Part II: Weight
Remember our little chat about yarn selection last week where we discussed why certain fibers were good for certain things (like cotton is absorbent and great for kitchen towels, while wool is light and springy and warm so excellent for sweaters,) and how some yarns may not work for certain items based on the fibers from which they’re made? Well there’s another thing we have to take into consideration when dealing with yarn selection, and that’s the yarn weight. Just to be clear, yarn weight doesn’t mean how much a ball of the yarn weighs, but rather the “gauge” of a single strand of the yarn. In other words, thickness. Let’s elaborate a bit.
Why yarn weight matters
Say we want to make a fluttery springtime shawl. A transition piece for those warm yet breezy late spring days (we don’t have those days here in SC very often: we tend to go from winter to pollen to full-on Hades. But I digress…) We pick out a pattern with an airy feel, like butterfly wings, perfect for mid-April. Now we need to find a yarn. We discover that our local yarn shop, or perhaps our favorite online retailer, offers a drop-dead-gorgeous yarn of merino and silk, which we know will be equal parts bouncy and drapey, in a colorway that just screams BUY ME!! This is it, this is the yarn. We check the yardage to make sure we order enough and now, finally, we are at home with our yarn and ready to start. Guess what? It’s a #6 bulky-weight yarn. Oh…… no. This shawl is going to wear like a carpet.
Or how about this: we want to crochet a rug for our living room. Brown and green to match our decor (assuming you all have decor. I do not, unless “third-hand cast offs” is a decor.) We find a brown yarn with green speckles in the perfect shades. We grab a bunch and head home. Now we’re ready to start hooking. We need to swatch (swatching will be a whole ‘nother post) to figure out which hook will give us the thick and unyielding fabric we want for this rug that’s going to be walked on for years to come. Oh wait, this gorgeous yarn is fingering weight. Oh man, that’s not going to work. It’ll take 10 years to make this rug, and then it’ll be thin like a cotton tshirt. Gotta take the yarn back and try again.
Or how about we just skip all this insanity and disappointment and jump right to the part in our yarn selection where we learn how to pick the right weight of yarn the first time around? Yeah? Awesome.
First, let’s get familiar with some weight terms here, and what they look like.
Lace (think angel hair pasta, or even smaller)
DK (great middle of the road weight)
Bulky (think rug)
To find the yarn weight on a ball or skein of yarn, just look at the label. It will tell you! Thankfully, most patterns you’ll find already tell you which yarn weight the pattern is written for. However, if you’re writing your own pattern, tweaking a pattern for a lighter or heavier weight yarn, or just trying to make something up from scratch with nothing but a hook, some yarn, and your imagination, then you’ll need to have an idea of what these different weights can do, and what they probably can’t.
It’s usually okay to substitute a yarn within 1 of the original weight. For example, I’ve substituted fingering for sport, and aran for worsted, more times than I can count. The trick is to make a gauge swatch with two or three different hook sizes to either A) meet the correct gauge for the pattern, or B) get the fabric feel and drape that you want and then do the math according to the gauge of the pattern vs. the gauge of your swatch. If this is Greek to you, don’t worry, we’ll cover swatching in another post a little later on. Suffice it to say, substitutions can usually be made as long as they’re not too drastic.
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