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Crochet Yarns

I've split the info on yarns into 3 sections:

1. Yarn Types: From crochet thread to super bulky yarns and novelty yarns such as ribbons and eyelash yarn. There is also advice on selecting crochet yarns for new crocheters.

2. Yarn Fibres: This guide to crochet yarn fibres will help you understand the pros and cons of different fibres.

3. Yarn Substitution: If you are following a pattern but want to change the yarn then read this yarn substitution guide.

1. Yarn Types

Crochet yarns are classified by their "yarn weight" which is actually a measure of how thick the yarn is. The table below is a quick reference guide to the different yarn weights.

Yarn Weights, Yarn Names and Typical Tension / Gauge.

Standard Weight

Traditional Names

Typical Tension: Stitches per 10cm in UK Double Crochet
( US terminology= single crochet)

0 Lace

Crochet thread, Lace, Fingering

-

1 Superfine

Sock, Fingering, Baby, 2-ply, 3-ply

21-32

2 Fine

Sport, Baby, 4-ply, 5-ply, light DK

16-20

3 Light

DK, double knitting, Light Worsted

12-17

4 Medium

Worsted, Aran, Afghan

11-14

5 Bulky

Chunky, Heavy Worsted, Craft, Rug

8-11

6 Super Bulky

Roving

5-9

N.B. The names 2-ply, 3-ply etc are somewhat misleading. They are historical terms and don't necessarily bear any relation to how many strands or plies the yarn is made up of. There is also some overlap between the different categories.

Do not substitute a yarn solely on it's traditional name. Take the time to crochet a tension/gauge square. See the section 3, 'Substituting Yarns'.

I often find the hook size recommended on the yarn label gives a rather stiff fabric. Don't be afraid to change your crochet hook size to get the desired effect.

Novelty Yarns

Novelty yarns are often difficult to work with. Fluffy yarns can make it difficult to see the stitch structure so it can be hard to see where to insert your hook and hard to measure gauge/tension. Shiny yarns can be slippery making it harder to keep an even gauge/tension. Tapes and ribbons tend to get twisted as you work. Putting the ball on a spindle in a box will help it unwind neatly. Making a good sized swatch should give you a chance to sort out any problems before you start.

Personally I find many novelty yarns (and variegated yarns) are disappointing when crocheted. To show them off to their best I find the Sirdar Loopa works well. It quickly makes a boa type scarf. It generally only need 1 or 2 balls of yarn, so it's enough to satisfy my craving for any new novelty yarn.

2. Yarn Fibres

This is a general guide to the properties of the different fibres you can use for crochet. It's also worth doing an internet search for reviews before you buy a yarn. (Of course, I never impulse buy in my local yarn shop...)

Alpaca: Generally more expensive than wool, but a lovely soft fibre that has a subtle sheen. Lanolin free, so suitable for those allergic to wool. The hollow fibres help keep you warm but not sweaty. Not as elastic as wool. Alpaca wool blends are good for garments.

Angora: Made from the coats of Angora rabbits, angora yarn is fluffy, soft and warm. It is not as strong as wool and because it is not very elastic it works best when blended with wool or another elastic fibre. It will shed fibres and needs to be hand washed. Angora is one of those fibres where you tend to get what you pay for, cheap angora can mean short fibres that cover your whole house! As with any fluffy yarn it may not be the best fibre for a beginner because ripping out mistakes can make the yarn a bit bald.

Bamboo: Bamboo sounds very green and enviro friendly, but generally bamboo yarns are not made directly from bamboo, but are made of rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber made from bamboo pulp. It uses farmed bamboo, not the sort eaten by Pandas! Bamboo yarns are generally lightweight, breathable, soft and have a slight sheen. The crocheted fabric has good drape making it ideal for lightweight garments.

Cashmere: This luxury fibre comes from the undercoat of the Pashim goat. Each goat only produces about 100g of cashmere per year, which explains why it remains an expensive luxury. You are most likely to find it as a wool blend. Try to look for a blend with a reasonable amount in, a few percent will not really have much of an impact on the overall feel of the yarn.

Cotton: Renowned for being cool, cotton is a great fibre for summer garments. On it's own it is an inelastic fibre, so garments made from pure cotton tend to stretch out of shape. Cotton blends can give you the best of both worlds. Cotton yarn is machine washable, hard wearing and fairly cheap.

Mercerized cotton yarn has a slight sheen and is made up of many separate plies or threads. This can make it a bit harder for beginners to use because it's easy to stab your crochet hook through the plies of the yarn.

Lenpur: Lenpur is a semi-synthetic fibre made from sustainably sourced wood pulp. It is a thermo regulating fibre making it a good year round fibre.

Linen: Linen is made from the flax plant. Well known for being cool and highly absorbent it is also strong, very hard wearing and gets softer with repeated washing. On the down side it is inelastic, so for garments a blend may be better.

Merino Wool: Merino wool was once so valued that it was illegal to export a Merino sheep out of Spain! Thankfully Merino sheep are now widespread so we can all enjoy a bit of luxury. Merino wool is very soft which is ideal for garments. The price of such softness is that is does tend to pill.

Mohair: Mohair comes from Angora goats. Kid mohair is softer but doesn't have as much sheen as fibre from older goats. Mohair isn't very durable, it tends to pill and it requires hand washing. Not a fibre for beginners, but it produces the most beautiful fabric with a soft halo of fibres. Choose a good quality mohair blend and your crochet will really come to life.

Possum: Possum yarn is made from the fur of New Zealand Possums. Possums are not native to New Zealand and are culled because they are very destructive to native wildlife. It is a hollow, thermo regulating fibre. Not suitable for vegetarians.

Qiviut: Pronounced kiv-ee-ute, this luxury yarn comes from the Arctic Musk Ox. It is very soft and several times warmer than wool. Pure qiviut doesn't felt. Qiviut can be produced from naturally shed fibre, the combing of domestic Musk Ox herds or from the annual cull. May not be suitable for vegetarians.

Wool: Pure wool may be more expensive than acrylic yarn, but it's lovely to crochet with. It is an elastic fibre so minor issues with tension/gauge and fit can often be fixed when the garment is blocked. The elasticity of wool makes it the perfect partner in many yarn blends.

Wool is naturally water repellant, washing it in a lanolin containing wool wash will help preserve this quality. Wool can absorb 20-30% of it's own weight in water before it starts to feel wet. Wool is also lovely to wear; it is a thermo-regulating fibre that wicks moisture away from your skin. Forget scratchy wool, most of the wool yarn on sale these days is lovely and soft.

Wool must be properly cared for (see our section on caring for your crochet ). Wool that isn't labeled as super-wash will shrink if not washed properly and can be used to make felted items, these can be great projects for beginners. (See also Superwash Wool).

There are many different breeds of sheep which provide wool with different virtues. Look out for Blue Faced Leicester wool which is prized for its luster and softness.

Seacell: A relatively new semi-synthetic fibre made from wood pulp and seaweed.

Silk: A luxury fiber with fantastic luster and drape. Pure silk is slippery so keeping an even tension can be harder and the stitches can loose their shape and the fabric stretch out of shape. Pure silk is best kept for luxury rather than everyday items. It can help to work at a tighter tension / gauge than normal. Silk blend yarns are easier to use and can give a more elastic fabric but still with that silk luster. Some silk yarns have a slightly fishy smell. See our tips for removing the smell from silk yarn. Not suitable for vegetarians.

Superwash wool: Superwash wools don't felt. It's a real boon for everyday items, you can wash them in the washing machine on the wool cycle, some brands can also be tumble dried.

Synthetic yarns: Novelty yarns aside, synthetic yarns are often cheap and machine washable. Most have a bit of stretch to them but they usually aren't as breathable as natural fibres. Acrylic yarn is widely available in a multitude of colours. Be warned though, once you discover the many sumptuous natural fibres available you may become a yarn snob!

Fibre Blends: I'm a big fan of yarn blends. They often offer great value for money and combine the best properties of the constituent fibres. Look at the description for all the constituent fibres to see if it's likely to have the properties you are looking for.

3. Substituting Yarns

The usual advice is to crochet a swatch and check you get correct tension / gauge given in the pattern. This isn't much help with choosing which yarn to buy.

First of all, find out all you can about the recommended yarn : Yarn weight category, yarn texture (ribbon, eyelash,thick & thin etc), length of yarn per ball, fibre content and standard tension / gauge. yarndex.com is a helpful reference point. The closer the match to the recommended yarn the closer your finished item will be to the original.

Find a yarn with a recommended stitch tension / gauge the same as or close to that for the recommended yarn (the row tension / gauge isn't as critical). Remember some yarns give the tension in stitches per inch while others give stitches per 4 inches or 10cm. Not all yarns supply this information, but a yarn in the same weight category is a good place to start.

If the pattern uses a novelty yarn you will need to find a yarn with the same texture. Although you can substitute with a standard yarn as long as the tension / gauge matches, the resultant fabric will be very different. The opposite is also true, if you substitute a standard yarn for a novelty yarn the look and feel of the finished fabric will be very different and stitch patterns may be obscured by the texture of the yarn.

Also, consider the fibre content. For example, a pattern designed for wool can be made in cotton, but it won't be as warm, it may stretch out of shape and it will be heavier too. Substituting a wool yarn for a wool blend yarn has a better chance of success.

Remember you can use 2 strands of a lighter weight yarn as a substitute for a heavier weight yarn. 2 strands of 4-ply yarn can be substituted for DK, 2 strands of DK can be substituted for Aran weight and 2 strands of Aran weight can be substituted for Chunky weight yarn. Using 2 different colours gives interesting colour effects, especially if the yarns are variegated.

Use our crochet calculator to work out how many balls of your substitute yarn you will need.

Last of all, crochet a good sized swatch and be honest when measuring your tension / gauge. Don't be afraid to change hook size to get the correct tension / gauge.