Yarn Types Explained: A Guide To Different Fibers

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In this blog 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 colors 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 a 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.

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Yarn types explained a guide to different fibers

The Different Yarn Weights

First of all, it’s essential to understand the various types of yarn weights.

Weights of yarn are separated into categories by the thickness of the yarn, or ‘ply’. 

What is ply? 

Ply count basically refers to the number of strands plied together to make yarn.

It’s another way to describe the yarn’s weight and it’s mainly used in Australia, New Zealand, and in the UK. 

They vary from 2-ply to 14-ply yarns.

Below is a useful, quick list of all available yarns and their characteristics, in order of chunky (top) to thin (bottom): 

Jumbo Weight Yarn

Perfect for blankets, throws, big floor pillows, pillow covers, rugs, baskets, and winter wear such as chunky sweaters, ponchos, and hats.

Super Bulky or Super Chunky Weight Yarn

Commonly used for heavy blankets and rugs, or chunky pullovers.

Bulky or Chunky Weight Yarn

Its thickness makes it perfect for winter projects like a nice blanket to cozy up with, a nice warm cowl, stylish oversized sweaters, shawls to complete your outfits, mittens, and scarves to keep you warm.

Aran or Afghan Weight Yarn

Used for scarves, hats, and garments such as jumpers and cardigans.

Cozy clothing that will keep you warm.

Worsted Weight Yarn or DK (double knitting yarn)

Found in patterns for garments such as jumpers or cardigans, hats, and accessories.

Generally, items of clothing that will keep you warm.

Sport Weight Yarn

Commonly used in knitting and crochet patterns for light sweaters, scarves and accessories, and some baby items.

Baby Yarn

Baby yarn is used for lightweight clothing, perfect for baby projects..

Fingering or Super Fine Weight Yarn

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.

white yarn types

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 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.

Learn everything about the different yarn weights here – Yarn Weight Guide (+ Conversion Chart)

knitting with white yarn

Yarn Fibers And Composition

There are many different types of fibers to choose from, including wool, acrylic, cotton, merino, cashmere, alpaca, and a blend of these.

For beginners, I would recommend starting with a natural woolen yarn, or wool blend yarn.

This fiber 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 color to the shade of your knitting needles – it will make it easier for you to distinguish between knitting needles and your work!

green yarn cakes

Acrylic Yarn

Acrylic is used by many makers as it is cheap, comes in a variety of colors, 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.

Acrylic Yarn – Vanna’s Choice/Lion Brand Yarns 

Acrylic yarn

Rayon Yarn

Rayon yarn is a type of yarn made from cellulose fibers that are derived from wood pulp or other plant-based sources. 

It is a semi-synthetic fiber and is known for its softness, drape, and versatility. 

Rayon yarn can be found in various forms, including filament yarn, staple fiber yarn, or blended with other fibers.

Rayon yarn can be used for a wide range of projects. It is suitable for both garments and accessories, such as shawls, tops, dresses, scarves, and home decor items. 

It can be knit, crocheted, or woven, and it blends well with other fibers.

Lion Brand Yarn Truboo Sparkle Yarn  

truboo sparkle

Blended Yarn

Blended yarns are also really popular with makers.

Different types of fibers are mixed together to create yarns that combine both wool and acrylic.

Unusual yarns are also created when fibers are mixed as synthetic fibers are used to bind ‘feature’ items like sequins to a main strand of yarn.

Synthetic fibers can be much cheaper than plant or animal fibers.

If you want to work with a fiber that is fairly cost-effective then look for wool, cashmere, or silk with an acrylic, viscose, or nylon mix.

Blended Yarn – Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick + Quick – 80% Acrylic/20% Wool

Blended Yarn

Cotton Yarn

This is a classic summer yarn – cotton can also be great for those who are allergic to animal fibers.

Cotton has little elasticity but is very strong and has beautiful colors 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. 

Plus cotton is perfect for sensitive skin and it’s perfect for baby projects as you want to avoid allergic reactions. 

Cotton Yarn – Rowan Cotton Glace – 100% Cotton

Cotton yarn

Linen Yarn

One of the first fibers 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.

Linen Yarn – Katia Lino 100%

Linen yarn

Wool Yarn

Wool is breathable and highly absorbent, it is long-lasting and softens with wear.

It also requires less washing than other animal-based fibers.

Use superwash yarn if you want to wash it in the washing machine 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.

Wool yarns come in all kinds of wool fibers, you have merino wool, sheep’s wool, shetland wool, Icelandic wool, and angora wool made with fibers from angora rabbits that provide double the warmth compared to other wool yarns. 

Wool – Cascade 220 – 100% Wool

Wool

Alpaca Yarn

Alpaca is incredibly soft and has a luxurious feel to it.

Thanks to its hollow fibers, 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.

Alpaca Yarn – Berroco Ultra Alpaca

Alpaca yarn

Mohair Yarn

Mohair is popular and is normally blended with silk or nylon to create a strong fluffy yarn that can be dyed in many colors.

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. 

Mohair is an animal fiber that comes from Angora goats. 

Mohair Yarn – Rowan Kidsilk Haze

mohair yarn

Cashmere Yarn

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.

Lang Yarns Cashmere Premium

Cashmere yarn

Silk Yarn

Silk is a favorite with knitters who like to make lacy items in superfine yarns.

Silk comes in many vibrant colors.

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. 

Malabrigo Mora

Silk yarn

Faux Fur Yarn 

Faux-fur yarn offers a cruelty-free alternative to real fur, allowing crafters to achieve the look and feel of fur while being mindful of animal welfare.

This type of yarn is popular for creating accessories and garments, such as scarves, hats, and trimmings, as well as for crafting toys and home decor items that require a soft and fuzzy texture.

Lion Brand Go For Faux

faux fur yarn

Bamboo Yarn

This yarn is made from bamboo plant fibers.

It is known for its softness and smoothness, and it has a silky texture that’s pleasant against the skin. 

Durability and breathability, make it a popular choice for a variety of knitting, crocheting, and weaving projects.

Plus it has natural moisture-wicking properties, which means it can efficiently absorb and evaporate moisture, keeping you cool and dry in warm weather.

This yarn is perfect for projects like baby garments, shawls, scarves, and socks. 

When working with bamboo yarn, it’s important to note that it can have less elasticity compared to wool or acrylic yarns. 

This means it may be less forgiving if stretched or blocked too tightly.

It’s generally recommended to follow the care instructions provided by the yarn manufacturer to maintain the quality and longevity of your finished projects.

Premier Yarns Bamboo Fair

bamboo fair

Hemp Yarn

This is a type of yarn made from the fibers of the hemp plant.

Hemp has been used for thousands of years to produce textiles due to its strong, durable, and environmentally friendly properties. 

Hemp yarn is gaining popularity in the crafting world as people seek more sustainable and natural fiber options.

It’s strong, durable, breathable, and sustainable it’s perfect for projects that require longevity, such as bags, rugs, or sturdy garments.

Lion Brand Yarn Just Hemp Bulky Yarn

hemp yarn

Variegated And Self-Striping Yarn

Variegated Yarn

Variegated yarn refers to a type of yarn that is dyed with multiple colors, creating a range of color changes throughout the skein. 

The colors in variegated yarn are typically distributed in a random or blended manner, resulting in a multi-colored or mottled appearance. 

The color changes can vary in length and intensity, creating unique patterns and combinations within the yarn.

Variegated yarn is known for its vibrant and visually interesting look, as it can incorporate different hues, shades, and tones within a single skein.

The color changes can be subtle or bold, depending on the specific yarn and dyeing technique used.

A variegated yarn is also great for new knitters, as you can see your stitches more distinctly with the changes in color.

Check out 17 unique patterns you can make with variegated yarn here – 17 Free Knitting Patterns To Make With Variegated Yarn. 

Cascade Yarns Nifty Cotton Effects

variegated yarn cascade

Self-Striping Yarn

Self-striping yarn is a type of yarn that is designed to create stripes of different colors as you work with it, without requiring you to change yarns or manually switch colors.

It is also sometimes referred to as variegated yarn or multicolor yarn. 

The unique characteristic of self-striping yarn is that it contains multiple colors that are pre-dyed or pre-printed onto the yarn in specific repeating patterns. 

These patterns determine the width and sequence of the stripes that will appear in your project.

When you knit or crochet with self-striping yarn, the colors automatically transition as you work, creating distinct stripes.

Depending on the length of the color repeats, the stripes can be narrow or wide, and the color changes can be subtle or bold.

Lion Brand Ferris Wheel

ferris wheel

Novelty Yarns

Novelty yarns are a type of yarn that is specifically designed to create unique and eye-catching effects in knitted or crocheted fabrics. 

Unlike traditional yarns, which are usually made of a single type of fiber, novelty yarns incorporate various materials, textures, colors, and other decorative elements to achieve their distinct appearance.

Here are some common types of novelty yarns:

  1. Bouclé: This yarn is characterized by loops or curls along its length, creating a textured and bumpy surface. It is often used to add a fluffy or textured effect to garments. Lion Brand Yarn Homespun Bulky Yarn, Celestial Stripes
  2. Eyelash: Eyelash yarn consists of short, feathery strands that protrude from a central thread, resembling eyelashes. It is commonly used for creating fuzzy or furry accents in projects. Ice Yarns Eyelash Hand Knitting Yarn 
  3. Ribbon: Ribbon yarns are flat and wide, resembling ribbons. They can be made of various materials, such as silk, satin, or metallic threads, and are often used for decorative trims or adding a touch of shine. Red Heart Yarn Bulk Boutique Ribbons
  4. Chenille: Chenille yarn has a velvety or plush appearance due to its fuzzy pile. They are made by twisting short lengths of yarn around a central core, creating a soft and luxurious texture. Paintbox Yarns Chenille
  5. Slub: Slub yarns feature irregular thick and thin sections along their length, giving them a textured and uneven look. They are commonly used to add visual interest and a rustic feel to fabrics. Plymouth Yarn Beach Pebbles
  6. Metallic: Metallic yarns incorporate metallic fibers, such as aluminum or polyester-coated with metal, to create a shiny and reflective effect. They are often used for adding sparkle and glamour to projects. Caron Simply Soft Party Silver Sparkle Yarn
  7. Feather: Feather yarns consist of soft, wispy strands that resemble feathers. They are lightweight and delicate and can be used to create airy and ethereal fabrics or decorative trims. Rowan Moordale

These are just a few examples of the many types of novelty yarns available.

They offer a wide range of creative possibilities for adding texture, color, and visual interest to knitting, crocheting, and other fiber arts projects.

How To Read A Yarn Label 

Everything you need to know about your yarn, you will find on the yarn label.

The yarn manufacturer provides all the necessary details about your yarn.

Yarns that are mass-produced will have that information on the label using the yarn standards system from 0-7.

From the weight, the yardage, the fiber content, and the size of hooks, and needles you will need for this specific yarn.

Check out how to read a yarn label hereHow To Read A Yarn Label (Step By Step)

TIP – If you end up throwing away the label, just google the yarn and you will find everything you need on the brand’s website.

how to read a yarn label

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 are 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.

white yarn and needles

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:

How To Knit A Hat With Straight Needles

This easy knitting pattern for beginners uses a relatively bulky/chunky yarn (yarn weight 5), making it easy to see your stitches.

Check out the free knitting pattern hereHow To Knit A Hat For Complete Beginners (+ Video Tutorial).

Or grab the ad-free printable pattern here.

knitted ribbed hat in the petite wool

12 Simple Knitting Stitches For Beginners

This collection of beginner stitch patterns will help you to master the knitting basics.

Check out the free knitting patterns here – 12 Simple Knitting Stitches For Beginners

Or grab the ad-free printable ebook here.

Basic knitting stitches for beginners

Knitting Patterns For Beginners

This collection of basic knitting patterns is perfect if you are new to knitting.

Easy Knitting Patterns For Beginners

Knitting Lessons And Resources

You may also be interested in these Knitting Lessons.

There you will find blog posts and video tutorials for all the basic knitting techniques and stitches.

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6 Comments

    1. Hello Terryann, I’m so happy you enjoyed the post, I hope you enjoy finding out which yarns you love to work with! 🙂

  1. I like that you talked about how it is essential to understand the various types of yarn weights. My wife recently started knitting, and I am thinking of supporting her by buying some supplies for her new hobby. I heard before that there are soft chenille yarn for sale nowadays, so I am thinking of buying some for her.

    1. Hello Luke,
      That’s great, I am so happy you enjoyed the article information.
      Chenille yarn is great for blankets.
      Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick and Quick is also a great super bulky yarn for beginners.
      I hope your wife if enjoying her new hobby!
      Louise

  2. I learned the basics of knitting 15 years ago and have just picked it back up in the last 6 months attempting to actually develop some skill. I have opened and read 10,000 pins. (It’s possible I surf pins more than knit lol) BUT, I can’t tell you how many times – AFTER reading – I notice those that “hook” me are from Handy Little “You”. Thank you!!!

    1. Hello Carter’s Nana,
      Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m so happy you are enjoying the patterns and tutorials!
      Happy knitting 🙂
      Louise