In this post, you will learn about different yarn types.
The first time you enter a yarn shop can be a daunting experience – there are so many different types of yarn and so many colours to choose from!
And shopping online for knitting yarn can be equally as confusing, especially for a beginner.
What’s the difference between a worsted weight and DK yarn? Aran or Afghan? Super Bulky or Sport?
To make things a bit clearer, this article sets out the different types of yarns available and helps you choose the right ball (or skein) of yarn for your beginner knitting project.
The Different Yarn Weights
First of all, it’s essential to understand the various types of yarn weights.
Weights of yarn are separated by the thickness of the yarn, or ‘ply’.
Below is a useful, quick list of all available yarns and their characteristics, in order of chunky (top) to thin (bottom):
- Super Bulky or Super Chunky
- Commonly used for heavy blankets and rugs, or chunky pullovers
- Aran or Afghan
- Used for scarves, hats, garments such as jumpers and cardigans.
- Cosy clothing that will keep you warm.
- Worsted Weight or DK (double knitting yarn)
- Found in patterns for garments such as jumpers or cardigans, hats, accessories.
- Generally, items of clothing that will keep you warm.
- Commonly used in knitting and crochet patterns for light sweaters, scarves and accessories, and some baby items.
- Baby yarn is used for lightweight clothing, perfect for baby.
- Fingering or Super Fine Weight
- An ultra-fine yarn that is slightly trickier to use.
- Commonly used in more decorative throws and accessories, often with more complex stitches.
- Thread or Lace Weight Yarn
- Often found in complex patterns, the thread can be used to make lace items.
- These are often complex and usually found in advanced crochet patterns.
Learn More About Yarn Weights
As a beginner, you should be looking to use any yarn within the range of super bulky to DK, as these yarns are thicker and will allow you to see your stitches more easily.
Thicker yarns are also more comfortable to move in your hands with a greater purchase than a thin yarn, giving you more control over your work.
Yarns that I would suggest avoiding would be fingering yarns or thread, as these can prove too intricate for anyone new to the craft of knitting or crochet, as it is very difficult to see the separate stitches.
If you want to learn more, I include more detail about all of the various yarn weights in this article: Yarn Weights – A Beginners Guide.
Yarn Fibers And Composition
There are many different types of fibres to choose from, including wool, acrylic, cotton, merino, cashmere, alpaca, and a blend of these.
For beginners, I would recommend starting with a natural woollen yarn, or wool blend yarn.
This fibre is incredibly versatile and easy to work with, and overall has slightly more stretch than yarns such as cotton or acrylic.
Wool blend yarns are also relatively cost-effective, making them an economical choice for trying out new projects.
Tip: choose a contrasting colour to the shade of your knitting needles – it will make it easier for you to distinguish between knitting needles and your work!
A variegated yarn is also great for new knitters, as you can see your stitches more distinctly with the changes in colour.
Acrylic is used by many makers as it is cheap, comes in a variety of colours and is widely available.
Acrylic is not as breathable or as absorbent as wool, but it’s machine washable and tough.
Pure acrylic yarn is normally used for homewares, baby clothes and blankets.
If you are on a tight budget, this is a great yarn to use as it can start from $2 per 100g ball.
Blended yarns are also really popular with makers.
Different types of fibres are mixed together to create yarns that combine both wool and acrylic.
Unusual yarns are also created when fibres are mixed as synthetic fibres are used to bind ‘feature’ items like sequins to a main strand of yarn.
Synthetic fibres can be much cheaper than animal or plant fibres.
If you want to work with a fibre that is fairly cost-effective then look for wool, cashmere or silk with an acrylic, viscose or nylon mix.
This is a classic summer yarn – cotton can also be great for those who are allergic to animal fibres.
Cotton has little elasticity but is very strong and has beautiful colours available.
If you are knitting something in cotton you don’t need to fully soak it to block it when you are finished.
You can just lie it flat on an ironing board or clean sheet and give it a good blast of steam from your iron.
Crisp and cool, cotton is perfect for summer garments.
Lightweight cotton is also a great choice for tops and cardigans.
But if you want to use it for wraps and shawls, consider using a cotton/wool blend to stop it from stretching too much.
One of the first fibres ever spun, linen flax comes from plants.
It is very strong and light but has a tendency to crease in woven fabric.
Like wool, linen is highly absorbent and suitable for warm and cold weather.
Unlike cotton, linen isn’t prone to stretching and tends to soften when washing.
This yarn is not so great for cables but great for lace.
Wool is breathable and highly absorbent, it is long-lasting and softens with wear.
It also requires less washing than other fibres.
Use superwash yarn is you want to machine wash it though, as otherwise, it can felt!
If you wet it and stretch it out when blocking, it will keep the shape it dries into.
Choose wool for blankets, Aran sweaters and close-fitting tops.
Some people find wool a little itchy, so before making a garment, wear a little strand around your neck and see if it irritates you.
Alpaca is incredibly soft and has a luxurious feel to it.
Thanks to its hollow fibres, which act as mini insulating rods, it’s very warm making it perfect for winter accessories.
Using an alpaca blend for a garment is a good idea, as wearing anything in 100% alpaca will be very hot.
Unlike wool which has a natural elasticity, alpaca can ‘grow’ over time.
So it’s better to make garments in pieces rather than seamlessly, as the structure added by seams helps to prevent your sweater from stretching.
Mohair is popular and is normally blended with silk or nylon to create a strong fluffy yarn that can be dyed in many colours.
Mohair can be itchy if used for a whole garment, so it’s best to try it out against your skin first.
Held double, a very fine laceweight mohair mix yarn can create a warm, soft fabric that adds something special to the look of a piece.
Very light and warm, cashmere is combed from the stomachs of mountain goats and is very expensive.
It’s the best choice out there for quality.
Many yarns include a touch of cashmere for softness, but few contain large quantities.
Cashmere Yarn – Lana Grossa 100% Cashmere Fine
Silk is a favourite with knitters who like to make lacy items in superfine yarns.
Silk comes in many vibrant colours.
As well as pure silk yarns, alpaca yarns and wool/silk mixes are popular choices for shawls and scarves.
Silk is a great choice for light draping garments and will give your project an amazing stitch definition.
Silk Yarn – Berroco Mantra – 100% Silk
Tools To Use With Yarn For Beginners
If you are just starting out, I recommend opting for bamboo needles over metal or plastic.
Lightweight bamboo needles very lightweight and easy to move in your hands, making them a good choice for beginners learning to knit.
Many knitters also recommend using a stitch counter when working, to make it easier for them to keep track of the number of stitches needed.
Once you’ve mastered basic stitches and you’ve started making larger patterns, it’s also a good idea to invest in a lightweight bamboo crochet hook, so that you can cast off neatly.
Knitting Patterns for Beginners
The best way to find out which yarns you are most comfortable using is to try out some basic patterns and get used to holding the yarn in your hands.
What feels natural to one person might not work for another, so I recommend picking up your knitting needles or crochet hook with a new ball of yarn and seeing what you can create.
In need of some inspiration? These patterns are a great place to start:
This easy knitting pattern for beginners uses a relatively bulky/chunky yarn (yarn weight 5), making it easy to see your stitches.
This collection of beginner stitch patterns will help you to master the knitting basics.
This collection of basic knitting patterns are perfect if you are new to knitting.
You may also be interested in these Knitting Lessons.