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Understanding Yarn Weight, Part 2

In Part 1, I basically confused the world of yarn weights. And I admit that I did it on purpose—because yarn weight classification is confusing and I don't want you to feel that there's anything wrong with you if you can't quite understand it or be able to automatically classify a yarn according to its weight.

Because even though there are technically measurements for weights, those are so subjective sometimes. Haven't you heard a yarn referred to as a "light worsted" or "heavy fingering"? Well, light worsted really is probably quite close to DK weight and heavy fingering is probably quite close to sport weight. But we do seem to be a little more familiar with "fingering" and "worsted" so perhaps that's why those terms with "light" and "heavy" are used instead. See, confusing.

So when and why should you pay attention to yarn weight and when can you ignore it?

I think of yarn weight as giving us a place to start. That means if I have a pattern that calls for a worsted weight yarn, I have an idea of which yarns in my stash might be appropriate for that pattern. Or, vice versa, if I have some worsted weight yarn in my stash, I can filter my pattern search for those that are made for worsted weight yarn.

All Yarn Classified in the Same Weight Is Not the Same

But you can't just automatically substitute one worsted weight yarn in a pattern for another worsted weight yarn because not all worsted weight yarns are built the same way. Some of this has to do with the fiber content of the yarn (a 100% silk yarn is going to behave very differently from yarn that is 100% alpaca, for example), but the way the yarn is constructed also matters. (How many plies does the yarn have? How tight is the twist?) If you want to create a final project that looks similar to the picture of the designer's finished project, you need to choose your yarn with care.

Some of the choice is based on experience, but if you don't already have that experience, you can get it. But you have to do something that almost seems like a dirty word in knitting. You have to...

Swatch.

Yup. Swatching is not just to determine whether or not you're matching the same number of stitches per inch as the designer. It's also important to swatch to know if you like the fabric that you're creating with your yarn and whether or not it is appropriate for that pattern. Let me give you some examples.

The Hat That Just Went Wrong

I confess, I didn't swatch for a hat I knit as a Christmas gift one year. I fell in love with Peppermint Leaves by Claire Devine, especially the patterning on the top. The pattern calls for DK weight yarn, so I looked through my stash and found some Dream in Color Everlasting in a pretty green color. Perfect, I thought, and I started knitting. And as I was knitting, something just felt wrong. I had a yarn and pattern mismatch, but I wouldn't admit it to myself, so I finished the hat. And I was very unhappy with it. I still gave it as a gift since I was under a time crunch, but I wish I hadn't.

What went wrong? The yarn in the pattern was DK weight and so was my yarn. I got the same gauge. This mismatch was a matter of fiber content and yarn construction. The designer used a lovely BFL yarn that looks like it has a pretty smooth construction and moderate twist with 3 or 4 plies. My yarn, and I'm quoting from the yarn page on Ravelry, consisted of "twelve finely-spun plies united with a gentle twist." Well, that many plies without much twist made the yarn really splitty while working with it. But most importantly, it meant the yarn didn't have crisp stitch definition and those loosely spun plies filled in the spaces in the eyelets rather than emphasizing them.

So by choosing to only look at the weight of the yarn and ignore the other characteristics of the yarn, I ended up with a project I didn't like.

Try a Different Weight of Yarn

As another example, let's look at a pattern I designed, the Pyramus Beret. I chose a sport weight yarn, Malabrigo Arroyo. But this yarn is a rather plump sport weight yarn (check out the note on the Ravelry page for this yarn). So when someone asked if the beret might be knit out of my Avalon base, which is a DK weight yarn, I compared Avalon to the Malabrigo I had used. I thought Avalon just might work. So that knitter made her beret out of Avalon. And it came out quite nicely!

But if she had just filtered her stash by sport weight yarn, she wouldn't have considered the DK weight option and would have missed out on a lovely finished object. So sometimes if a pattern calls for sport weight, check the yarn used by the designer. Look at the Ravelry page to see if there are any notes or comments about the yarn's construction. Maybe a "heavy fingering" or even a DK weight in your stash might be appropriate for that pattern. The only way you'll know for sure is by swatching, but it does open up the possibilities for connecting yarn to pattern, especially for yarn already in your stash.

So use a listed yarn weight as a starting point. But don't stop there. Look more in depth at the yarn. Consider yarns that are technically listed as another weight. Experiment. And I think you'll be much happier with your yarn/pattern match up if you do so.

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