When I was new to knitting, I was so excited to get started on a project that I just jumped right in. I didn’t bother to make sure I had the “proper” materials. I had needles. I had yarn. I was good to go. So, why did my first hat turn out WAY too big? Why did some of the stitches seem way too tight? Way too loose?
I began digging a little deeper into the details of the patterns. First, I saw that I was to use a certain needle size. Okay. That is easy enough. Then, I noticed that there was a specific yarn suggested, along with a number and a weight name (something bizarre, called “worsted weight”). Then, there was a “gauge” I was supposed to check once I had the right needle size and yarn weight. My gauge should be roughly the same as the gauge listed on the pattern, and that will ensure the right size and shape of the finished product.
Ah. Now I knew I needed to slow down and gather all of the right tools in order to successfully create the finished product. That meant I had to figure out what all of the symbols and numbers on the yarn wrapper meant. In an effort to make this process easier for any beginning knitters and crocheters, I have provided the following quick “cheat sheet” of sorts. For now, I am focusing on yarn weight, which is (in my opinion) the first thing to look for on a yarn label.
Whenever I begin a project, the first step in selecting the right yarn is looking at the weight. When working from a pattern, a yarn weight is specified in order for you to obtain the correct gauge, and therefore a correctly-sized project.
There are, as of now, eight yarn weight categories. They range in number from 0-7, 0 being the smallest, lightest yarn, and 7 being the thickest, bulkiest. If your pattern indicates a “4” yarn weight, you can almost always choose any yarn, as long as it has a “4” on the yarn wrapper. The type of yarn will impact that to some degree, as well, but it is important to start with the right weight.
Here are the eight yarn categories, by number and name. I have also included some of my favorite yarns in some of those weights, just for fun. 🙂
- 1-Super Fine
- 3-Light: I like Bernat Softee Baby Ombre
- 4-Medium: I like Lion Brand Heartland
- 5-Bulky: I like Lion Brand Homespun
- 6-Super Bulky: I like Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick
Typically, the larger the yarn weight, the larger the knitting needles or crochet hook used. Larger yarn and needles/hooks work up faster, creating bigger, chunkier stitches. Smaller needles/hooks and yarn weight create more delicate, tighter stitches. All the details about each yarn weight, including the yarns that fall into each category type, can be found at the Craft Yarn Council’s Standard Yarn Weight System page.
Keep in mind that other factors will impact the gauge of your project, including how tightly or loosely you stitch and the material of yarn (such as wool, cotton, etc.). Once you have a handle on selecting the right yarn weight for your project, you will have more things to consider, including the care instructions and yardage of the yarn, but this will be a good place to start.