced all over the world, cotton is a strong, non-stretch, breathable fibre, it is used to make light, smooth fabrics for cool, airy summer garments, and is perfect for amigurumi and homeware.

Linen

The fibrous flax plant is processed to make linen. Like cotton, linen lacks elasticity, but is very cool, crisp, and hardwearing. It is great for casual summer wear, and has a wonderful quality of softening and relaxing with repeated washing.

Bamboo

Similar to cotton in its cool feel, crocheted bamboo fabric is soft and light. It is gentle even on very delicate skin, is easy to wash, and has anti-bacterial qualities, making it particularly suitable for babywear.

Hemp

Increasingly popular, hemp is similar to linen. Firm, durable, non-elastic and smooth, it also dyes very well and can be found in many mixed fibre blends.

Paper

Paper has a long tradition in Japan as a textile fibre, as well as for many other craft applications. Rolling, twisting, and folding techniques are used to create unusual and innovative yarns that you can use for homeware and storage projects.

Synthetic fibers

Acrylic

Often processed to mimic natural fibres, acrylic yarn has many benefits: it’s a wearable solution for anyone with allergies, it is very hard-wearing; it’s economical to produce, easy to care for and highly versatile. It is often combined with other fibres to stabilise a blend, for example with wool or cotton.

Nylon

Nylon combines resilience and elasticity. This adds durability to yarns and garments such as socks or fitted gloves, that need to sustain and recover from lots of stretching and daily wear.

Polyester

Widely used, polyester fibre has very useful stain-resistant and anti-wrinkle qualities. In yarn, polyester also adds structural stability.

Fashion yarns

Fashion yarns are mainly used to make fun, on-trend accessories, or to add interest and variety with contrasting textures or bold splashes of colour. They are usually a blend of different fibres in multiple and endlessly variable combinations. They can be made from other fabrics such as sari silks, or synthetic fleece, or include things such as metallic thread, ribbon or faux fur.

Sensitive skin and allergies

Some people find wool or other animal fibres unpleasant to wear, despite sophisticated modern processing methods. All animal hair is made up of multiple tiny overlapping scales, which may seem scratchy to those with very sensitive skin, and a lanolin allergy can make it impossible for some people to wear wool. There are plenty of alternatives. Alpaca, llama and camel fibres are lanolin-free, as are plant fibres, synthetics and silk.



What yarn is best for crocheting blankets?

Blankets are extremely popular crochet projects, and for good reason! They're long term crochet projects that will be appreciated and will hopefully become heirlooms, passed down through the generations. Baby blankets are a great place to start, as they're a quicker project that a full size blanket, and the soft yarns made especially for babies is lovely to crochet with. Some of our favourite baby blanket crochet yarns are: Paintbox Yarns Baby DK, Lion Brand Baby Soft Prints, Bernat Baby Blanket Big Ball, and Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. For regular size blankets, you don't need to worry about baby's soft skin, so we recommend something soft and warm for adults like a merino wool, or Lion Brand Wool Easy Chunky for a fast blanket!

Designer insight

We love your tutorial makes on the LoveCrochet blog! Do you have favourite yarns for crochet?

“I love to experiment with all kind of yarn but in my experience there are one or two fibres that work particularly well with crochet stitches. Cotton gives great stitch definition and is relatively inexpensive, and can also be found in a huge variety of colours. My personal favourite cotton is Rico Essentials Cotton Aran, which is great value and has some wonderful colours."

"Another great fibre for crochet is acrylic. Again, cheap to buy and in fabulous colours it’s another option for those opposed to using animal fibres such as wool or alpaca. Crochet uses approximately 30 per cent more yardage than knitting, so it’s certainly better value to use acrylic yarns on large pieces such as blankets, and in my view you can’t got wrong with the Paintbox yarns ‘Simply’ acrylic range. I selected ten of my favourites from the 60-strong colour palette for my Sundown colour pack which is a bargain and perfect for crochet blankets!”

-- Kath Webber

Yarn weights

Yarn weight refers to the size of the strand, and this will place any particular yarn into one of eight categories. This helps to guide the crocheter to select the right yarn for a project, and the right size of hook to make the correct sized stitches.

Yarn weight conversions

Different countries use differing terms to refer to a particular yarn weight. This can make matching pattern recommendations challenging, but the chart below gives the most common equivalent terms, and recommended hook sizes for achieving the standard gauge with each yarn weight.

This conversion table gives an overall guide to yarn weights and hook sizes.

Yarn categories, gauge ranges, and recommended hook sizes

Yarn weights0 LACE1 SUPER FINE2 FINE3 LIGHT4 MEDIUM5 BULKY6 SUPER BULKY7 JUMBO
Yarn types in categoryFingering, Crochet thread or 10 countSock, Fingering or BabySport or BabyDK or Light worstedWorsted, Afghan or AranChunky, Craft or RugBulky or RovingJumbo or Roving
Gauge ranges in single crochet to 4”32-42 double crochets *21-32 stitches16-20 stitches12-17 stitches11-14 stitches8-11 stitches7-9 stitches6 stitches or fewer
Recommended hook in metric size rangeSteel** 1.6 -1.4 mm Regular Hook 2.25mm2.25–3.25 mm3.5-4.5 mm4.5-5.5 mm5.5-6.5 mm6.5-9 mm9-15 mm15 mm and larger
Recommended hook in US size rangeSteel** 6,7,8 Regular hook B-1B-1 to E-4E-4 to 77 to I-9I-9 to K-10.5K-10.5 to M-13M013 to QQ and larger
Recommended hook in old UK size range1412 to 99 to 77 to 55 to 33 to 2n/an/a

International yarn weight conversions

US weight Equivalent UK and Australian terms
Thread Thread
Cobweb Cobweb / 1 Ply
Lace Lace / 2 Ply
Light fingering 3 Ply
Fingering / Sock Fingering / Sock / 4 Ply
Sport Sport / 5 Ply
DK / Light Worsted DK / 8 Ply
Worsted Aran / Worsted / 10 Ply
Bulky Chunky / 12 Ply
Super Bulky Super Chunky / 14 Ply

*Lace weight thread or yarn is often worked on larger hook sizes, to create very light and open lacework. This makes it difficult to determine a standard gauge. Always refer to the pattern first.

A word about ply

Yarn is produced by spinning short fibres together into long strands, which is twisted into a thread called a ply. Many yarns are made from two or more strands, which are also twisted, or plied, together.

In the UK we do not gauge the weight of a yarn by the number of plies it contains. A four-ply yarn may sound heavier than a single ply, but this may not be the case. A single thread of loosely spun roving can fall into the chunky yarn weight category, and most four-ply yarn is finer and therefore falls into a lighter weight category.

Always follow your pattern instructions to ensure you purchase the correct type and weight of yarn for your project.

How to read the ball band

Commercial patterns will specify a particular yarn and how much yarn you need. When purchasing yarn, you will find lots of information about the yarn on the ball band, including how much is in each ball or skein.

Yardage / Meterage: How long the yarn is in yards or metres.

Fiber content: The fibre the yarn is composed of, or the percentage of each different fibre in a blend.

Dye lot: All yarns are dyed in batches called lots, and each lot is assigned a number, to ensure you can purchase a perfect colour match from the same dye lot.

Tension or Gauge and hook sizes : This is a recommendation for achieving a standardised gauge when working with the yarn. This may not match the hook size or gauge required for your pattern or project. Not all ball bands carry crochet gauge and hook information. Don’t panic, just stick to your pattern instructions.

Tension or gauge as well as hook or needle size: This may not be the same as the tension or hook required by your pattern, so it should be used for guidance only.

If the ball of yarn does not supply specific advice for crochet, just stick to the instructions in your pattern.

Dye lots and colors

How to choose colors

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when selecting the right colour for a project. Handcrafted items take a lot of time and effort to produce, not to mention the expense of good-quality yarns. The right colour can mean the difference between a lovingly made item being worn or used again and again, or tucked quietly away in a sock drawer forever.

Colour preferences are very personal choices: if you are making something for yourself, choose a colour you love or that works well with your wardrobe. If you are making a gift for others, take a little time to observe the colours they pick for themselves. If you’re making homeware, particularly a sizeable project like a blanket, remember to think carefully about colour schemes before you start!

If you are particularly interested in working with colour, the LoveKnitting blog has a wide range of articles and advice on colour theory, how to pick shades, choosing tones that work with any skin tone, and learning how to put a colour scheme together.

Dye lots explained

Dying is a complex process, subject to many variables that are hard to control. This means that different dye cycles of the same colour might have very slight variations. Because of this, yarns and fibres are dyed in batches or lots, and each lot is given a unique reference number, which is printed on the ball band. Lot numbering means customers can make exact colour matches by purchasing yarn from the same dye lot.

Hand dying

There are many small artisan yarn producers, and often their yarns are hand-dyed. This may mean they are dyed in very small lots, or even hand-painted skein by skein, and are therefore totally unique in colour and character. This type of yarn can be a great choice for small but special one-off projects.

Space dying

Space-dyed yarn is sometimes dip-dyed, or it can be hand-painted. It has two or more contrasting colours that repeat along its length, and is designed for working into a fabric with a stripe or collage effect.

Self patterning, self striping and ombré prints

Sophisticated yarn manufacturing technology produces yarns that create a range of regular and recognisable patterns as they are knitted or crocheted into a fabric.

Self-patterning yarn mimics advanced colourwork, and self-striping yarn creates contrasting bands of colour, allowing the maker to avoid the fiddly task of changing the yarn and creating lots of ends that need tidying up later.

Some colour-change yarn is designed to produce more subtle, blended ombré effects, with soft gradations of tone from dark to light, or gently blended zones between contrasting colours.

HOT TIP: Self-patterning yarns are often designed for particular items such as socks. The colour changes in a self-striping sock yarn are carefully calculated to create stripes when they are used with a fairly standard-size sock pattern. This means that the yarn may not produce regular stripes when applied to making different items such as blankets or full-sized sweaters.

Self-patterned yarns can also be prone to pooling, where the colour-changes end up making unintended ‘pools’ of colour. This can be avoided by using two skeins of the same yarn and alternating from each skein every two or three rows. Yet it is worth remembering that this pooling effect is the same process that allows self-patterning yarns to work their magic, and some clever designers work with this principle to create highly sophisticated and beautiful pattern effects.

Designer insight

We love the way you are taking a very traditional craft and making it super modern! Your colour combinations are so insightful - what inspires you?

"I find colour inspiration in all sorts of places. I'm lucky to live at the foot of the South Downs, and regularly go out for walks into the countryside or along to the beach where I find all sorts of incredibly inspiring combinations; my favourite pink, white and green from spring blossoms, to the deep purple and mustard of a lobster shell. I also love the colours that the landscape makes, with greys and slates from the sea by the cliffs on a cloudy day, or the ombré of hot oranges and pinks against black inspired by sunset behind the trees. I have to confess though, that anything can catch my eye: sprinkles on a doughnut, tiling on a car park, wallpaper in a magazine, someone else's jumper, you name it! Then the key is to dig out your colours and play with your yarn until you get the balance right."

-- Emma Friedlander-Collins

Ball shapes and what they mean

Yarn packaging can vary. Here is a brief overview of the way yarn is most commonly supplied.

Skeins and hanks: A skein of yarn in the UK refers to yarn that is supplied as a loop, neatly and firmly twisted on itself to make a secure unit that is easy to handle and package. Many artisan and luxury yarns are supplied in this way. Skeins need to be wound into a ball before use. Skeins are sometimes referred to has hanks, especially in the US.

Another type of skein is the familiar oblong shape, more generally known in the UK as a ball.

Ball: A ball of yarn, in the UK can be doughnut shaped, or oval shaped. Yarn is usually fed from the outside of a round ball, just like balls wound by hand at home, and sometimes balls are wound with centre-pull ends.

From left to right, a hank, a skein, and a ball.

How much yarn

If you are using a pattern, it should tell you how much yarn to buy. Usually this is stated as a number of balls or skeins, and how much in grams or ounces each ball should weigh as well as the amount of yarn as a length in yards or metres. Most ball bands state the length per ball, allowing you to calculate how many balls are required.

Converting weight and length

Occasionally, the information on a ball band does not match the pattern requirements, particularly if you are making a yarn substitution. It can be useful to convert equivalent weights and measures using a simple formula. The small chart below will help you to make accurate calculations.

Imperial / Metric Conversions
1 oz = g x 0.0352
1 g = oz x 28.35
1 in = cm x 0.3937
1 cm = in x 2.54
1 yd = m x 0.9144
1 m = yd x 1.0936

Care instructions and washing

Washing

Hand-crochet garments are generally not quite as resilient to repeated washing or cleaning as commercially-produced items. They have a greater tendency to stretch, shrink, or be pulled out of shape, particularly when machine washed, but this is entirely dependent on the yarn used. Items made from pure wool can also become felted if they are not treated with care. It pays to select the best washing method to ensure the long life of your carefully crafted pieces.

Ball bands always carry washing advice and information, and it is helpful to keep one from each project for later reference.

Hand-washing is often best if an item is particularly delicate or precious, or simply not suitable for the extreme agitation, heat, and stronger detergents that are commonly used in machine washing.

Do not be tempted to machine-wash any hand-crocheted pieces if you have any doubts about the process. The risk of ruining all that careful handiwork is too great, and you could end up shrinking or felting something beyond recognition.

There are specialist washing detergents for delicate yarns, such as Eucalan and Soak.

While taking on board these warnings, many yarns are actually designed to be machine-washable, for easy care. The list below is an overview of the most common washing instruction symbols.

Washing symbols: How to read them

Symbols What they mean
The washtub symbol indicates if your garment is suitable for washing. The recommended washing temperature is shown by the number inside the washtub. The amount of agitation is specified by bars underneath.
A washtub with no bar will use the maximum action with a normal spin. The number in the tub is the maximum temperature, for example 105F.
A washtub with a single bar (one bar) indicates a mild washing process. The machine will wash with a medium machine action and mild spin. The number in the tub is the maximum temperature, for example 105F.
A washtub with double bars (two bars) indicates a very mild washing process and spin. The number in the tub is the maximum temperature, for example 105F.
Hand-wash only as your clothes are too delicate to machine wash. The temperature is to be a maximum of 105F.
Do not wash.
Do not use bleach.
Only oxygen/non-chlorine bleach allowed.
Any bleaching agent allowed.
A box with a circle inside represents tumble-drying.
Tumble dry possible at normal temperature.
Tumble dry possible at low heat.
Do not tumble dry.
Dry flat.
Drip dry.
Dry hanging.
Hot iron. Maximum temperature 390F.
Warm iron. Maximum temperature 300F.
Cool iron. Maximum temperature 230°F.
Do not iron.
The garment may be professionally dry cleaned. The P represents perchloroethylene solvent.
The garment may be professionally dry cleaned. The P represents perchloroethylene solvent. The single bar indicates a milder process.
The garment may be professionally dry-cleaned. The F represents hydrocarbon solvents, which are part of a more environmentally-friendly and mild process.
The garment may be professionally dry-cleaned. The F represents hydrocarbon solvents, which are part of a more environmentally-friendly and mild process. The single bar indicates a milder process.
Do not dry clean.

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