Finding your way through the maze of yarn weights
Let’s kick off the series about yarn! In this post of The Explorers Blog, I’ll start with yarn weight. Yarn weight refers to the thickness of the yarn itself (the thread) rather than the weight of the whole skein or ball of yarn. One could wonder why we would need to have a yarn weight defined in anything else than grams (or another weighing unit)… A perfectly legitimate question. The tricky thing is that different fibers have different densities. So 10 meters of Worsted-weight wool will most likely weigh less than 10 meters of Sport-weight cotton. Cotton is more dense and weighs more (in grams) even though the Worsted-weight yarn is ‘heavier’ than Sport-weight. I like to think of yarn weight as thickness, although this is not entirely true (because air trapped in the yarn can create loft and make it appear thicker). But let’s not complicate things today. I’ll talk about loft another time.
There are several different classifications to indicate yarn weight. These have evolved over time and can be regionally-dependent. I’ll concentrate on the classification that I use in my patterns. That’s also the one that is used on Ravelry to specify the yarn weights in the Ravelry yarn database. The name of the yarn weights, from thinnest to thickest are: Thread, Cobweb, Lace, Light Fingering, Fingering, Sport, DK, Worsted, Aran, Bulky, Super Bulky, Jumbo. I took a picture of different yarn weights that I used so far to give you an idea, from left to right we have: Lace, Fingering, Sport, DK, Worsted, Aran.
Lace, the dark orange yarn, is one of thinnest yarn weights available. Lace is usually used for very light and ethereal accessories like shawls. Very often lace stitch patterns are used as the yarn will show the yarn overs beautifully. Lace-weight will very often have the same number of stitches as Fingering per 10 cm / 4 inches. This is because we usually work lace-weight yarn with relatively large needles compared to the yarn thickness. However, you’ll need to work a lot more rows to get the same height. For example, the Namib stole uses Lace-weight yarn.
Fingering, the pink and peach yarn, is most probably the standard go-to yarn for shawls. Fingering is thicker than lace but the stitches will still be very fine. This is perfect for working lace patterns, with the added bonus that Fingering will knit quicker than lace as you’ll need less rows to reach 10 cm / 4 inches. The Poppy Path cowl and Orangerie cowl are using Fingering-weight yarns as well as the Auro shawl.
Sport, the green yarn, is best defined as an in-between-weight: it’s thicker than Fingering and thinner than DK. It will still produce fine stitches but will knit a bit faster than Fingering. For example the Alkhally cowl, Lismoor cowl and Acqua Alta cowl all use sport-weight.
DK (or Double Knit(ting)), the dark pink yarn, is more or less twice as thick as Fingering. Still, DK can be used to produce beautiful results with lace stitch patterns. I would not recommend using lace stitches with multiple decreases like k5tog for example as the decreases will start to look bulky. The Pyrus shawl and Piccolo Pyrus cowl both used DK-weight yarns.
Worsted, the turquoise yarn, is a bit thicker than DK. It is still suited for some lace stitch patterns but, even more than DK, not for really intricate patterns with multiple decreases and most likely not for patterning on all rows. Worsted is perfect if you want to finish something quickly (like a cowl that you want to give as a present) or when you are starting with lace (the bigger stitches are more manageable and clearer to see). The Mint Latte shawl, and the Wavelet, Intermezzo and Amphora cowls use Worsted-weight for example.
And finally, Aran, the cream yarn, is more or less twice as thick as DK. Aran will knit really quickly and besides sweaters can be used for hats and warm mitts. The Abies Trail cowl uses Aran-weight.
The other yarn weights I referred to at the beginning fall in between those. The thicker yarns are often used for garments like sweaters and cardigans. The thinner yarns are often used for accessories and socks. The thicker you go, the fastest you’ll be able to finish your project. But of course, this will have an influence on the look and style of your project. I’ll talk about this another time.