Top 5 Yarn Label Lies

Filed in Industry Insight, Skill Building by on May 21, 2013 2 Comments

If you think that yarn labels tell you everything you need to know about the yarn they surround, you would be sadly mistaken.

Top 5 Yarn Label Lies

Although there is some good information on a yarn label, understanding what each element REALLY means can be a bit challenging.  And if you take all of it just at face value, you might discover that some labels lie! Here are some tips that should help you figure out how to read yarn labels more effectively.

Lie #1: Yarn Weight

Even yarn labels lie about their weight! I am not talking about how many grams or ounces in a ball or skein; in fact, that should be one of the few pieces of information that is consistently accurate.  I am talking about the yarn thickness scale.  Sometime you will find it in numbers 1=Very Fine through 6=Extra Bulky. Other times it will be in the description Sport, Worsted, DK.

The reality is that there is no true scale for either version of these terms and although the difference between lace and worsted is pretty obvious, the difference between DK and worsted may not be quite so clear.  And depending upon the fiber content and opinion of the person creating the label, they might be interchangeable.  Weight descriptions are there as a guideline, not as a rule or standand.

Image via Flickr by David J. Gray

Lie #2: Yardage

The yardage listed on labels in almost all cases is approximate.  It is calculated based on the weight of the ball/skein and is rarely actually measured out.  Sometimes indie yarn dyers do actually measure there yarns and therefore can be the exception to this rule, but you should still knit with caution.  And because yarn yardage is estimated based on weight, different colors can have different yardage amounts even in the same yarn from the same manufacturer.

Dye has weight, so “heavier” yarns will have less yardage than their lighter counterparts.  As such, natural yarns will usually have more yardage than the same yarn that has been dyed. So as you learn how to read yarn labels, always be sure to buy a little bit more yardage than your pattern calls for, or you might find yourself losing at a game of “yarn chicken”!

Image via Flickr by Howard Dickins

Lie #3: Gauge

The gauge listed on the label is one possible gauge that you might (or might not) be able to get with the yarn.  There is nothing that guarantees that you will be able to match that gauge, it is just a reference point to help provide an idea of the fabric that can be created with the yarn.  The fabric created at that gauge may or may not suit the project you are trying to create, either (this relates closely to the next point).

Lie #4: Needle/Hook Size

Somebody, somewhere was able to get the gauge on the yarn label using the stated needle/hook size, but that does not mean that you will be able to create the same results.  It also does not mean that the stated needle/hook size is the “correct” size for the yarn.  Depending upon your own style of working with the yarn, your natural tension and the fabric you are trying to create the given needle/hook size maybe exactly correct or wrong by a significant margin.  Once again, this piece of information is just a reference point, not a fact.

Image via Flickr by ingermaaike2

Lie #5: Content is not King

There is more to yarn than just the content. I have often overheard knitters/crocheters talking about yarn content as if that tells the whole story about the yarn, but that just is not true. How it is spun and/or plied can make a significant difference in how the yarn actually works up into a fabric.  This is not to say that content is not important, because it is. And two different wool yarns will be much more similar than, say, a wool and a cotton. But a single spun will also behave differently than a plied yarn created from the exact same fiber.  So content is important, but it definitely doesn’t tell the whole story.

What does this all boil down to? The yarn label is a starting point of information. Much of it should be taken with a grain of salt, even if you’re a pro at learning how to read yarn labels. And the only way to really know if the yarn is right for the project is to put yarn to needles or hook and swatch!  So what are you waiting for?!

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Comments (2)

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  1. Gauge is usually stated as a certain number of stitches and rows per 4″ (or 10cm) square, and therefore offers two traps for the trusting soul who believes the ball band. 24 stiches by 30 rows is not uncommon. You might hit the stitch count spot on, but find that you have more or fewer rows. It could be a problem in a pattern with a long repeat cable or large textured pattern for instance. Lets say the design is repeated over 40 rows. The pattern might tell you to repeat the design 3 times, which should measure 16″ long, before splitting for the neckline or armholes. If you are off by just 1 row per inch your piece would be about 2 inches longer or shorter than desired. This is why we are told to swatch. I don’t. I like adventure! And disappointment and frustration, I guess.

    I like what you say about gauge/needle size not addressing what the fabric will be like. It may be too limp or stiff for your pattern at the suggested gauge.

    I have noticed that diffent colors of the same yarn may also have a totally different feel to them because of the dyes. I’d read about this, and noticed it when I made a sweater with a yarn that was very soft and fluffy in two colors, but stiffer with less loft in others.

    Great article, thanks.

  2. Gemma says:

    I certainly agree with the point about yarn weight. Paintbox Yarns Simply Aran and Simply Chunky are nowhere near aran weight or chunky weight. They’re more like DK and aran respectively. With Hayfield Bonus DK, it’s more like an aran weight… So frustrating really. Maybe each weight category has too much wiggle room for interpretation?

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