"Yarn" is a general term that I use to refer to
that string stuff you use to knit with. When I use the term "yarns", it
is because I am referring to all the different VARIETIES of yarn. Boucl�,
DK, chenille, slub, etc... I believe the same applies to "wool" (meaning fleece)
and "wools" (meaning all the types of fleeces out there, not just sheep's wool).
It is strange, I know, and I don't even know if it is grammatically correct, but
that's how I (and many other singular folk) talk about it.
Yarn is what your garment will be made up of when you have
finished your project, and it is important to know the properties of the yarn
you are using, for it will be these properties that will affect the ultimate
look and feel of a garment.
A lot of important information about a particular skein,
hank or ball of yarn can be found on the label, which is often found in
the form of a collar or band around it. Here you will learn fiber content,
weight, type of yarn, washing instructions, and approximately how many yards or
metres of yarn you have. There will also be a dye lot
number, which is important. Yarn is
dyed in lots, or batches, and these batches differ slightly from one another,
although they are considered to be batches of the same color. Buy enough
yarn to complete your project, usually a skein more than the pattern asks for,
so you can complete a single garment from a single dye lot.
Hopefully, you have read the section on fibers, and know
that different fibers have vastly different properties. But it is not the
fiber alone that will determine the look of a yarn, and how it will knit up.
There are many different methods for turning fiber into yarn, and many different
treatments applied to fibers that can change their initial properties.
Yarns spun from "filaments"
are generally smooth and shiny. This is because filaments are continuous
strands of fiber that can be many miles long, if we are talking about
extruded, synthetic filament fibers. The only natural filament fiber is silk,
which can measure over 1500 yards/metres. Filaments are often cut into shorter
strands for spinning.
Shorter lengths are referred to as "staple".
Staple lengths range from fibers that are 1-2 inches (angora rabbit and
chiengora) to fibers that are several inches long (Egyptian cotton, Merino
wool). Longer staple will spin into smooth, lustrous yarn, and it tends to be
softer and more sought after than its shorter staple counterparts. Longer staple
also lends strength and resilience to a yarn. Yarns made of short staple will
tend to have a fuzzy appearance, and is generally blended with a strong fiber,
like a synthetic filament fiber, to give it strength.
Sheep's wool is divided into two categories when referring to the resulting
yarn, depending on the length of the fibers and the way they are handled before
spinning: "worsted" and "woolen".
Worsteds are spun from longer, combed fibers, so the resulting yarn is smooth
and firm. Woolens are spun from uncombed wool, and is fuzzier and not as strong
(Icelandic Lopi and Shetland yarns). Both kinds are desirable types of yarn,
used to create different effects in the finished garment.
So how does one go from a handfuls of fuzz and fiber to yarn? The answer is "spinning".
There are many different methods to spin fiber into yarn, but basically, the
prepared fluff is drawn out and twisted using a spindle or other spinning
device, such as a spinning wheel, or the industrial equivalent. The twist
lends strength to the yarn. The twist can be a "Z twist"
which runs upwards and to the right, formed by spinning the yarn in a clockwise
direction. The "S twist" is formed by
spinning counterclockwise, the resulting twist runs upwards and to the left.
The twist in the yarn for Z and S runs in the same direction as the diagonal
used to form these letters!
When the yarn is first spun, it forms a "single".
These singles are often "plied" together to
form 2-ply, 3-ply and 4-ply yarns. Plying makes the yarns stronger, and more
uniform. Each ply is a single, and these singles are generally plied
together using a twist that is opposite to the one used in the initial spinning
of the strands. That is, a plied yarn that is a Z twist is made up of single
strands that have been spun with an S twist. The heaviness, or weight, of the
resulting yarn depends not on the amount of plies in the yarn, but on the
thickness of the singles. Two fat singles will result in a yarn much heavier
than a 4-ply made of very fine ones.
Yarn Weight: Yarn thickness
is often referred to as "weight" and it
ranges from the very fine "fingering" weight or "baby" yarn, to the "bulky" and
"chunky" yarns. In between there are many different terms, and their definitions
are guidelines, for people use the same term to define different weights of
yarn. Also, people in different countries will use different terms to describe
their yarn, so a fingering weight (USA) yarn from the UK will be labeled 4-ply.
I will try to define these terms here to the best of my abilities, but the
different resources from which I did my research also have differing points of
Laceweight, or 2-ply/3-ply:
Although some sources say differently, generally speaking, 2-ply/3-ply yarns are
very fine, almost threadlike yarn that are used for lacy garments such as shawls
and scarves, and baby clothes.
Fingering Yarn, or 4-ply: Also called "5-ply" in Australia and New Zealand, this
yarn is also used for baby clothes and lacy garments, but is also used for Fair
Isles and adult garments. (Granted, adult garments will take a long time to
complete with such a fine yarn!) Since this yarn is fine, greater detail can be
achieved when knitting a picture or motif into the garment. (In a different
resource book, fingering weight yarn was considered the same as 2-ply and 3-ply
Sportweight, or DK (Double
Knitting):This yarn is also "8-ply" in Australia and New Zealand. This
versatile yarn is used for all types of garments worn from infancy through
adulthood. It can be knitted up into lacy garments as well as garments with
lots of texture and cables, and everything in between. There are many patterns
available for this weight of yarn and it is very popular. It comes in many
colors, and is also available with different effects, i.e. tweed (different
flecks of color), heather (colors that are finely blended with paler shades for
a gently speckled effect), brushed (fuzzy effect), and others.
Aran, Worsted, or Triple:
Also referred to as "knitting worsted" or 12-ply in Australia and New Zealand,
this yarn is generally used for heavily textured garments involving cables and
other such texture techniques. It used to only be available in natural
unbleached shades of creamy white and ivory, but it is now available in many
colors although the white is the traditional choice for the knitting of an Aran
Bulky: 14 ply in Australia or New Zealand, this is heavy yarn that knits
up quickly on large needles, and is often the choice of beginners since it is
easy to handle and fast work. It comes in a wide range of colors, and is
popular for oversized sweaters, jackets, and children's wear.
Yarn Structure: Besides yarn
weight, there are many other ways to describe a yarn's appearance. These ways
are categorized under "yarn structure". The way yarns are plied and spun can
result in many different variations, as you will soon see!
Boucl�: Boucl� is formed
when two threads are plied using different tensions and held together using a
There are many different variations on this method,
producing different, yet similar results. This method is also used to produce
Loop yarn which is an
exaggerated version of boucl�. See below!
Chenille: This popular yarn
is best described to be formed like pipecleaner. Two very fine binding strands
are plied together tightly, holding the velvety pile between them.
Chenille can look very different if the length and texture
of the pile is changed. There are many different variations of chenille on the
market. Chenille can knit up like a fake fur or a with a fine, subtle velvety
appearance, depending on the pile.