yarn weight/guage help me unravel the mystery

OK, so I go the yarn store and think I know what I want and I pick up what looks like a chunky wt yarn but says its bulky and then Rachel (my friendly knitting ninja/store person) tells me its really more of a heavy worsted. Now I have no idea what I want at all. Isn't there any math to this? Why does this rating of bulky, chunky, heavy worsted, etc. seem so subjective. I just read the thread on guage swatches and I feel more lost then ever. So is the ability to figure out the right yarn for a project just something that comes with experience or will I always have to rely on Rachel?

albert's picture

There are some very intelligent people here at MWK and I am sure they will offer you some clear explanations about all this so I'll just mention two things: The thicker the yarn, the thicker the resulting fabric (not neccessarily denser, as this is a function of the thickness of the needles vis-a-vis the yarn). Also, the gauge swatch is merely a small sample piece that you knit up to determine how many stitches you have per inch, and how many rows per inch. Once you have this key information, you can do a little simple arithmetic to create a knitted object to whatever size you please.

MMario's picture

It seems subjective because it *is* more ofr less subjective. Each of the yarn classes is a range; and some overlap.
MMario - ambiguity is cultivated, it doesn't happen in a vacuum!

MMario - I'm not divorced from reality - we're having a trial separation

QueerJoe's picture

There are a number of ways of determining the weight of a yarn, and like you've found out is somewhat objective.

This PDF file:


While it's mostly geared toward those folks that spin, shows two ways of estimating a yarn weight (Wraps Per Inch and Yards Per Pound). I find a combination of these works best for me.

Suffice it to say, that you should always do a test swatch on any yarn/needle combination where you care to follow a pattern. I often times find I have to increase my needle size to match a designer's gauge.

Shit, just spelling gauge is a challenge for some folks :)

scenter's picture

I feel your pain. The whole size numbering/weight thing is partially subjective, partially objective - it only gives you a ballpark idea. Guessing does get easier as you do more projects, and you develop a 'feel' for what a yarn will work up as. Temperature and humidity , and how tightly you stretch the yarn to measure a yard, your tension and needle size in knitting etc all affect the numbers

***Geek Alert***
In my efforts to make this guaging it more scientific, I have started making guage swatches on my yarns. Depending upon the project, my mood and motivation (which can be lacking - this is a long term project), etc, I will make several swatches - a 'basic' stockinette one (approx 6"x6"or 15 cm x15 cm with a 3-garter stitch border), maybe one 'in pattern' (esp. if the project calls for a guage swatch in specific pattern stitch), maybe an all garter stitch one also, and sometimes on a needle size up, or down, and sometimes a flat vs circular one. I wait overnight for the swatch to 'relax'

Then I record in a notebook the yarn name, needle brand and sizes (different brands use different mm for the same 'US' sizes, so I have been recording both), and the number of mm for n stitches and m rows - measured at several places, and averaged. I will also measure any pattern repeats horizontally and vertically. I leave the swatch attached to the skein in case I need the yarn to complete the project

On finished objects (such as scarves or shawls where guage does not really matter too much) I will measure an area of stockinette, garter or pattern in much the same way, and record it without making the swatch. Once I get enough data I will put this in a spreadsheet where I can sort them how I please, and hopefully get an even better 'handle' on this because now I have my numbers attached.

Since everybody knits differently, your numbers may be completely different than mine.

Sorry about getting verbose there (wordy).

I never really pay too much attention to yarn size matching a project. Depends on the project to what I want it to look and feel like.

potterdc's picture

Hi Scott,

For myself, experience has taught me only some generalizations: Bulky USUALLY means 3 to 3.5 stitches on 10.5 needles for me; worsted USUALLY means 4 stitches on size 8 or 9. A heavy worsted MIGHT mean I need to go down a needle size or so to meet a gauge requirement. DK weight ALMOST ALWAYS means I have to go up a needle size or more from worsted, but it's the weight I have least experience with.

Also, I know that bulky yarn will knit up a bulky object (and in these warmer winters, that means a sweater I almost will never wear), but will also knit up quickly and makes good scarves in a hurry. Worsted and heavy worsted and DK will make up lighter garments, and take a bit more time.

By the way, some yarn may knit up in a bulky way but be very light: MOHAIR and other fuzzies can be knit on larger needles - the finished project can be bulky in terms of the space it takes up and how much time it takes to knit it up, but light in terms of the finished project.

Jonathan in DC

Think less, enjoy it more.

PS: welcome to the group!

Think less, enjoy it more.