Monday, March 8, 2010

Dear Maggie: Inaugural Post!

By Maggie of BodiceGoddess

Welcome to the first post of "Dear Maggie", in which I answer your crafty questions!

You may be wondering, who is this woman, and who gives her the authority to answer crafty questions? Well, the answer to that one is that I am a college grad with an English degree and a history of screwing up a LOT of projects due to not reading the instructions or being ignorant of the consequences. I'm a costumer, crocheter, refurbisher and upcycler, and if I don't know the answer from my own brain, I know how to research. That's one question down! Here goes!

Ok, I'll pose a question. What type of yarn is best to use for a clothing item you're going to either knit or crochet, say a scarf? Do you prefer one that's a synthetic blend or what? Does one type wash best? Or stretch out? Inquiring minds want to know.

Yarn is a very tricky thing, and this is a really BIG question. I'll cover as much ground as I can. You want to think about yarn the same way you think about fabrics: You wouldn't want to use sheer drapery fabrics as a warm couch blanket, or fleece for lingerie - it just doesn't work.Most commercially produced skeins of yarn are designated somewhere on the package with a few little symbols. Skeins that come straight off of someone's spinning wheel may not have this designation, but spinners do their best to classify the yarn into one of these categories. Usually on the back of the label, there is a line drawing of a skein of yarn with a number on it. They look like this:

Each number represents a different weight of yarn. Weight is a misleading term; it means more "thickness" than "mass", as evidenced by the sweater I'm wearing as I write this. (Remind me later to tell you about my sweater.) To get even more technical, weight is calculated by measuring how many times per inch the yarn can be wrapped around a standard ruler. There are seven different weights of yarn (0-6).

Here we go:

0: Lace
AKA: Fingering, 10-count crochet thread
I've used this weight in Aunt Lydia's 10-count crochet to make juggling balls. Think hackey-sacks: very fine yarn equals holes that the beans can barely squeeze through.

1: Super Fine
AKA: Baby, Fingering, or Sock
Super-fine yarn is good for really lacy or small projects. It also has a tendancy to be really, really soft and smooth. Sock yarn is in this category because when you're making socks, you need yarn to be thin to create a thin fabric around the foot.

2: Fine
AKA: Baby, Sport
As for fine yarn, I've used it to make fancy shawls as wedding gifts, and I've put two skeins together to make an afghan. I'm a fan of using two strands of similar yarn in a low weight like this one, grabbing a big crochet hook and making a warm blanket.

3: Light
AKA: Double Knitting (or DK), Worsted, Sport
Light yarn is about the thickest you want to use to make socks; any thicker and you're into the territory of "slipper sock". Light - or "sport" - weight yarn is great for afghans because it's thick enough to keep you warm, and thin enough for patterns to lay flat when the blanket is laid out.

4: Medium
AKA: Afghan, Aran, Worsted
I annoy my mom with this one when I frequently call it "regular yarn." Many, many different yarns fit into this category, including the inexpensive One Pound by Caron, Lion Brand Vanna's Choice, and even TLC Amore. It's a good, solid yarn for good, solid projects. (This is the weight I used for the sweater I'm wearing, and we're still getting to that.)

5: Bulky
AKA: Chunky, Rug
As a Minnesotan, this weight and higher is my go-to for scarves. When I make scarves, I tend to use a bigger stitch and a bigger hook to acheive a thicker and warmer scarf. (Trade secret? Bulky yarn, a j-hook and a series of double-crochets gets you a decent scarf.) I've also used it to make my first afghan. Since it's thick, it is easy to work quickly. My favorite varieties are Lion Brand Homespun and Serenity Chunky Weight.

This scarf by MaryFosterCreative is crafted from bulky or super-bulky weight yarn.

6: Super Bulky
AKA: Bulky, Roving
Lion Brand yarns make an incredibly descriptive version of this weight, called "Thick & Quick." They're not kidding! It is hard for me to find an application for this thickness of yarn, and I must not be the only one, because it's constantly on sale. I've found it makes a great cowl, and it must be good for thick playmat blankets.

Yarn can also be classified by "ply," which is a technical term for the number of strands woven together (like how embroidery floss is usually 6 ply and I only use 2 ply when I cross stitch).

(Ah, yes! My sweater! I found a gorgeous pattern for a wrap cardigan and planned and planned when it came time to make it. The yarn used in my pattern was a 4, or medium, weight, in a boucle type, which is a bit more fancy looking than a "regular yarn". I instead used a worsted weight, which was both less expensive and easier to learn on. As a result, the wrap cardigan, which was meant to have a wonderful shawl-like front to it with a gorgeous drape, kind of hangs funny because the yarn I chose to use is heavier than the yarn the pattern called for.)

As far as the rest of the question, Cindy, yarn is typically labeled with washing instructions, however, I'm always leery of putting my hard work in the wash. If I have to, no matter what it is, it's machine wash cold, delicate cycle. No matter how tough the yarn is, I'd rather be safe than sorry when it comes to my stitches.

Natural vs. synthetic fibers is a timeless argument, and I think I'll touch more on this one later. The short answer is that I go with what feels best. If I'm making something for a baby, I use a soft cotton or blend. If I'm making something for a manly-man, I tend more towards wool. If my budget's tight, I'll go for an acrylic because they tend to be less expensive. (If my budget's really tight, I upcycle my own yarn!)

When it comes to stretching, the yarn itself usually has some stretch in it, especially yarns with natural fibers (wool or cotton will stretch more than acrylic). My mother always taught me when I was young to never hang sweaters or knits in the closet - stretch being the main reason. The stretch happens to the stitches themselves more than the fiber of the yarn. Defeat gravity by folding your sweaters and blankets and putting them on a horizontal surface, be it a shelf, a drawer, the couch or the floor.

*whew* That really was a lot of ground to cover! I hope that helps you in your travels through the yarn section of your local craft store, or heck, helps you through your local yarn store!

I can't wait to hear more questions, folks! Submit them in the comment section below, or send them to me at

Keep me thinking, keep me writing, and keep me learning.


Cindy said...


I learned a lot from your column and feel better prepared to shop for yarn. Thanks for sharing your expertise. I look forward to your next column.


MaryFosterCreative said...

Thanks for using my scarf as an example of bulky yarn in your very informative article.