Crochet Basics – Yarn Weights Demystified (and how to read a yarn label)

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Crochet Basics – Tools

Sock yarn, DK weight yarn, worsted weight yarn, bulky yarn…what does it all mean? When you look at a yarn label, you see a number…what does THAT mean? How do you know what hook to use with each yarn? Why is this so complicated?? It’s not! I promise – let’s break it down.

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First…Yarn Weights

Let me introduce you to the all-knowing Craft Yarn Council. This is the place to go if you have ANY questions about standards for yarn, hooks, knitting needles, stitch abbreviations, sizing for garments, etc. There’s a LOT of information there, so it can be overwhelming, but ultimately this is THE go-to place for answers.

Okay, yarn weights. I’m not going to lie – in the crochet world it’s mostly been about worsted weight and bulky yarn. You definitely hear more about the other weights of yarn in knitting, but there are some AH-mazing crochet designers out there bringing the other weights into focus with their patterns and it’s important for you to know the difference in the weights. At the end of this beginner series I’ll have a roundup of patterns for you and I’ll include some that use “alternate” yarn weights.

There are basically 3 different ways any given yarn weight might be named. They all mean the same thing, but that only makes it more confusing. The chart below breaks it down for you.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Category Name Lace Super Fine Fine Light Medium Bulky Super Bulky Jumbo
Common Name Fingering Sock Sport DK Worsted Chunky (Bulky) Super Bulky Jumbo (Roving)

 

The symbols you will see when looking at a standard yarn label look something like this:
(keep in mind that the labels/tags on hand dyed yarns will look a little different, but they will contain all the pertinent information somewhere on them…more on how to read those later!)

What do I do with these different yarns???

The short answer is whatever you want! The long answer is, well, it really depends. Typically you’re going to use Fingering weight, Sock weight, and maybe Sport weight yarns for socks and amigurumi (or crocheted stuffed animals). If you search Ravelry for crochet patterns using these yarn weights, you’ll also see a lot of shawls and scarves with intricate lace details…those are just going to take you a LONG time to finish with this tiny yarn, LOL. (What?! You don’t know what Ravelry is? Oh, don’t worry – we’ll talk about that later!) DK weight can still be used for amigurumi, you’ll see hats, shawls, scarves, and even some blankets with this weight. I would say shawls are going to be the most frequent use for DK weight yarn. Worsted is the workhorse of yarn. This is the weight you’re going to see EVERYWHERE and it can do it all! Hats, blankets, shawls, scarves, amigurumi, slippers, mittens/gloves, sweaters, anything and everything. Bulky is great for hats, scarves, cowls, and chunky sweaters. Super bulky is good for hats, blankets, baskets and oversized cowls/scarves. Jumbo is going to be good for baskets and blankets. All that being said, use your imagination and play with the yarn – there are no rules when it comes to creativity!

Next…Hook Size

This one is a little more confusing. The hook size is found in the little gauge swatch picture, like below.

There’s a lot of information contained in these little squares, and we’ll dive into it more when we talk about making a gauge swatch. For now, you need to focus on 2 things – looking at the CORRECT square, and reading the right info from that square. You want the one on the right, with the hook…that looks like a crochet hook. And you only want to look at the information in the middle of the square for now – I’ve highlighted it for you. This is going to tell you the recommended hook size. Now, we’ll talk more about this when we talk gauge swatches, but it’s important to remember that this IS only a recommendation and may not be the hook size you need for a specific project. Everybody crochets differently and sometimes you may find you need a smaller or larger hook than is recommended for a specific project, or you may just WANT a different size hook in order to get a specific look on your project. You’re not doing anything wrong if this isn’t the hook you end up using with this yarn, but as a beginner to the craft, this is the BEST place to start when figuring out how to pair your yarn and your hook.

Next…Fiber Content / How Much Yarn Is There

Every yarn label is a little different in where they place this information, but somewhere on there you’ll find a little blurb that gives this info. It’s going to be basically 3 pieces of information, but listed in multiple languages/units so it looks like a lot more.

  1. Yards/Meters – Most US crocheters are going to measure in yards. If you prefer the metric system, they’ve got that there for you, too! This is important because any (good) pattern will include the yardage AND meterage needed for that project, so you can buy all your yarn at once and not run out.
  2. Net Weight – You’re going to see this in OZ (ounces) and G (grams). Most patterns will include this information, also, but I would recommend you looking at the yardage/meterage to get an accurate measure of how much you need.
  3. Fiber Content – Your typical yarn store yarns are going to be mostly either 100% acrylic or 100% cotton. There are wool blends, nylon blends, and even some alpaca blends out there. The content is important for a couple reasons – how you wash the fabric when finished; whether it will stretch when finished; how breathable it will be if it’s a wearable garment; allergies. There’s no right or wrong fiber to choose, as long as you like the feel of the yarn and how the stitches look when worked up. There are projects that are better suited to one fiber or another (for instance, washcloths are best made with cotton for absorbency), but you’ll learn that as you go. Patterns also include yarn recommendations for that project, and if you ever have a question about substituting a yarn, just reach out to the designer for help.

Finally…Care Instructions

Most yarn labels are going to include symbols for care instructions as well as written instructions. If you grab one with symbols only, this is a good resource to look at. Now, not every symbol/care scenario is represented here, and some labels may use a slightly different symbol to represent something. For instance, the yarn label I grabbed randomly from my stash to look at shows a dryer with no dots, the triangle is not filled in for do not bleach – the written instructions say to tumble dry, but don’t include a temperature…so I would probably choose to tumble dry on gentle, or lay flat to dry. If the symbol is different and it doesn’t include written instructions, use your best guess based on the other symbols you know…or, when all else fails, simply hand wash and lay flat to dry.

Okay, I lied there’s one more thing. 🙂 Dye Lot! I’ll admit I’m not the best at looking at this, but it CAN be important.

Near your color you’ll find the lot number, highlighted in red below. Some brands/colors may not have a lot number, and that’s fine. Those are colors/brands that don’t vary from lot to lot and you won’t (hopefully) notice when in your project you switched to a new skein of yarn. If your yarn DOES have a dye lot shown and you’ll be using more than one skein in your project, try to get all the same dye lot and buy them all at the same time.

Hand Dyed Yarns

Hand dyed yarns aren’t wound into the neat skeins with a yarn label, or ball band, as you see in the big stores. They are typically sold in hanks with some type of tag/label. The tag or label *should* contain the same basic information, though. They’re still going to tell you the fiber content, yardage/meterage, net weight in grams and ounces, hook/needle size recommendation, care instructions, and a gauge for you. There will be a color name, but there won’t necessarily be a lot number…that’s because they’re just not going to match 100% anyway, because they are hand dyed and unique.

2 big differences you may notice – there may not be a label of the weight of the yarn (sock yarn, worsted, etc); they are probably only going to give you the needle size/gauge for knitting. Hand dyed yarns have traditionally been geared toward knitters, and are only just starting to be marketed toward crocheters. If that’s the case, head over to the Standard Yarn Weight System page of the Craft Yarn Council’s website and do a little sleuthing. One of my hand dyed yarns shows a recommended needle size of US 1-3 (2.25-3.25 mm), but it doesn’t tell me what the actual yarn weight is. If I were crocheting with this, I would look on the yarn weight chart at the link above and find the yarn weight that recommends using these needle sizes – in this case, 1/super fine/sock yarn. Then I would head down a couple rows and see what crochet hook sizes are recommended for this yarn weight. If you are using a pattern, check your gauge before getting started and make sure you match up.

Whew! That was a lot of words for one little wrapper. Take a walk around your local Michael’s, Joanns, or even the yarn aisle at Walmart and look at some yarn labels to get familiar. Next time you pass by a local yarn shop, stop in. Pick up the yarns, look at the tags/labels, feel the difference in fibers (you’re going to find most of your natural fibers at your local yarn shop or online directly from an indie dyer), and most importantly ASK QUESTIONS. The employees at your local yarn shop are going to be knowledgeable and more than happy to help a newbie, and I am always available to help with any questions you have.

Until next time friends!

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