Monthly Archives: April 2013

How to Read a Yarn Label for Knitting

A few years back when I first started knitting, I had the great idea (super original) that I could make my own accessories and sweaters and stop paying top dollar for something made on the cheap. At the same time I decided I should add some color to my usual black winter clothes. This was about 2-3 months after I learned how to knit and had knitted one very failed dishcloth, so bad that there’s no photo evidence. To be honest it was more of a series of knots that started out square but ended as a triangular shape…with a gap or two…and an extra stitch here and there to equal it out…kind of, and a scarf.
The scarf wasn’t terrible, but that’s because I cheated. Every mistake, hole, gap or uneven stitch, I sewed over them. I have no idea what I was I thinking. It’s called knitting for a reason: there’s no sewing involved.

Then comes the red scarf. I saw a photo in a fashion blog of someone wearing a coat similar to mine with a red textured scarf and it looked great. So I thought, “I can make that” after all how hard could it be.
Well, using the only pair of needles I had, I bought 2 balls of red yarn 100% wool (super itchy, like a scarf should be).  I casted-on the stitches eyeballing how wide I wanted it to be, about 8 inches of packed stitches on my needle. And away I went. It took me a few days to realize how wide my scarf actually was. Once I knitted a few inches the scarf was about 15 inches wide. But I kept knitting…and kept knitting…and trust me you don’t want people doubting your sanity as you’re knitting a scarf poolside in July.

The thing is, the red scarf became a big project, I had to buy 4 extra balls of yarn (bulk sized) to get it long enough to rap around my neck and I’m happy and relieved to say I FINALLY finished it for winter …two years later.

    The never ending red scarf, worn by my husband...the day I finally finished it!

The never ending red scarf, worn by my husband…the day I finally finished it!

Since then I got my shit together and I realized that being able to read yarn labels is a good first step to make sure that whatever I choose to knit doesn’t take two years, is to wide or that I’m using too small of needles and end up with a super bulky tight hat that won’t fit anyone (seriously, not even the cat looks good in it).

This seems pretty straightforward, but for some reason there’s something about creative-types that just makes us say, “I can make that” while looking at anything in popular stores. Obviously, I am more than guilty of starting knitting projects based on that assumption.
Back when I was a knitting padlewan (don’t blame me, I JUST watched the series) my projects always ended up a bit wonky looking (*cough – see above story), but now that I’ve learned to read yarn labels and measure knitting gauges, I’ve been getting better and better.

Here are 3 reasons why reading labels correctly is important:
1 – you get wins early on, boosting your knitting confidence
2 – helps estimate cost and time properly
3 – in the end the project will look and feel right as well as fit properly

A yarn label normally has the following basic information:
1 – Yarn name or fiber,
2 – Yards or meters
3 – Gauge (stitches per 4 inches)
4 – Weight of the yarn
5 – The origin of the product
6 – Care method
7 – Color or dye lot

It might not just be me, but this seems like a lot of information to have on one usually stupid tiny label.  To save you a few headaches, here is the information broken down.

learn-knitting-reading-labels-yarn-needles

learn-knitting-reading-labels-yarn-needles

1 – Name of the yarn
Usually at the front of the tag or label, sometimes the name is simply the yarn fiber or the percentage of blended fibers, other times the brand titles the yarn with a name.

2 – Yardage
The amount of yarn in the package, sometimes in yards, sometimes in meters. It’s very important to check the amount of yarn needed to make a project. This amount is normally in the pattern, you don’t want to miss a few yards of yarn at the end of a project; it’s hard to say if you’ll be able to find the same one.

3 – Gauge
A knitting gauge is measured by the number of stitches per inch using a certain size of needles. This is shown by a square icon with knitting needles illustrated in the center, the gauge information is written around the square.
For example, it would take 15 stitches and 16 rows to knit a 4”x4” or 10cm x 10cm square with 5mm or 8US needles. Which means that by using 5mm needles with this yarn, it will take you 15 stitches to make a project 4” wide and you’ll have to knit 16 rows for it to be 4” long.

4 – Weight
Patterns always indicate the type of yarn needed to make the project. Sounds easy right? For some reason, it gets complicated. The weight of yarn can be identified on a label in many ways, most ways are completely different but mean the exact same thing.
The yarn weight can be identified as a number (0 to 6), as an adjective (fine, medium, bulky…) or as a name (worsted, Afghan, rug, roving…).
For example a yarn ball labeled, as a 4, as medium or as worsted, will all be the same weight. You might ask why, to be honest I have no idea, for me, the gauge is the clearest indication.
Patterns will normally say either the yarn weight or the gauge if not both. Thankfully they are connected so you can always figure out the missing link.
The weight descriptions can all be categorized together along with the gauge.

Here is a chart to make things clearer:

learn-knitting-gauge-yarn-needle-size-chart

Now, if you want to knit something slouchier or lighter, thicker or tighter, you can always make your own  knit gauge with the yarn and needles of your choice. All you have to do is knit a 4” x 4” square and measure how many stitches and rows there are per inch.

Check out: #2 BLOG — Knit Gauge – How to Measure Stitches Per Inch - SOON!!!!

5 – origin
Where’s the yarn from? Peru…Canada…Italy? The origin will tell you!

6 ­ – care information
How to wash the type of yarn once you’ve finished your project. Some labels use the wash/dry/temperature symbols you would see on itchy clothing tags; others have a sentence or two for the wash directions.

*Side note
If you’re like me, and you’ve never figured out what the wash symbols meant on your clothes, this info might be useful: Laundry Guide to Common Care Symbols

7 – color or dye lot
This might only seem like a way to label the yarn color but the number of the dye lot can really affect your end product. Some dye lots can be slightly darker or lighter than others (especially in hand-dyed or natural yarns), which might not be noticeable as a yarn ball but could create an obvious color difference in your knitted project.
Unintentional stripes anyone? Could look cool…maybe…

Bam! That’s it.
Expert knitting can commence!

If I missed something, or if you still have some questions…let me know in the comments below!