Choosing the right yarn for your project (or project for your yarn) is usually what makes or breaks your project. When considering yarn there are several factors – weight and hook size, fibre content, yarn construction and texture.
Yarn Weight and Hook Size
Most of us who have crocheted or knit a few projects will have an instinct for selecting an appropriate yarn weight for our project. The weight of the yarn refers to its thickness – from lace through to super chunky. Going back to the first part of this series – Stitch Pattern Selection – we could expand the chart to show that in general a project with a lacier pattern will suit a finer yarn and a project with a dense stitch pattern will suit a chunkier yarn.
Having said this it is sometimes very striking to mix things up and make a lacy project (such as my Passion Flower Doily) with a chunky yarn and hook – like this awesome rug from Crochet in Paternoster.
The band ball of your yarn will suggest a needle size (and usually a hook size as well). It is good to stay close to the recommendation unless you are looking to produce a particularly different fabric. For example, to make crochet baskets, work with a hook size at least two sizes smaller than recommended one to increase the density of the fabric – the extra stiffness adds structure and holds the basket up. To make a fabric which has more drape and openness, increase the hook size. This can also make the fabric stretchier, good for fluid lightweight shawls.
Most people who have crocheted or knit for a while will have a preference for a certain weight of yarn. It is tempting to stick with what you like but I suggest that matching the yarn scale to the project size will give you a happier result – if you are branching out from making afghans to baby clothes then switch down your yarn weight!
The fibre composition of your yarn is both an aesthetic and practical consideration. Cashmere and silk feel awesome but are expensive and require notable aftercare. So they are not the most sensible choice for a baby blanket which will require several skeins and frequent washing. Choose an easy care option!
Here are some common fibres and my personal thoughts on their best uses:
|Fibre||Positive attributes||Negative attributes||Best Uses|
|Cotton||Breathable, good stitch definition, durable, strong||Heavy when wet, inelastic, can stretch out over time||Summer tops, motifs, clutch bags, dishcloths|
|Viscose/Bamboo||Silky to touch, good stitch definition, breathable, good drape and sheen||Inelastic, fibres can split easily||Summer tops, baby clothes, shawls and summer scarves|
|Silk||Sheen, lightweight, breathable and warm||Expensive, can be slippery to handle on the hook||Scarves and shawls. In a blend: luxury cardigans and sweaters|
|Wool||Warm, pleasant to hook with, can be felted, easy to block to shape, stretchy.||Can feel itchy depending on the quality and specific wool type. Aftercare important.||Decorative elements like brooches, felted bags, outer layers of clothing like jumpers.|
|Specialist wool such as Angora, Cashmere, Alpaca, Camel||Softer than regular wool, usually a nicer sheen and/or “halo” of fibre||Expensive. Can still irritate the skin though less likely to do so than general wool as fibres are thinner. Aftercare is important.||Luxury winter scarves and shawls, luxury baby items (especially if superwash or in a blend)|
|Acrylic and other man-made fibres||Durable and strong, bright colours, inexpensive, easy to care for, “fashion” yarns such as those with bobbles or metallic thread||Not breathable – can cause sweating. Not as warm as wool. Cheapest varieties can feel scratchy and feel “squeaky” as you hook them.||Large blankets which get frequent use and need laundering, household items which are not worn, outer layers of clothing|
|Blends||Combines the good attributes of all fibres in the blend. Cheaper than luxury fibres like 100% silk or alpaca.||Be careful to check for wool content if you are making an item for someone who is very sensitive. Can still need lots of aftercare depending on the blend.||Depends on exact blend – but usually great for any type of clothing|
Yarn Construction and Texture
When it comes to yarn construction, I’m talking about how the yarn itself is made. Usually a yarn is made by twisting several strands of ply together. The twist itself can be tight or loose, and in the s-direction (or rarely in the z-direction). Look at some yarn to see what I mean. When you crochet the tendency is for the action of making a stitch to open up the twist a little (if it is s-twist). So if you select a loosely twisted yarn it can start to split more easily and stitches will look looser. A tighter twist will give greater stitch definition. (Read more on this subject over on Doris Chan Crochet)
Another common construction is called chainette, where the yarn is like a narrow knitted tube (see Rowan Lima for example). This construction type makes it easy to crochet because it avoids splitting. The yarn itself appears more dense than it is (try twisting it to see what I mean) which can add volume to a project without adding weight.
Texture is added to yarn by varying its thickness or by blending colours or twisting together different types of ply (e.g. a silk ply with a wool ply). These yarns can be a little trickier to work with but add interest to your work – they are best paired with simple stitches as they disguise any fancy details but stop it from looking boring.
You can choose whichever construction type you like but remember that your choice can affect the finished look of your project as well as how easily you can crochet it.
I’ll be back next time with my latest crochet pattern. There’s still one more post in this series to go – and it’s on the most fun part of any project :)