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Types of Yarn: Everything You Need to Know

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From wool to acrylic and everything in between, there are so many different types of yarn. If you’re a newbie, you might find the sheer variety of yarns a tad daunting! But don’t worry; we’re here to untangle the knots for you. 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about yarn types, from yarn weight to fiber content and from eye-catching colors to delightful textures. Plus, we’ll share our top tips for choosing the ideal that’ll bring your next crochet or knitting project to life.

Whether you’re a crochet beginner or a knitting expert, I bet we’ve all had the same experience: standing in the yarn aisle at the local craft store, staring wide-eyed at the endless skeins of yarn, wondering where to begin.

With so many yarn types to choose from, there’s always something new and exciting to try!

In this blog post, we’ll start by exploring the different yarn types available, looking at different fiber content, yarn weights, texture, color, and other yarn characteristics. Then, we’ll wrap up with some tips on choosing the right yarn for your next knitting or crochet project.

Yarns Characteristics 101

The characteristics of yarns vary depending on the type of fiber used in the yarn. Some of the key characteristics include:

  • Yarn weight: Yarn weight refers to the thickness of the yarn strand, which significantly affects the look and feel of your finished project. (In this scenario, the term “yarn weight” does not mean how heavy a skein of yarn is.)
  • Fiber Content: Yarns can be made from all sorts of fiber, from sheep’s wool to bamboo. Different fibers have different properties, which can affect the drape, texture, and care requirements of the finished project.
  • Texture: Yarns can range from smooth and shiny to fuzzy and textured, depending on the fiber content or the spinning process. As you might have guessed, different yarn textures are better suited to different types of projects. 
  • Color: Yarns come in a rainbow of color options, from solid colors to variegated, self-striping, and ombre shades.

Pro Tip: Read the yarn label.

Want to know more about that gorgeous skein of yarn you’ve just picked up? Check the label!

Reading the yarn label is a crucial first step in choosing the right type of yarn for your project. It contains essential information about the fiber content, weight, and yardage – plus, it’ll tell you the recommended crochet hook sizes and knitting needle sizes for that specific yarn.

All About Fiber Content

Yarn can be made of natural materials such as cotton, wool, and silk, or synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon. The type of fiber used in the yarn determines many of its properties, including strength and durability, softness, warmth, breathability, and absorbency.

a trio of cotton and natural fiber yarns on a gray background
variety of cotton and hemp yarns

Plant Fiber Yarns

Yarn made from plant fibers is a popular choice for many crafters, and for good reason! Plant fibers are breathable and lightweight, making them ideal for warm-weather garments. They’re also biodegradable and eco-friendly. Here are some examples of plant fibers used in yarn:

  • Cotton: Soft, absorbent, and durable, cotton yarns are perfect for kitchen and home decor projects. They’re also an excellent choice for summer garments and accessories.
  • Linen: Linen is a strong, durable fiber with a cool and crisp texture. It’s a great choice for lightweight garments. And bonus: it gets softer with each wash!
  • Hemp: Hemp is a strong, eco-friendly fiber that’s a great choice for the eco-conscious crafter. We love using hemp for sustainable projects. It has a slightly rougher texture, but it’s great for bags, hats, and other sturdy items.
  • Bamboo: Bamboo is a soft and luxurious fiber that has natural anti-bacterial properties. It has a really nice drape and luster, so it’s perfect for tops, shawls, and wraps.
three green wool yarns on a gray background
trio of wool yarns

Animal Fiber Yarns

Known for their warmth and durability, animal fibers are another popular type of yarn. Animal fiber can be super soft or a little bit scratchy, depending on the breed of the animal. Here are some of the most popular animal fibers used in making yarn:

  • Wool: Wool is a warm and durable fiber. It can be slightly scratchy or luxuriously soft, depending on the breed of sheep it comes from. It’s naturally warm and doesn’t feel wet, making it perfect for cold-weather garments. Some wool is processed to be “superwash,” which means it’s machine washable!
  • Silk: Luminous and elegant, silk fiber yarn has a beautiful drape and sheen. It’s perfect for lightweight garments and accessories, like shawls and scarves.
  • Alpaca: Alpaca fiber is soft, extra warm, and lightweight, so it’s great for cold-weather garments. It has a similar feel to sheep’s wool but is less scratchy and more hypoallergenic – ideal for projects that you’ll wear close to the skin.
  • Mohair: Known for its soft, fluffy texture, mohair yarn has a distinctive “halo” effect. It’s perfect for creating soft and cozy items like scarves and sweaters.
three yellow and gold acrylic yarn skiens on a gray background
acrylic and acrylic-wool blend yarns

Synthetic Yarns

Synthetic yarns are made from man-made fibers, which are often cheaper to produce than natural fibers. These types of yarns are generally durable, easy to care for, and come in a wide range of colors. Plus, they’re suitable for people with sensitive skin or allergies.

  • Acrylic: Soft and affordable, acrylic is popular among knitters and crocheters alike. It’s hypoallergenic and machine washable, hard-wearing, and durable. And, it comes in almost any color and yarn weight imaginable. On the downside, it’s not as breathable as natural fiber yarn. 
  • Nylon: Nylon is a strong, lightweight fiber that adds durability to any project. It’s most often blended with other fibers like wool to create head-wearing sock yarn.

Blended Yarns

Blended yarns combine different natural or synthetic fibers to create yarns with the best properties of both. Some popular blended yarns are:

  • Wool-Nylon blends: Superwash merino wool is often combined with up to 25% nylon fiber to create machine-washable sock yarn.
  • Mohair-Silk blends: Light and airy mohair yarn is often spun around a strong, durable silk yarn core to create a surprisingly warm yarn.
  • Acrylic-Wool blends: Some of the most popular yarns combine acrylic with wool fiber to create a warm, soft yarn that’s still easy to care for.
three strands of novelty yarn on a gray background
ribbon or tape yarn, chenille blanket yarn, and faux fur yarn

Specialty Yarns

Specialty or novelty yarns have unique textures and properties. Examples include:

  • Chenille: Chenille yarn has a soft, velvety texture. It’s often used in cozy projects like blankets and pillows. Lately, it’s been popular to crochet giant plushies with chenille yarn.
  • Boucle: Boucle yarn has a bumpy surface created with small loops of fiber. It’s great for projects where you want a lot of interesting texture.
  • Faux fur: This novelty yarn mimics the look of fur and is super soft, perfect for scarves and toys.
  • Ribbon: Ribbon yarn, sometimes called tape yarn, has a flat texture that resembles a ribbon. It’s often metallic. 
  • Eyelash: Another novelty yarn, eyelash yarn has a furry texture.
  • Metallic: Metallic yarn is shiny and reflective, often made with polyester or Lurex.

Yarn Weight Categories

Yarn weight refers to the thickness of the strand of yarn. In the US, yarn companies categorize yarn into these eight categories:

  • Lace: The thinnest yarn weight, perfect for delicate projects like shawls and doilies.
  • Superfine or Fingering: Ideal for socks, lightweight garments, and accessories.
  • Fine or Sport: Great for baby garments and light sweaters.
  • Light or DK: Often used for sweaters, hats, scarves, and baby clothes.
  • Medium or Worsted: A medium-weight yarn, perfect for sweaters and other garments.
  • Bulky: Thick and warm, often used for hats and scarves.
  • Super Bulky: Works up quickly. Thicker and perfect for chunky scarves and warm blankets.
  • Jumbo: A new, popular yarn weight for extra thick and soft projects. Often used for blankets and home decor items. 

If you’re not in the US, you might see yarn labeled with different weight categories. Check out this guide to Yarn Weight for more information, including a chart and conversion guide.

several bundles of blue and green yarn arranged from thinnest to thickest yarn weight, with cyc yarn weight symbols

What about crochet thread?

Crochet thread is a type of cotton yarn that’s often used for delicate and intricate projects, such as doilies, lacework, and edgings. It’s much finer than traditional yarn.

Crochet thread is typically labeled with a weight number ranging from 3 to 100. The higher the number, the thinner the thread. It’s important to note that the thread weight number is not the same as the weight of traditional yarn – so double-check the label and your pattern before purchasing.

Colors of Yarn

When it comes to buying yarn, choosing the color can be the best part! Here are some popular ways in which yarn is dyed:

  • Solid Yarns: Solid yarns are single-colored yarns that provide a clean and classic look. Semi-solid and tonal yarns are almost solid colors, but may have subtle hue and saturation shifts throughout the length of the skein.
  • Variegated Yarns: Variegated yarns feature multiple colors within one skein. The color changes in variegated yarns can be abrupt or gradual, depending on the yarn. 
  • Self-Striping Yarns: Self-striping yarns are yarns that change color in predetermined intervals to create stripes. These yarns make knitting or crocheting a striped project super easy, since you won’t have to switch between different colors of yarn.
  • Ombre Yarns: Ombre yarns change color gradually within the skein. You can use ombre yarns to create a stunning gradient effect, with one color blending seamlessly into the next.
  • Hand-Dyed Yarns: A new, popular yarn weight for extra thick and soft projects, often used for blankets and home decor items.
three small skeins of green yarn on a gray background
solid, heather, and tonal yarn

Tips for Choosing the Right Yarn

Choosing the right yarn can make the difference between a project you absolutely love and a project that ends up forgotten in the back of your closet. When choosing yarn, here are some important things to consider.

The Pattern Recomendation. Your pattern is one of the most valuable resources when choosing yarn. The designer will usually recommend a specific yarn at the start of the pattern. If you can’t find that particular brand, you can substitute a similar yarn to achieve a good result. When substituting yarn, try to find something with the same yarn weight and fiber content so that your finished project will have the right drape and texture.

Fiber content. Consider the intended use of the finished item when choosing yarn. For example, if you are making a winter sweater, choose a merino wool yarn that will keep you dry and warm. If you’re making a summer top, opt for a lightweight, breathable cotton-linen blend instead.

Yarn weight. Another thing to think about is the desired texture and drape of the finished item. If you want to make a delicate, drapey shawl, you’ll want to choose a fine yarn – not super-bulky wool. Conversely, if you’re making a big throw blanket, you’ll want to select a thick yarn so it will be super cozy and warm.

Explore More About Yarn

We hope this guide has helped you understand the different types of yarn and inspired you to start your next knitting or crochet project. For even more information about yarn, check out these related articles:

photo of five balls of yarn, next to scissors, with text overlay that reads,

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Elina Brooks

Sunday 2nd of July 2023

My friend introduced crocheting to me recently, and I have been hooked on it as a hobby ever since, so I was thinking of ordering a new supply of yarn soon for the sweater I was planning to make. I'm glad you mentioned that acrylic is a popular choice since it's soft and affordable while also being quite hypoallergenic and durable enough to be machine-washable. I'll keep this in mind while I start looking for acrylic yarn for sale.