Can’t tell laceweight from fingering weight? Or DK from worsted? Check out this complete guide to yarn weight and shed the mystery!
If you’re new to knitting, the idea of yarn weight can be a little confusing. I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea what “worsted” meant when I was first confronted with the term. When I heard that many popular knitting patterns use “worsted weight yarn,” I didn’t get that either!
One of the first things you’ll see in a knitting pattern is the yarn required. Some patterns require a specific yarn; others require only a yarn of a specific weight.
Do you know the difference between laceweight and fingering weight? Should you use DK (which stands for what, exactly?) or that bizarrely-termed “worsted”? What’s the difference between “worsted” and “heavy worsted”?
If these questions, or similar ones, have you utterly bewildered, your worries are over. What follows is a guide to yarn weight, and how you can use this information to choose the right yarn for your next project.
What is yarn weight?
When we’re talking yarn weight, all we really mean is how thick and heavy are those individual strands of yarn. That affects what yarn gets used for which project.
Heavier yarn, for instance, you can use for cozy blankets, heavy sweaters, mittens, and scarves. You’ll likely use more lightweight yarn for decorative items or fancy scarves.
The following are the many types of yarn weights you’ll find. Along the way, I’ll mention the official Craft Yarn Council of America‘s designations each weight may carry.
1. Laceweight or crochet thread
Official CYCA Designation: “Lace” (0)
This is yarn that is so lightweight it may more closely resemble thread than yarn! This type of yarn, as the name implies, is used most often for knitting or crocheting lace projects. Cotton lace yarn is often called “crochet thread.”
Knitters typically use lace yarn to create light, airy shawls and scarves. You can say the same for crocheting with lace yarn; crocheters often use it to create doilies as well.
2. Fingering or sock
Official CYCA Designation: “Super Fine” (1)
Fingering or sock yarn weight is just a little thicker than laceweight. It tends to be far more durable. That’s because, as you can tell by the name, this yarn is most frequently used for socks.
It’s also often used for colorwork, since the fine strands allow for beautiful intricate designs without adding unnecessary bulk and weight. You’ll find this quality especially desirable when knitting a sweater, scarf, or mittens.
3. Sport or baby
Official CYCA Designation: “Fine” (2)
Baby yarn can sometimes be closer to “super fine” than “fine,” but normally, yarn that is marketed as “baby yarn” is just a little thicker than fingering weight (although fingering weight yarn can be a great choice for baby projects).
You’ll usually find baby yarn composed of easy-care fibers like acrylic or polyester. You may find cotton blended in there as well, but yarn manufacturers typically stay away from wool with baby yarn to reduce the chance of allergic reactions.
Sport weight yarn is a lightweight but durable yarn used for a wide variety of projects. It can be made of anything from silk to alpaca. The “sport” doesn’t have to do with athletics, but rather with the kind of garments it can create. The lightweight garments possible with sport weight yarn are similar to women’s “sportswear.”
4. DK (Double-Knit) or light worsted
Official CYCA Designation: “Light” (3)
You could consider DK or light worsted yarn to be dead center in the yarn weight scale. This is a fantastic all-purpose yarn. It’s wonderful for making mittens, hats, sweaters, scarves, and blankets that have enough weight to warm you, but not so much weight that they can feel heavy or bulky.
For my money, DK is the perfect yarn for gloves or fingerless gloves. It has enough weight to keep your fingers warm, but not so much bulk that your fingers feel uncomfortable.
5. Worsted or Aran
Official CYCA Designation: “Medium” (4)
For my money, “worsted” is the strangest word in the knitting world. It sounds like “worst” (that is, the superlative form of the word “bad”) gone very, very bad indeed. What gives?
The term “worsted” actually comes from a town in England, called “Worstead.” This town was a hub for manufacturing fiber (yarn as well as cloth) in the 1100s. The type of fiber this town created continues to bear its name to this day.
Worsted weight yarn is probably the most commonly used and sold yarn weight in the United States, if not the world. It’s a wonderful yarn to use for smaller projects like mittens and hats, larger projects like heavier sweaters and winter scarves, and fabulous for afghans and blankets.
Although the terms “worsted” and “Aran” are often used interchangeably — “worsted” being more common in the U.S., while “Aran” shows up more frequently in U.K. — they are slightly different. “Aran” actually refers to a slightly heavier yarn than is “worsted.” In fact, Aran yarn is sometimes referred to as “heavy worsted.”
(Confused yet? This is why creating a gauge swatch is so important!!)
6. Bulky or Chunky
Official CYCA Designation: “Bulky” (5)
We’re now leaving the world of light yarn weight far behind. Heavier yarns have several delightful qualities. They’re warm, of course, but their thickness also means they tend to knit together to create garments and accessories quite quickly.
Chunky yarns are great for creating really warm hats, scarves, mittens, cardigan sweaters, jackets, and blankets. Another great use for chunky yarns: anything that you’re going to felt. Stitch definition isn’t as important, and the heaviness of the yarn will add to the durability of the felted fabric.
Try chunky yarns for felted bags or slippers!
7. Super bulky or super chunky
Official CYCA Designation: “Super Bulky” (6)
This used to be the heaviest possible yarn weight designation. It was reserved for the heaviest yarns: thick wool ideal for felting; thick wool-acrylic blends perfect for a really warm blanket or hat or jacket; or rug yarn.
Novelty yarns like eyelash or fun fur are often designated as either chunky or super chunky, because their fuzziness means you’ll want to use bigger needles to knit them. Ribbon yarns are another type of novelty yarn often called “super chunky.”
Roving — a type of single-ply yarn that can be almost indistinguishable from fiber you’d spin into yarn — also falls into the “super chunky” category.
Official CYCA Designation: “Jumbo” (7)
The advent of arm knitting created a new market for extremely thick yarn. The Craft Yarn Council of America recognized that these yarns were significantly thicker than traditional super-bulky yarns. They also realized that such yarns could not be used in the same fashion.
In light of this development, the CYCA chose to create an entirely new yarn weight designation. Jumbo yarns are perfect for mammoth knitting needles that fall outside of the typical range. And, of course, since these yarns sprang up primarily to take advantage of the arm-knitting trend, they are indeed perfect for using your arms as needles!
For a handy chart to take with you when you’re shopping for yarn, check out the Craft Yarn Council of America’s handy Standard Yarn Weight chart. Their chart not only offers the a list of the yarn weight classifications, but it also includes details like standard gauge for each weight in both knit and crochet. It also offers suggestions for the proper size of needle or hook for each weight.
I hope this post has helped demystify yarn weight classification. Now you can confidently shop for yarn to fit your chosen pattern!
Want to substitute a yarn in your chosen pattern? Check out this post about how to substitute yarn!