Yarn is a catch-all term for spun thread. It’s basically any long stringy stuff that gets wound into a wad, and then crochet hooked into fabulous things.
I have a bad habit of calling all yarn wool. Which is, of course, invariably incorrect. Natural wool can be turned into yarn for crochet, but so can acrylic, polyester, bamboo or cotton. Even macrame cord can be used as crochet yarn, provided you’ve got a big enough hook and tough enough finger skin!
- Comparing common yarn types.
- Hook size vs yarn weight.
- The wacky ways to buy yarn.
- Sizes, weights and batch numbers.
Yarn is where crochet is born.
Today I’ll share my thoughts on crochet yarn. Helping you to pick the perfect type for your next project, or to find a great substitute for something in your pattern instructions that isn’t in your yarn stash.
Popular Yarn Materials for Crocheting
Yarn isn’t a generic, one size fits all fiber. The most popular yarn varieties are:
Traditional Wool Yarns For Crochet
Wool, as you know, comes from livestock like sheep and alpacas. You get different types of wool that have varying textures.
I don’t use it that often because it’s pricey and doesn’t tend to come in the chunkier weights I often want for specific crochet projects. But it’s soft, tough and looks utter perfection when you hook it right.
The downside of wool is mainly the price. It costs an arm and a leg to buy some, and then it’s super easy to destroy it by getting it a little too warm in the wash.
Crocheting With Acrylic Yarns
The classic, cheap and cheerful acrylic yarn is a manufactured synthetic fibre derived from those highly controversial fossil fuels. They are easy to find, come in a huge range of colors and can be bought in massive bulk balls for low prices. And they also hold their integrity when washed.
The downside is that they are rough on the hands, and the stretch and texture of them isn’t everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to finished products. You will also hear a lot of people claim they snap easily, but in my experience this varies hugely between the brands.
Popular Polyester Yarns
Polyester is another factory produced fiber that is relatively cheap to buy, although often not quite as inexpensive as acrylic.
It is often the basis of the very soft yarns, like chenille yarns. But just because it’s the same type, doesn’t mean it’s the same texture. This can vary hugely between manufacturers, and depend on how they construct the fabric of the yarn in terms of density and weight of fibers.
Cotton Yarns for Crocheters
Cotton yarns are spun from the seed heads of the cotton plant. These natural yarns are brilliant for projects like sweaters, cardigans and tote bags as they hold their shape well and are incredibly durable. However, the quality of production varies quite a lot, and some can feel quite stiff when used for wearables.
I’m also not very happy with the ethics of cotton production, as it’s quite damaging to the environment.
Modern Bamboo Yarns
I own bamboo yarn, but I have never completed a project with it. This is a great yarn environmentally, but I just can’t get on board with how it feels. It’s meant to be a good cotton alternative, but I’ve never found it in such a heavy weight and it feels hard to the touch. Not ideal when you’re running it between your fingers for hours!
Blended Yarns in Cool Combinations
Blended yarns use a mixture of yarn types to give the fabric a unique feel.
Cotton blends are a very popular example, and are particularly prized for getting rid of that rigid feel we just talked about. They are a top choice for more particular crochet clothes like swimwear too.
Acrylic wool blended yarns are also a great choice for a slightly smoother textured but not hugely pricey yarn.
Yarn Weights vs Crochet Hook Sizes
The lighter the yarn weight, the smaller the hook size you will be recommended. Your yarn will be labelled as a weight type or possibly ply, which refers to thickness.
Always look at the suggested hook size on the packaging, but know that you can afford to go 0.5 to 1.5mm in either direction depending on the project you’re creating. And remember, larger hooks don’t use less yarn!
Here are some typical yarn weights and a very rough guide to the size of crochet hook that you’ll find suggested on the package.
- Lace weight yarn (2 ply): 1.5mm to 2.5mm crochet hook
- Super Fine weight yarn (4 ply): 2mm to 3.5mm crochet hook
- Fine weight yarn (5 ply): 3mm to 4.5mm crochet hook
- Light weight yarn (8 ply): 4mm to 5.5mm crochet hook
- Worsted/Aran/Medium weight yarn (10 ply): 5mm to 6.5mm crochet hook
- Chunky/Bulky weight yarn (12 ply): 6mm to 9.5mm crochet hook
- Super Chunky/Super Bulky weight yarn (14 ply): 9mm to 15mm crochet hook
- Jumbo weight yarn (16 ply): 15mm or larger crochet hook
You’ll find my range exceeds some of those you’ll find elsewhere on the internet. That’s because I like to push the ranges and experiment, and have had some success with going a bit broader or thinner on the hook than you’d usually find.
Hanks, Balls and Other Skeins
The word Skein is a descriptive term for the way that a quantity of yarn is presented. A skein of yarn is a long train of yarn that is wrapped from the middle, and wound up into a long cylindrical-ish shape, with the ends of the yarn tucked in.
If you have shop bought yarn, it’s most likely to have come in a skein.
Hanks vs Skeins
Hanks are the second most common way of storing yarn that I have in my excessive yarn stash. In my experience yarn is usually sold in hanks by the home dyed, home grown, ranch-style wool producers.
If a yarn I have is hand spun from someone’s small herd of sheep or alpaca, or dip dyed in incredible natural colors, it’s likely that it has come to me as a hank.
In other words, hanks are basically fancy skeins.
Balls, Cakes and Other Terms
Just like I call all yarn wool, I also tend to call all skeins balls. Even when they are distinctly unballlike. Technically it’s only a ball of yarn if it’s literally spherical. Ball shaped.
A cake of yarn has a flat top. And you might even come across donuts, which are, unsurprisingly, donut shaped.
You know when someone asks a vague question, and you reply with the old faithful adage, “how long is a piece of string?” Well, welcome to the confusing world of yarn skein sizes.
Not only does everyone I meet pronounce the word skein differently, but the things aren’t even remotely standardized in terms of weight or yardage.
You can’t make up a blanket based on a number of skeins, you need to know the weight or yardage. That’s because you could have one skein of yarn that’s 50 yards in length and 50g in weight, and another that’s 1000 yards long, weighing in at 400g! Which makes for an unnecessary amount of stress when you’re reading a pattern and doing your yarn math.
Working Out Yarn Quantities
Calculating how much yarn you need for a pattern is often just a matter of reading the instructions. Both within the crochet pattern itself, but also on the yarn package. It’ll give you the weight and yardage.
The amigurumi toys that I design use between 50g and 150g of yarn. Most of them are around 100g in yarn weight. I tend to over-buy yarn when I’m designing if I like a certain type, because of the issue with batch numbers.
For crochet blanket amounts, we’ve got a whole separate guide here for you.
Same Yarn, Different Color
When buying large quantities of yarn, always check the batch numbers.
Years ago I put up wallpaper for the first time and was dismayed when it didn’t match. I had literally no idea there were batch numbers, and that I was meant to pick rolls with the same ID on them in order for the colors to sync up.
Nothing is more frustrating than beginning a crochet project and being unable to finish it because that particular batch has run out.
Crochet With The Yarn You Are Drawn To
Over the years I have been asked to make a lot of different crochet toys. However good my intensions are, it turns out I can’t design a crochet pattern for something that doesn’t interest me.
The same goes for selecting to crochet. My top tip for yarn buying is don’t buy yarns you are on the fence about.
If the texture bothers me, or the color palette isn’t exactly how I want it to be, then whatever my good intensions are, I just won’t use it. It’ll sit in my stash for years, winking at me from the background and mocking me for making bad choices. Eventually to be donated to someone else.
Experiment with Yarn Type and Texture
My final thought is this. Crocheting comes with a lot of rules, especially to do with yarn. You are meant to use this hook for that yarn. You should only use the same types or weights of yarn together.
Rules are made for breaking. They are just a starting point.
If you are moving into designing your own patterns, or even just changing up a crochet pattern you are copying from someone else. Don’t be afraid to use an alternative hook size, and see what happens.
Just make sure you make a small swatch first, so you don’t end up wasting time or yarn if things don’t go to plan.