Yarn buying guide

Published on August 22, 2019 11 min read

Can you tell a merino from an acrylic? Know the difference between a 4 ply and sport? Space dying what-now? With so many beautiful and varied yarns on the market it can be challenging choosing the perfect skein or ball for your beginner knitting or first crochet project. Don’t worry, our yarn buying guide is here to help! Learn about the different fibers, yarn weights, dying techniques and how to read a ball band. Makers, it’s time to get your yarn-geek on!

Yarn fibres for knitting and crochet

Textile fibers can be made from an amazing range of natural and synthetic materials. Natural sources for yarn include your oh-so-familiar wool and cotton, alongside some unlikely suspects, such as metal, or even seaweed extract! Many yarns are made from a mix of fibers, which combine the best properties of each fiber into one. Sock yarn, for example, is often a mix of wool and nylon. The wool is soft, breathable, and warm, while the nylon adds durability - no-one wants a big toe poking out! So, let’s dive into the cuddly, cozy world of yarn fibers!

Awesome animal fibres for yarn

Wool yarn

Wool is the soft coat of hair from a sheep, goat or similar hairy mammal. When it comes to yarn crafts, sheep’s wool tops the list as the most popular and widely available animal fiber,  Knitters and crocheters have been flocking to wool for centuries! It is warm and breathable, and it has thermoregulating and absorption properties, as well as being naturally fire retardant. When it comes to types and textures of wool - there are endless sheep and sizes to choose from! 

A brilliantly baa-sic guide to wool types (excuse the pun!):

Merino: Merino wool is valued for its smoothness and luxurious softness. Well-established, large-scale production in Australia, New Zealand and Italy makes it affordable for both luxury knitting and crochet projects, as well as 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.

Read Our Ultimate Wool Guide

Animal fibers for crochet and knitting yarns


Alpaca

From the camel family, alpacas look like a small llama, or a camel with no humps. They’re gentle and curious in nature, and they produce a seriously soft and smooth fiber. Hello, alpaca wool! 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). Time for some seriously snugly crochet projects!

Mohair

Mohair is a luxurious yarn, made from the coat of the Angora goat. It is a glossy, silky fiber, notable for its distinctive fuzzy halo. It has superb dye absorption properties - think, all the colors of a splendid rainbow when it comes to mohair shades! Or elegant softly blended ombrés!

Yak

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

Silk

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

Shop amazing animal yarns

Plant fibers for crochet and knitting yarns

Cotton

Who doesn’t love a cotton fiber! Produced all over the world, cotton is a strong, non-stretch, breathable fiber - that can be turned into cool crochet and knitting projects. It is used to make light, smooth fabrics for airy summer garments, and is perfect for amigurumi and homewares too!

Linen

The fibrous flax plant is processed to make linen (sounds fancy doesn’t it!). 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 or knitted bamboo fabric is soft and light. It is gentle even on very delicate skin, is easy to wash, and has antibacterial qualities, making it particularly suitable for babywear.

Hemp

Hemp is climbing up in the yarn popularity contest! Similar to linen, hemp is firm, durable, non-elastic and smooth, it also dyes very well and can be found in many mixed fiber blends.

Paper

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

Explore perfect plant yarns

Synthetic fibers for crochet and knitting yarns

Acrylic

When it comes to acrylic yarn, the possibilities are endless! Often made to mimic natural fibers, acrylic yarn has some winning qualities: 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 fibers to stabilize a blend, for example with wool or cotton.

Nylon

Nylon is a durable little superhero of the yarn world. Combining resilience and elasticity nylon yarn is great for garments such as socks or fitted gloves, that need to withstand the test of daily stretching and bendy toes! 

Polyester

When it comes to synthetic yarn, don’t forget about the versatile polyester fiber! With stain-resistant and anti-wrinkle qualities, polyester yarn is a great choice when you need a structural yarn for your fiber craft projects.

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 color. They are usually a blend of different fibers 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.

Shop seriously versatile synthetic yarns

Sensitive skin and allergies

Crocheters and knitters with sensitive skin know only too well the torture of an itchy jumper or scratchy scarf! The multiple overlapping scales that are present in animal fibers often irritate sensitive skin and for those with an allergy to lanolin, the waxy natural grease produced from the wool producing animal, the symptoms alone can be enough to put you off crocheting and knitting all together. Thankfully, gone are the days where you must suffer for your style. Thanks to snazzy modern processing methods there are plenty of alternative fibers to craft with, from lanolin-free animal fibers such as alpaca, llama and camel, to plant based yarns, synthetics and silk.

Yarn weights

Yarn weight is the size of the strand, which falls into one of eight categories. A yarn’s weight helps guide you on which yarn is right for your project, not to mention and the right size of hook or needle needed to make the correct sized stitches.

Yarn weight conversions for crochet 

Different countries use different terms to refer to a particular yarn weight. So how to choose the right hook and yarn for your next crochet project? Our handy yarn weights table, gives you an overall guide to yarn weights and hook sizes. Plus it shows you the most common equivalent terms so you can achieve the standard gauge with each yarn weight. You’ll have your hook into your next crochet project in no time.

*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.

How to read the ball band

Usually, if you’re using a pattern, the designer or brand will suggest a particular yarn and advise how much of it you’ll need to make your project. But sometimes when you’re improvising, adapting sizes or simply wanting to substitute yarn, reading a ball band comes in very handy! 

You’ll find lots of useful information on the ball band about the product, which tells you exactly what you’re getting for your money and how much you need to buy. These are the metrics you’ll usually find on your ball or skein and what they mean:

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

Fiber content: The fiber the yarn is composed of, or the percentage of each different fiber 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 color match from the same dye lot.

Tension or Gauge and crochet hook sizes: This is a just a recommendation for how to achieve a standard 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, but don’t panic, just stick to your pattern instructions and you’ll be fine!

Dye lots and colours

Choosing which colours to use in your project can be just as important as picking your fibre. With colour theory becoming more popular (the blending of science and art, hello!) and colour psychology, all this nifty research is supporting what crocheters have known all along - colour matters! Whether you’re opting for calming demure tones, vibrant contrasts, ombré or block shades, there are thousands of tones to choose from. There’s never been a better time to become a colour connoisseur.

Love color. Love crafts. 

Knitters and crocheters love color. It’s a fact. The vast assortment of stunning stitches, and techniques offer the perfect basis to get playful and explore the ocean of shades at your finger tips! Whether you're into your neutral, soft hues, or your eye-popping brights, there's yarn for every style.

But where to start? Handcrafted crochet and knitwear can take a lot of time and effort to produce. Sumptuous good-quality yarns can break the bank so it’s worth planning ahead what tones, style or palette you want to use in advance. Many brands pull together handy color packs assembling their pick of complementary colors, saving you the hassle.

Dye lots explained

Dying is a complicated process, and there are many different factors that might impact the end result. No dye cycle is ever a carbon copy of the last one! Yarns and fibers are dyed in batches or lots, and each lot is given a unique reference number, which is printed on the ball band. But fear not, lot numbering means you can make exact color matches by purchasing yarn from the same dye lot.

Hand dying

Hand dying is the artisan yarn producers dream! Dyed in exclusive lots, or even hand-painted skein by skein for that extra personal touch (drool). Hand dyed yarns are one of a kind in color and have heaps of character, perfect for those unforgettable handmade heirlooms that will be treasured forever.

Space dying

Discover space dyed yarns. These can be dip-dyed, or hand-painted, either way this glorious technique usually involves two or more contrasting colors that repeat along its length with beautiful results. Space-dyed yarns are lovingly created to produce a stripe or collage effect in your fabric. 

Self patterning, self striping and ombré prints

Thanks to the clever folks from the world of yarn manufacturing, it’s never been easier to craft with color! Opt for self patterning and self striping yarns and watch marvelous colorwork magically emerge from your fabric. 

Self-striping yarn produces contrasting bands of color (a fancy way of saying stripes), meaning you don’t need to change the yarn every time you change color. (Say goodbye to sewing in those pesky ends!) Some color-change yarn is designed to produce more subtle, blended ombré effects for those unforgettable waterfalls of color. 

Self-patterning yarn creates impressive advanced colorwork with one ball. Self-patterned yarns can be prone to pooling, where the color-changes end up making unintended ‘pools’ of color. This can be avoided by using two skeins of the same yarn and swapping each skein every two or three rows. Some designers use ‘pooling’ deliberately allowing self-patterning yarns to work their magic to bring their creations to life.

Dip into the magical world of colour

Skeins, hanks and balls: So what’s the difference?

Skeins and hanks

A skein (or hank, as it’s sometimes known in the US and other territories) is a loop of yarn, neatly and firmly twisted on itself to make a secure unit. Many artisan and luxury yarns come in skeins to preserve the integrity of the loft and make it easy to handle and package. The only thing to be aware of is that skeins need to be wound into a ball before use, which can be fiddly when you’re a beginner but well worth the trouble. 

A ball of yarn might come in the shape of a doughnut or oval shape. Yarn is usually fed from the outside of a round ball, just like balls wound by hand at home, or you might find balls are wound with center-pull ends.

How much yarn should I use?

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 meters. Most ball bands state the length per ball, so you can figure out how many balls are required.

Converting weight and length

Sometimes the information on a ball band doesn’t match the pattern requirements, especially if you’re making a yarn substitution. If this happens, all you need to do is convert equivalent weights and measures to what you need.

Care instructions and washing

Washing

There’s nothing worse than discovering the jumper you spent 6 months lovingly crafting has shrunk 2 sizes in the wash! After you’ve finished your project make sure you give it the love and care it deserves by following the wash and care instructions on the ball band. 

Handcrafted garments are more likely to stretch, shrink, or be pulled out of shape when machine washed, but it’s entirely dependent on the yarn you use. Many modern yarns are designed to be machine-washable (yay!), for hassle-free care, which is a dream for baby and kids clothes. But beware, projects made from pure wool can become felted if they’re not treated with care. Ball bands always carry washing advice and information, so it’s helpful to keep one stowed away for each project to remind yourself of the washing instructions later on. 

If you’re worried about the best way to wash your finished garments, hand-washing is the most reliable method to preserve those precious projects in all their glory. Handwashing means you’re less likely to agitate the material, shrink, over-heat or damage the fibers because of the strong detergents usually found in machine washing.

To give your crochet and knitting a little extra TLC, specialist washing detergents for delicate yarns such as Eucalan and Soak work a treat! 

Get your color on! What yarns are best for making blankets?

Nothing beats a handmade crocheted or knitted blanket, whether it’s draped on your sofa or slumped on your bed, packed for a picnic or nestled in a crib. They're long term projects which stand the test of time and often are the envy of all your houseguests. Opt for thick chunky or super chunky yarns to produce the snugliest fabric imaginable.

Our favourite blanket yarns

Yarns for baby blankets

Baby blankets are a great place to start if you’re a beginner, as they're a quicker project that a full size blanket, and the soft yarns made especially for babies is lovely to craft with. 

Free baby blanket patterns

Some of our favorite baby blanket 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!

Browse beautiful baby blanket yarns

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