We get a lot of questions about yarn and yarn crafts. We’ve answered some of the most common below. If you can’t see your question here, try searching our blog articles or, failing that, send us an email. We’ll be happy to help where we can.
How is yarn classified?
Yarn can be classified or described in a number of ways, including:
- its thickness
- the fibre from which it has been made
- its construction
- its purpose (that for which it is best suited)
- the way it can be washed
Our yarn listings contain information about all of these classifications, as well as other features. If you have any questions that we haven’t answered in the listing, let us know.
Why is it called ‘yarn’ and not ‘wool’?
Wool most accurately refers to fibre that has been shorn from an animal, such as sheep or alpaca.
There are many other sources of fibre, including:
- insects (silk)
- plants (cotton, bamboo)
- animal protein (milk)
- synthetics (nylon, acrylic, and polyester).
Some yarns are made from just one fibre and some are a mix of several. The word yarn is a generic term used to cover all possibilities.
What does ‘ply’ mean?
A ply is a single strand of fibre. In yarn construction, several strands are twisted together. The number of strands used is the number specifying the ply. Common plies include 5, 8 and 10 ply, but a yarn can be any ply number a spinner desires.
In New Zealand, Australia and the UK, ply is often (confusingly) used to describe yarn weight. The higher the ply number, the thicker the yarn. In other countries, weights are described using names. Common names include Sport (5 ply), DK/Double Knit (8 ply) and Worsted/Aran (10 ply).
This can get confusing quickly as a yarn described as 8 ply (for weight) might only be constructed using three strands of fibre. That’s why all our yarns have both styles of weight name listed. If you are unsure what you are looking for, please ask us for clarification.
What is ‘yarn weight’?
Yarn weight is an accurate indication of the yarn thickness, but not in commonly specified units such as millimeters. The thickness of the yarn is one of the primary determinants of the properties of the finished item, and one of the key factors to take into account when selecting a yarn.
Weights are given different names by different providers. A few years ago the Yarn Council came up with a standardised naming convention, but earlier names are still more commonly used.
Here are the most common yarn weights; more information is also available here.
What does gauge mean?
Gauge is the size of the stitches you are making. It is measured by counting the stitches over a measured length, usually 4 inches or 10 cm. Because patterns tell you how many stitches to work, they assume that you are making those stitches a particular size. If you make your stitches a different size, your item will come out bigger or smaller from that which the pattern intends.
There are three factors which determine the size of your stitches:
- the yarn you are using
- the size and type of needles/hook you are using
- how tightly or loosely you work each stitch, i.e. the tension.
There is no right or wrong tension – everyone’s is different. You can learn to change your tension but it is often easier to achieve the correct gauge by changing one of the other factors.
Because of the close relationship between tension and gauge, the words are often used interchangeably in patterns.
What is a swatch?
A swatch is a piece of test knitting or crocheting used to check the gauge that you’re using. If your gauge of yarn you're using doesn’t match the gauge which the pattern specifies, you may make adjustments before starting your project. The most common way to adjust gauge is to change your needle/hook size.
Why is the lot or batch number important?
When yarn is dyed, all the yarn destined to be in the same batch is dyed contemporaneously. This means it is guaranteed to be all the same shade. When yarn is dyed in separate batches, there can be slight variations in shade between batches. Sometimes these differences are quite subtle and don’t affect your project, however it is also possible that differences are noticeable and can result in an unwanted striping effect.
If you need more yarn and cannot get it with the same batch number, don’t panic! Different batches don’t always show variations, and even if they do, there are techniques to minimise the striping effect. It is rare that a project cannot be saved.
If you are ordering yarn to top up a project, please let us know what batch number you already have and we will check to see if we can match it.
How do I know how much yarn will be needed?
Yarn is sold by physical weight (in grams or ounces) but not all 50 gram balls are the same. The fibres and construction will influence how many metres are available in a given weight of that yarn. This information is given on the yarn label. For example, 50 grams of merino 8 ply/double knit may have 110 metres of yarn; but 50 grams of acrylic 8 ply/double knit may have 135 metres of yarn. If you need 125 metres, you will need two balls of merino, but only one of acrylic.
Patterns will either ask for a certain quantity of a specified yarn, or a certain number of metres. Either way, it assumes you will have a certain length of yarn. If you are substituting yarns, you need to ensure that the amount of yarn you obtain is at least the same length, which may mean that you need a greater quantity of yarn in grams!
Do your math before you start a project and you should be fine. Just make sure you always get slightly more than you need. 'Oopsies' do happen from time to time.
Can I use a different yarn from that which the pattern recommends?
Yarns can be substituted! But it isn’t an exact science. In general, if the fibre and weight is the same as the recommended fibre and weight then you are safe. Substituting for a very different fibre may result in a fabric or item that performs differently, even if it is the correct size. Make sure you factor in this possibility.
Substituting for a different weight yarn is harder, as it is going to result in a very different size item, or a very different fabric. You will need to undertake some additional steps to make sure you get what you want. If you are unsure about your substitution choice, let us know and we can help.
How do I wash my finished item?
Each yarn will come with its own care instructions. These range from gentle hand-washing to a normal machine wash. If you need something to be machine washable, make sure you select a machine washable yarn. Machine washing an item that is not intended to be washed in that more-aggressive way will likely damage your item beyond repair.
What is blocking?
Blocking can be part of the finishing process for your creation. It involves using moisture, heat or both to shape the item to its finished state. It is often used for things like lace that need to be stretched open to show the details of the design.
What tools do I need to get started?
It depends on your project type. Every craft requires different tools.
For knitting and crochet, you will generally need the following:
- hooks or knitting needles to work your yarn
- stitch markers (you can use substitutes such as paper clips or safety pins)
- a tapestry needle
- a tape measure
- a stitch holder (although you can use waste yarn)
Many people also use a small crochet hook for picking up and fixing mistakes (either in knitting or crochet).
Some projects may require additional tools (like a cable needle or lace pins) and there are a few extra tools that aren’t necessary but are well-loved by knitters and crocheters everywhere, such as point protectors, project bags and needle gauges. If you’re planning a lifelong habit, we recommend getting these as and when you can.
How do I learn to knit, crochet, spin, weave or otherwise craft in some way with fibre?
There are lots of ways you can learn a fibre art! You could:
- ask a friend or family member to teach you
- attend community classes (check out your local community education series)
- learn through guilds or associations (in New Zealand, this includes Creative Fibre NZ, Spinners and Weavers and many others)
- watch YouTube tutorials
- buy or check out how-to books
- look up local social knitting groups or knit nights
- try online education classes.
We will also have a series of tutorials developed and made available online. Keep an eye out in the coming months.