Yarn Yak

Yarn Yak (All About Yarn)
update ©2017 Sandra Petit, http://www.crochetcabana.com

You are getting ready to crochet. What do you need? Well, you need a needle to sew in your ends, a good, sharp scissors your kids or hubby haven’t played with, and … most important you need a good hook and bunches of yarn.

Before I begin, I should mention that there is a standard yarn weight guide at the Craft Yarn Council which is excellent. I suggest bookmarking that page or saving the chart for easy reference.

Source: Craft Yarn Council of America’s www.YarnStandards.com

standard yarn weight system cyca

Your pattern will usually tell you how much and what weight and most times what colors of yarn or thread you need to get. However, you can change the entire look of your garment or blanket or whatever, just by switching yarn. The same pattern afghan in a solid cream will look a lot different in a variegated yarn. Using dk weight yarn instead of chunky yarn will make your item much smaller.

If you’re working with thread and using steel hooks, this general guideline might help. I honestly don’t know where I found this information as it was years ago.
Suggested thread to use with steel hooks
Size 00 hook #3 thread
Size 0 #5
Size 7 / 8 #10
Size 9 #20
Size 10 #20-30
Size 11 #30-40
Size 12 #30-60
Size 13 #40-80
Size 14 #80-100

Then there are those times that the pattern is a scrap one and you are not given the amounts of yarn or thread, or it will say something like 40 ozs of varied colors. You may be able to find a chart indicating how many skeins or balls it usually takes to make certain items. I have seen these on manufacturer websites on occasion but their pages change often.

You might want to stick to one weight of yarn for one project, like all worsted weight yarn, or all sport yarn and perhaps one type, like acrylic or cotton or wool (or wool blend). Or you may want to mix and match yarns to give a different feel or texture to your piece. Different yarns will wash and dry differently so you might want to do a test swatch if you’re mixing yarns.

If you are using leftover yarns, and the person you are making the item for is allergic to wool you need to know if your leftovers contain wool. Here’s a hint on how to tell if you have wool made from natural fibers.

There are at least two ways of telling if your yarn is wool or acrylic.
1) Take a tiny snip of yarn, light it with a match. If it smells like burning hair, it’s wool. If it smells like plastic, it’s acrylic.
2) Put a few inches of yarn in a small jar of chlorine bleach. If it’s wool it will dissolve. If it is acrylic it won’t. If it is a blend, it will look like part of it has dissolved.

You will also need to know which hook to use with which yarn. These days yarn labels usually have a suggested hook, or at the minimum a gauge indication.

That said, different brands use different guidelines. For example, I have a Lion Brand Chunky USA yarn label here that says the gauge is 10sc + 10 rows for 4″ using a P (#15 or 10mm) hook. The guidelines above say K to M for Chunky. Who’s right? They both are! On the other hand, I have a Red Heart Grande Super Bulky that says 9 st and 13 rows in a 4″ x 4″ square using an M hook. Now the Grande yarn is much thicker than the Chunky USA, yet they are suggesting a smaller hook. They also have fewer stitches but more rows. Hmmm. I’d have to try that because I don’t think you can get 13 rows in 4″ with the Grande. That yarn is THICK. I also have some Caron Sayelle and it says 18 s and 22 r in 4″ x 4″ square using an I hook. The hook size sounds right for that yarn, although I personally am using a J at the moment.

Does it matter if you use a different hook than is suggested on your yarn label? No. What matters more is what your pattern calls for and the gauge of your project. Using a smaller hook than suggested may give you a stiffer result while using a larger hook may give you a more flexible finished fabric. It just depends. If this matters to you, then make a swatch. For something like a scarf that need to be tied or wrapped around the neck you might like to have more flexible, whereas a purse or a picture that you intend to frame you would maybe want stiffer.

What if your pattern calls for a yarn that is no longer made? I recently found this neat site that lists vintage yarns. That won’t help you to get the yarn. but it will tell you something about it so you can compare to other available yarns. Check out Vintage Knits Discontinued Yarns.

Note that some yarn skeins have a center pull, and other do not. If you rewind your yarn into balls, you may forget if it was a center pull or not. Here’s a hint I found about working with yarn. According to Knitted Threads web site, “you want to use the yarn ’with’ the lay or grain, not ’against’ the lay or grain. If you can’t tell, then run your fingers down the strand to see which way the fiber lays. In others, if the yarn lays smooth going from the top of the strand downwards, that is with the grain and that is how you want work with the yarn.” I always wondered why people said not to use the yarn from the “wrong” end. Now I know. If I’m understanding correctly, if you work against the grain, you are making the yarn less strong because you are “untwisting” it. Interesting.

The S Twist and the Z twist. I am slowly developing a fascination for this important aspect of yarns. You can read a basic article at Wikipedia. More info at Brittannica.


In a May 2005 blog entry Dee Stanziano gave a nice little discourse about yarn, how it’s made, and softness. One thing that caught my eye was this: Quoting Dee, “When we crochet we notice a phenomenon happening — our yarn twists as we create each new stitch! This means that as we are crocheting we are either twisting the fiber more (makes for a slightly stiffer fabric) or we’re untwisting (making for a slightly softer fabric). It all depends upon:

1. If you’re a left handed or right handed crocheter,
2. If you pull your fiber from the inside or the outside of the skein,
3. If the yarn is primarily a Z or an S twist.

Dee also said, “A yarn’s softness has to do with how it’s processed/created (including the dying process: natural dyes versus synthetics); how it’s twisted (slightly to tightly); it’s number of plies (don’t forget the plies themselves have a twist variable too!); and if it’s being twisted more, or less depending upon the crocheter.” Her Aug 24, 2007 post expands on this thought.

This idea of the Z twist or the S twist is a very interesting, and complicated one. My little brain has a hard time understanding it all, but there is another great article about this topic at Doris Chan’s blog. She says “knitting tends to reinforce S-twist and crochet tends to rebel against it” and “the knitting yarn over is in the opposite direction of the crochet yarn over.”

From what I understand, for right handed crocheters, a Z twist is optimal. For knitters, S twist. I don’t by any stretch of the imagination claim to understand it all, or be any kind of expert.


For those of us who are metric deficient. here’s some metric info. I don’t know how much good this will do you since ounces and yards are different types of measurement but the info is here if you need it.

If you know the ounces, multiply by 28.35 to get the grams.
If you know the grams, multiply by .0353 to get the ounces

If you know the yards, multiply by .914 to get the meters
If you know the meters, multiply by 1.093 to get the yards
If you know the meters, multiply by 3.281 to get the feet
If you know the meters, multiply by 39.37 to get the inches

If you know the millimeters, multiply by .04 to get the inches
If you know the centimeters, multiply by .394 to get the inches
If you know the inches, multiply by 2.54 to get the centimeters

Ply / Weight

In the U.S. yarn manufacturers sell yarn by ply, and weight. A common yarn is 4-ply, worsted weight. This generally means that the yarn has 4 strands woven together to make one larger strand and is worsted weight (which generally indicates thickness).

Here are some terms you might see on a yarn seller site or on a pattern that uses the basic yarn weights. Some terms are used more frequently in certain countries. With the advent of the Internet, however, it doesn’t matter where a yarn is made. It’s very easy to order yarn from any seller in any country.

lace (0)
sock (1)
fingering (1)
baby (1 or 2)
sport (2)
DK (double knitting) (3)
light worsted (3)
medium worsted (4)
heavy worsted (4)
aran (4)
chunky (5)
rug (5)
bulky (5)
super bulky (6)
jumbo (7)

The number is generally indicated on the yarn label.

Other terms you might see with those numbers (as on the chart above)
(0) Lace
(1) Super Fine
(2) Fine
(3) Light
(4) Medium
(5) Bulky
(6) Super Bulky
(7) Jumbo

Generally speaking, fingering yarn might be used for baby items or dainty things, whereas a bulky yarn might be used for rugs and such. I make most child and adult afghans with 4 ply, worsted weight yarn, baby afghans with sport or fingering though I have made some with worsted as well. This is very general. Note that you can also combine strands to make equal weights.

Two strands fingering equal one strand sport.
Two strands sport equal one strand worsted.
Two strands worsted equal one strand bulky

Please note that in some parts of the world, the term “ply” is not used to mean the number of strands woven together. It is a reference to weight. An 8-ply yarn may have 3 strands woven together, for example. See my chart. (In U.S. “ply” means the number of threads woven together). However, keep in mind that all “worsted” weight yarns are NOT created equal. How thick the yarn is depends on what material it is made of and how tightly woven. Since 10 ply (the Australian term) is not a common yarn, 12 ply may easily be substituted without much difference in size of object. Check gauge and change hooks if the yarn is a bit thinner or thicker if the size of your project is important. Since I make a lot of afghans, I never check gauge. If the afghan is a bit larger or smaller, it really doesn’t matter.

We usually think of ply as the individual strands that are woven together to make a strand of yarn. This is accurate, but some manufacturers use the term ply to describe the size of yarn. So when substituting yarn, make sure you know what you are comparing.

Another method of comparing yarn is wpi (wraps per inch). You wrap your yarn around a small tube, yarn strands lying side by side, not overlapping, and set a ruler down next to it. If both yarns measure the same, you can substitute them in your project. Keep in mind also that different materials will “drape” differently. You might not, for example, want to exchange cotton for wool in a sweater. You can also use WPI to identify your yarn. For example, someone donates yarn to you and you don’t know if it is sport or worsted. Yarn Forward has a chart that gives the WPI for some yarns. Basically, it looks like it is half the number of wraps in 1 inch as there are stitches in 4″ but that’s just my evaluation of their chart. There are WPI tools you can buy if you find you need this information often.

Cotton Yarns /Threads are a bit different than acrylics. Thin cottons are generally called thread, such as bedspread weight (#10) crochet cotton thread. These would be used for doilies, bedspreads, tablecloths, runners etc. and worked with steel hooks. Worsted yarn would be thicker and used for dishcloths, afghans, clothing and other such things and worked with the larger “letter” sized hooks. A few common brands of cotton thread are Aunt Lydia, Cebelia, South Maid.

Lily Sugar ’n Cream is a popular, usually locally available worsted yarn.
Lion Brand Lion cotton yarn is 4 ply worsted weight and gives this gauge for crochet: Crochet: 16 sc + 16 rows = 4″x4″ (10cm x 10cm) with F-5 (3.75 mm) hook
Bernat Cotton Tots lists: 20 sts – 26 rows = 4″ (10 cm) with 4.5mm (US 7) hook.

With regard to international cottons, I found this useful info, comparing U.S. and Australian cottons.
American threads usually use the same sizing as Australians for crochet cotton sizes such as number 10, 20, 40, etc. shown as No 10 or #10 etc. Bedspread weight yarn generally refers to our No 10 crochet cotton but some patterns may use thicker yarn such as No 5 or even our 4 ply cotton, so check hook and tension specified.

Yarn sizes however are generally provided as a weight of yarn such as worsted weight, sport weight, etc. I have a very basic guide for determining the yarn to use and should be used in conjunction with any specified hook size and tension elsewhere.

Yarn Substitutions
I often get asked if a person can substitute one yarn for another.

If you don’t use up all the yarn you’ve purchased for a project, it would be wise to keep the wrapper with the leftover. However, if you don’t have it, there are several things to consider. If your yarn contains wool, you want to know that because some people are allergic to wool and some charities will not accept objects made with wool.

Other than the material it is made of, you need to be concerned with the weight of your yarn. This can be done by feel and sight. Does it look like it is the same thickness and pliability as the others? If you have the label, of course, you can see if it is worsted or fingering or bulky, but not all worsted weight yarns are the same either. Use your common sense. If it is obviously thinner than the others, and that is not your intent, then don’t use it.

Let me give an example from one of my blog posts. I decided to make two scarves using the same pattern but two different yarns. I chose Wool Ease and Vanna’s Choice, both #4 worsted weight yarns.

Wool Ease comes in a 3 ounce, 197 yard, 85g skein (for solids). Vanna’s Choice comes in a 3.5 ounce, 170 yard, 100g skein. Wool Ease is a thinner yarn which weighs less than Vanna’s Choice, even though both are worsted weight #4 yarns.

If you look at the gauge posted on the manufacturer web site, you’ll see …
Wool Ease – Crochet: 13.2 sc + 16 rows = 4″ (10 cm) on size J-10 (6mm) hook
Vanna’s Choice – Crochet: 12 sc + 15 rows = 4″ (10 cm) on size J-10 (6 mm) hook

So you get more stitches with Wool Ease than Vanna’s Choice. That said, your project will be thinner. That may or may not matter to you since wool is pretty warm regardless and WE solid is 80% wool.

When I made these scarves, I had about 50 yards of the Wool Ease left and used the entire two skeins of Vanna’s Choice plus a little from a third skein. So this same scarf took not quite 6 ounces of Wool Ease, but it took a bit over 7 ounces of Vanna’s Choice. You can see that although this doesn’t make a lot of difference in a scarf, it would make a great deal of difference in a sweater or other clothing item. If you are making squares, it would also make a difference in the finished size of your square. You can’t just choose a pattern and make it over and over in different yarns and expect it to come out the same size.

Another way to compare yarns is by yardage and fiber content. However, not all manufacturers put yardage on the label. A good rule of thumb is if the yarn has the same stitches per inch, then it should be close in use.


Yarn can also be made of different materials or fibers. Generally, there are cotton, wool, and acrylic or a combination of these. According to Lion Brand web site acrylic fibers are “soft, will not fade or run, and can be washed and dried”.

Cotton yarns, sometimes called string or thread, comes in different thicknesses as well. #10 cotton is considered bedspread weight. Cotton is the material you might consider using for dishcloths, doilies and any number of other things, including bedspreads and tablecloths. There are lots of colors with new colors (including variegated/ombre) coming out all the time. I have made a number of dishcloths using worsted weight cotton yarn and love them! Though we mostly see doilies done in white or cream, you can get a very pretty variation by using an ombre thread.

Fibers come in the man-made or synthetic and the natural fibers. This list is not all-inclusive. I may have missed some.

Acrylic, nylon, polyester, metallic and microfibers are synthetic or man-made.
Angora, cashmere, wool, silk, mohair, camel, alpaca, llama are all animal fibers.
Cotton, linen, ramie, sisal, hemp, jute, raffia are all plant fibers.

There are also “specialty” yarns – special in a different way than the above fibers. A few examples include Jamie Pompadour (shiny white thread running through it), chenille (very soft, very expensive, a small challenge to work with), and Wool-Ease.

When choosing the fiber for your project, you might consider any allergies the recipient or, if for yourself, anyone in your household, might have, especially with the animal or plant fibers.

Usually the label that your yarn comes in will give you information on the fiber content as well as other useful information, such as the weight, the ply, washing instructions, how much yarn is contained in that skein. It also tells if the yarn is mothproof, colorfast, shrink-proof and the manufacturer. Many have free patterns on the inside of the wrapper, so pay attention if you pull it off (why would you do that?) or throw it away. It’s a good idea to include the wrapper – at least the washing instructions – with anything given as a gift.

Here are a couple of labels to show you what kind of information to expect. I kept them rather large so you could read them.

yarn label yarn bee sugarwheel

yarn label red heart


There are also many different yarn manufacturers, from the lesser expensive to the novelty and seasonal yarns. Red Heart, Caron, Bernat, Lion Brand, Knit Picks, Patons, Stylecraft and so many more. This is a great time to be a fiber crafter. The choices are all over the board. It would be impossible to adequately cover all the different kinds of yarn and their manufacturers.

In summary, you can use just about any yarn for any project to give it a different look, although some yarns are more suited to a particular project. If you are following a pattern and you want the item to look like the picture, then you have to use the materials it calls for. I would be careful about changing brand within a project, though it is possible if you use the same weight and ply yarn. However, I would not change weight within the project unless the pattern specifically calls for it to give the project a certain look.

Of course, rules are made to be broken! Your ingenuity and imagination are your guide. It’s your project and you should do what makes you happy.