Confusing Terms Found On Yarn Labels

Typical Information on Ball Band

Yarns are packaged with paper ball bands containing information to help you choose the most appropriate yarn for your projects. I outline this information in my e-book “It’s All About The Yarn”. The following are “confusing terms” you may find on yarn labels.

  • Yarn Weight – Typically you won’t see the weight category (thickness of yarn strand) printed on the ball band, but some manufacturers will denote the yarn’s weight category by its number (0 – 7), term (lace – jumbo), or both.
  • Yarn Length – This is the yardage and meterage (amount in yards and metres) for one ball, skein, or hank. This is the actual length, not to be confused with weight in ounces and grams. Two different 50g balls of yarn will have different lengths. For example, a 50g ball of lace weight yarn may be 420m in length, whereas a 50g ball of sock yarn may only have 175m in length. Yardage and meterage is what is used to calculate the amount of substitute yarn.
  • The meaning of the following yarn types is unclear: fingering, sock, sport, baby, and 4 ply yarn. Historically, these yarn types were used as “names” of the yarn. Plies were often used to describe weight, because they were fairly uniform. Today, a single ply yarn can be a very fine lace or a bulky Icelandic wool. Regardless of the weight, all types can be a single or consist of many plies. The following chart is helpful, and notice that in UK, Australia, and New Zealand (not all yarn manufacturers) plies have remained as yarn weights, even though the meaning is no longer clear. Note: The differences between Fingering, Sock, Baby and Sport are small – it’s most important to rely on your gauge when choosing the appropriate yarn for your project.

Australian Yarn Label – 4ply yarn

Yarn Weights for US, UK, and Australia

  • DK, Worsted, Aran – These terms are also yarn weights, commonly found on labels, particularly DK, which stands for “double knitting”. DK is a “light (3) weight” yarn and is popular. Worsted and aran are classified as “medium (4) weight”. “Aran” is slightly thicker than worsted.
  • Color Codes/Dye Lots – Color codes are the manufacturer’s number for a particular color. Dye lots refer to the dye batch number, or the batch the yarn was dyed in. Because yarn is dyed in batches, it’s not uncommon for the same color to vary from one dye lot to another. For this reason, it is important to buy yarn in one dye lot for your project.
  • Some labels, particularly yarns manufactured in Europe may show a rough guide as to how much yarn is required for different garments in average sizes for men, women, and children.
  • You may also find a crochet gauge in single crochet (sc) and hook size for a 4 inch square, along with the stockinette stitch gauge.
  • Care instructions will be in text, symbols, or both. For symbol reference, check out this chart.
  • Flax/Linen – Flax is a food and fiber crop cultivated in cooler regions of the world. Textiles made from flax are known as “linen”. You will often see the term “linen” used on a yarn label, rather than “flax”. The collective term “linens” is generically used to describe bed and kitchen textiles, even those not made from flax.
  • Mercerized Cotton – Mercerization is a chemical finish used on cotton that adds luster, and improves its dyeing properties. Mercerized cotton is stronger than regular cotton, and less prone to shrinkage.
  • Superwash Wool – Superwash is a finishing process that alters the scale structure of wool, so that wool doesn’t shrink when machine washed. For felting projects, do not use superwash wool. Since the “felting” process shrinks wool to make a dense fabric, superwash wool won’t felt.
  • Bamboo Sourced Viscose – Bamboo fibers come from the pulp of bamboo grass. Bamboo yarn is manufactured by two different methods. In one of these methods, bamboo is processed in the same manner as rayon (viscose) fiber, with chemicals and equipment used to make synthetic fibers. Manufacturers are now required to label these “rayon like” yarns with terminology such as “bamboo sourced viscose”.

I hope in defining these “confusing terms”, that this information will help you shop for the best yarn for your projects.


The Ultimate Summer Yarn – Linen

Blue Flowers - Flax Plant

Blue Flowers – Flax Plant

100% linen is one of my favorite, albeit underrated yarn. “Linen” is a generic term to describe flax fiber, woven textiles, and yarn. It is made from the stem of the flax plant, a bast fiber. Many flax species have beautiful blue flowers sitting on a high stem. The plant is cultivated as a food and fiber crop in cooler regions of the world. Top quality flax is primarily grown in Western European countries and Ukraine. Flax fibers are soft, lustrous, smooth and straight, and the harvested bundles look like blonde hair prior to processing. There are few 100% linen hand knitting yarn brands, as it requires a great deal of processing. Two popular brands are Louet Euroflax and Quince and Co. Sparrow.

Harvested flax bundles

Harvested flax bundles

Flax Characteristics

Flax is the oldest textile fiber and used in the ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean. It is the strongest of the plant fibers, and like cotton is stronger when wet. Its absorbency is higher than cotton and can withstand very high temperatures, making it easy to care for. Flax is stiff to work with, due to its low elasticity and resiliency. These properties cause the extreme wrinkling of linen fabric, a property that many consumers find annoying. Flax is often blended with other fibers such as cotton and silk.

Linen yarn is one of the best yarns for summer clothing because it breathes, feeling cool and comfortable in hot climates. The true beauty of linen is it gets better with successive washing. You can’t say that about many yarns and textiles. It’s suitable for summer tops, scarves, wraps, light throws or other pieces that don’t need to hold their shape. It becomes drapey, soft, and supple with age and laundering.

Tips When Knitting With Linen

  • 100% linen yarn is stiff, so it helps to wind the yarn twice to soften.
  • Wash and dry swatches and samples before measuring, as the fabric relaxes and the gauge will change.
  • Standard rib for bottom borders and neck edges are not suitable due to its inelasticity. Hems, rolled, lace or garter stitch edgings work.
  • Needles are more often a personal choice when it comes to the materials used to produce them. Smooth bamboo and wood needles will grip the yarn better at the smaller sizes. Whichever type of needle you choose they should be very smooth with pointy tips. Smaller needle sizes are better; save the large needles for openwork or lace patterns.
  • Plain stockinette stitch or garter stitch are not the best pattern choices. Garter stitch in particular will drape too much, unless combined with other pattern stitches. Linen is more suitable for texture knitting – cables, knit/purl combinations, and lace.
Lace Swatch

Lace Swatch

  • Use the overlap method of joining a new ball of yarn, and join new yarn at the edges, not in the body of work.
  • Weave in yarn ends following the stitch path on the wrong side of the fabric, or use duplicate stitch.

So dive in and try some 100% linen yarn and make yourself a scarf or summer top. My someday project is to make an intricate lace tablecloth in Louet Euroflax.

Am I Really Allergic To Wool?

sheep cartoon for wool sensitivity post

When I owned a yarn retail business, one of the most common complaints I heard from customers, was that they couldn’t wear anything wool, because they were “allergic”. I am going to set the record straight, because wool doesn’t deserve a bad rap. In my posts, “My Love Affair With Wool” and “It’s All About The Yarn – Getting To Know Fibers”, I talk about wool’s unique properties. Suffice it to say that it is the most popular fiber amongst knitters.

A true wool allergy is rare, and usually exhibits as a rash on the face, arms, and hands. The rash can occur immediately after contact, or appear a couple of days later. Medical experts believe the allergen is from the alcohols that make up lanolin, the oil in sheep’s wool. If you have a true allergy to wool, any creams or makeup containing lanolin will cause the same allergic reaction, as when exposed to the fiber.

Wool sensitivity is different from a wool allergy. Most people who think they are allergic just have sensitive skin, and are uncomfortable wearing wool. What causes this sensitivity?

  1. The Prickly Factor – This is really an irritation by any kind of coarse fiber. The surface of a wool fiber is covered with scales that vary in size, and determine the fineness and coarseness of wool. Fine, soft wool has as many as 2000 scales/inch, whereas coarse wool has as few as 700 scales/inch. The large scales of coarse fibers are what cause skin irritation, or that “itchy” feel. The most luxurious, fine, soft wool fibers come from breeds such as Merino sheep. Icelandic breeds produce a coarse, scratchy fiber. Because a wool is coarse and scratchy doesn’t make it “bad”, rather it is highly durable and suitable for a variety of projects. “Superwash” is a finishing process that alters the scale structure so that wool can be machine washed, and makes the yarn feel softer. Blends of wool with other fibers may be an option, by experimenting with varying percentages of wool. Other hair fibers like alpaca and cashmere may be more comfortable for those that suffer with irritation. Why not try layering, or wearing a shirt or T-shirt under a coarse wool garment.
  2. Dyes, Cleaning Chemicals, Cat Dander, and Dust Mites – Sometimes the irritation is caused by one of these allergens, rather than the wool itself. Black dyes that contain PPD (paraphenylenediamine) can be an irritant. Cleaning chemicals like those used in dry cleaning, and home laundering washing powders and liquids can also cause skin irritations. Dirty wool knits, and those containing cat dander and dust mites can also be problematic. Make sure your garments are regularly cleaned with mild soap and avoid fabric softeners. There are some fabulous wool cleaners on the market (SOAK, Eucalan, and The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo). Another tip is to wash all knits prior to your first wear. I always wash my finished projects before wearing. There are very few instances where it is necessary to send knits to the dry cleaners. Most knit garments including cashmere can be safely washed at home.

More often wool is just a mild irritant, and by following some simple suggestions, you can still enjoy it’s amazing properties. So indulge is some Merino wool, and whatever you make with it will reward you for years to come.

Another Use For Self-striping Sock Yarn!

My latest free pattern uses self-striping sock yarn to make a classic vest. Because the vest is a much larger project than a pair of socks, the stripe pattern breaks up. Self-striping sock yarn falls in the category of variegated yarns – yarns dyed in more than one color. The yarn strand is dyed to create a variety of effects, self-striping being one of them. You can create your own “look” by trying another type of patterned sock yarn to make this vest. Make sure to check out The Little e-book of Abbreviations and Knitting Terms, including my favorite buttonhole, the “One Row Buttonhole”.

Sock Yarn Vest


Fiber Properties That Can Be Your Friend Or Foe

It always amazes me that you can take two sticks, some yarn and create a fabric. Yes, knitting is one of the categories of fabrics. I’ve discussed fibers and yarn construction in my ebook It’s All About The Yarn.  I want to take a closer look at some often neglected fiber properties that affect your hand knit projects. Fiber properties, yarn construction, and stitch patterns are not independent of each other, but work together to create the project you desire. The properties discussed below aren’t necessarily “bad” or “good”, but are important when choosing yarn and to the overall success of a design.

Elasticity or Resiliency 

Elasticity is the ability of a fiber to return to its original shape after being stretched. This means the fiber is flexible and prevents a fabric from wrinkling. Wool is one of the best examples of this property. Just try squeezing a ball of wool or experience the ease in which it glides across your needles. Wool is by far the favorite of knitters, and mine.

The elbows of sleeves and cuffs are areas of garments that tend to wear out first, but can withstand heavy wear when made with a resilient fiber. Most animal fibers are resilient. Silk and cotton are examples of fibers with low resiliency, and tend to stretch out of shape with wear or use.

The amount of elasticity also affects how a garment drapes or hangs. Because cotton stretches, it is typically unsuitable in designs with allover cables or other dense pattern stitches, adding too much weight. One time I used 100% bamboo in a structured cardigan, a big mistake; it was heavy and draped too much.


Loft describes yarn that is open, springy, and appears bulky in comparison to its weight. Mohair is fluffy and light weight, but appears bulky in texture. Loft is created by the air space between individual fibers, and provides insulation. Wool fiber has a natural crimp producing an open structure that traps heat.

Fibers with high loft also have high elasticity, which prevents the fabric from flattening. If you take a ball of wool or mohair and squeeze, it springs back.


Pilling on the surface of a knit fabric.

Pilling on the surface of a knit fabric.

You’ve probably noticed unattractive, fuzzy balls on the surface of your sweaters. These balls of fiber are called pills, and are the result of short fibers entangling on the surface of the textile, caused by abrasion or friction. Abrasion occurs in areas of heavy wear such as cuffs, inner side of sleeves where the arm rubs against the body, and heels of socks.

All knitted items pill to a certain degree. The degree of pilling is affected by the type of fiber, yarn construction including twist, tightness of the knit fabric, and the pattern stitch. Pills are common with softly spun, single ply yarns. Acrylic and other synthetics pill more than natural fibers. Because synthetic fibers are so strong, the pills don’t break off the surface, whereas pills are easily removed from natural fiber surfaces. Many knitters prefer natural fibers for this reason – an acrylic item can look like “pill central” in no time and you can’t remove them. You might want to stay away from acrylic for projects that require many hours of knitting and complex stitch patterns.


Felting is a textile term describing the shrinkage of animal hair fibers, particularly wool. The cause of felting is due to the fiber’s structure. The wool hair fiber is composed of scales along its surface. When these scales are exposed to heat, moisture, and agitation, they entangle or lock together forming a dense, matted fabric. I’d be willing to bet many of you have accidentally felted a sweater by putting it in the washing machine. Careful attention must be paid when washing animal hair fibers.

Felted fabric is produced by textile manufacturers to make dense fabrics such as boiled wool and melton. Felting projects can be an enjoyable process when done “deliberately”. Superwash wool has been treated to prevent shrinkage, and items are safely laundered in the washing machine. But trying to felt with superwash wool won’t work!

Absorbency And Static Electricity

Static electricity is produced by an accumulation of electrical charge. It is a huge problem with synthetic fibers which lack the ability to absorb moisture. Even natural fibers will exhibit static electricity in low humidity, but is easily reversed. Synthetic fabrics feel hot, pill readily, and hold static charges making them easily soiled and difficult to clean.

Even though you may be dying to use a particular yarn that exhibits any of the above properties, there is a project out there for it! Just try to consider the function of your project before diving in to prevent an undesirable outcome.

New E-book: It’s All About The Yarn

Latest E-book - It's All About The Yarn

Latest E-book – It’s All About The Yarn

The yarn store is like paradise for the knitter. Walking into a yarn store is to experience an immense color palette and tactile pleasures. Choosing the perfect yarn for a project is largely determined by its fiber properties and its construction. This e-book looks at the fibers and the construction of hand knitting yarns. I’ve also included a bonus section on how to buy yarn for a pattern.

I hope this information will help you in choosing the perfect yarn for your projects. As you delve into the variety of yarns available, you will certainly find the ones you love, and be able to use a substitute yarn when that favorite type decides to be discontinued. Happy Knitting!

It’s All About The Yarn 




The Pros And Cons of Knitting With Cotton


Spring/summer is the time we tend to think about knitting a project with cotton. As with any fiber, there are pros and cons, but there are certainly things about cotton that make it desirable if you choose your project accordingly.

Cotton Pros

  • Its high strength creates a durable fabric; perfect for such items as dish cloths, wash cloths, market bags, placemats, and coasters.
  • Cotton absorbs moisture, is stronger when wet and is easy to launder.
  • Dyes beautifully, particularly mercerized cotton. Mercerization is a chemical finish that adds a sheen to the fiber, makes cotton smoother and less fuzzy, and improves cotton’s dyeing properties.
  • Mercerized cotton is stronger and less prone to shrinkage.
  • When blended with other fibers, creates breathable garments for the warmer months. Blends well with wool, rayon, and synthetics.
  • Soft and comfortable next to the skin.
  • Cotton creates great stitch definition.
  • Relatively inexpensive, but paying more for high quality cotton like Pima or Egyptian, will reward you with better fiber properties.

Cotton Cons

  • 100% cotton has poor elasticity, so it feels stiff when knitting. This is one of the main reasons why knitters find it less than appealing.
  • It has low resiliency, so it’s not good at bouncing back to its original shape, causing it to stretch.
  • Although it absorbs water, 100% cotton can be heavy when wet, so clothes can stretch and sag. In high humidity, cotton takes a long time to dry. This quality, makes it susceptible to mildew.
  • Generally cotton has to be treated to prevent shrinkage.
  • Mercerized cotton can be slippery to knit.
  • Dark colors, like red, blue, and black tend to bleed when laundering.
  • Although stitch definition is great, using cables or other dense pattern stitches add weight, and may not be suitable for cotton yarns.
  • Over time with cleaning and wear, a cotton garment may get a worn fuzzy appearance. A wool garment will be enjoyed years longer than one made in cotton.
  • Conventionally grown cotton typically requires pesticides.

Tips For Knitting With Cotton

  • It is probably best to work with a firm not a loose gauge, because the weight of the fiber can cause the fabric to sag. This also depends on the project and yarn weight, a scarf knit in a loose gauge would work fine rather than a cardigan in a loose gauge.
  • Needle choice is a consideration, and a personal preference. Cotton does not glide easily across bamboo or other wood needles. However, with mercerized or slippery cottons, you might choose to use wood. I like metal needles with cotton, even mercerized, because of the tips; easier to insert into the stitches.
  • Wash your swatch to test for dye bleeding, particularly if you are knitting stripes or other colorwork.
  • Make sure to join a new ball of yarn at the edge of your work. Cotton can be bulky, and a join in the middle may look obvious.
  • Take breaks, if you find the cotton hard on your hands. Make sure the knitting is not too tight, or you will have difficulty inserting the needle into the stitches. This is definitely not enjoyable.
  • Approximately a couple tablespoons of vinegar added to the rinse water can stabilize the dye. (And no you won’t smell like a pickle).
  • Although a cotton item may appear stretched after laundering, it will more than likely return back to shape once completely dried. You can machine dry, but only partially; reshape and allow to finish drying flat.
  • Due to its propensity towards mildew, make sure you store cotton items dry.
  • If you are concerned about pesticide usage, organic cottons are available, as well as genetically engineered colored cottons (no dyes).

My favorite cotton to work with is a lustrous, mercerized cotton in a bright color. It wears well, and I love knitting a summer, sleeveless top or a beautiful lacy scarf. Even if you have avoided cotton, give it a whirl, and I know you can find the perfect project for this sometimes misunderstood fiber.

My favorite mercerized cotton summer top.

My favorite mercerized cotton summer top.