Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Knitting Terminology 100 - Needles & Yarn

When reading this post please bear in mind that I am in no way an expert on these things. I'm a "newbie" who has read up a lot in the past 2 months. This knowledge comes from several of the books I mentioned in a recent post. I just thought to compile them together for you and perhaps you could copy and paste onto a sheet to print for yourself.

Here we go!


I've run across plastic, metal and wood, thus far. Here's what I've arrived at -

  • Pros - easy to manage, not too slippery
  • Cons - if you buy the shiny, clear ones be careful with the tips. The tips are easy to scratch and once scratched will pull your yarn. Weight can warp the thinner ones.
  • Pros - slippery for maximum speed
  • Cons - ditto. I always feel like I'm going to lose stitches when first casting on. However, once I get some weight going they're not too bad.


(Please note that I haven't used wood as of yet, but I have heard this from other knitters.)

  • Pros - easy to manage, not too slippery
  • Cons - can splinter after much use and easy to break in your knitting bag. Weight can warp the thinner ones.

Needle styles:

You can find basic (standard) needles with a definite end (a knob or tip of some sort), double point (a point at both ends), or circular needles (needles connected by tubing of some sort).

I prefer the definite end style so that I don't have to worry about dropping stitches from the wrong end. The double point are generally for knitting "in the round" for socks and such, but I have seen people "flat" (knitting a flat piece such as a scarf or blanket) knit with them.

The circular needles can be used for "flat" or "in the round" knitting. You simply have to choose to connect the garment ends or flip the needles as you would if you were knitting with basic needles. This seems confusing to start off with. There are too many other things going on to remember when to flip. These are great for knitting larger blankets or afghans as you have plenty of room to move around.

Needle sizing:

Sizing runs from zero to 15 (US sizes, UK is different). The needles I've seen have a US size and a Metric size. The Metric sizes are noted in millimeters.

Some needles have both sizes noted on one side, some have sizes on opposite sides. Below is an example of sizing on my favorite needles.

Why does this matter, you ask? Well, the size of the needle will make a difference in the amount of yarn you need for a project and how tight a knit you end up with. In general, the larger the needle the less yarn you'll need and the smaller the needles the more yarn you'll use.

You'll need to consider this yourself when trying to interchange a different yarn into an established pattern. Which brings us to...

Yarn types:

If you're like me, you're probably overwhelmed at the yarn choices at your local craft store(s). Trust me, there's more! You can order specialty yarns on-line and sometimes find hand spun yarns available at Farmer's Markets or through your local Arts Guild.

Here's the basic rundown from the craft store:


Natural - wool, silk, cotton, hemp, or blends of these, etc...

Synthetic - acrylic, nylon, microfiber, recycled plastic, etc...

When you're considering the fiber be sure to consider whether or not the item will be washable. You don't want a baby blanket or socks that are "dry-clean only"!

You will also find many "yarn snobs", people who don't want to use any yarn that was "store bought". When faced with bin upon bin of yarn at the craft store I can't help but believe that someone is buying all of that yarn, otherwise they wouldn't have that kind of selection. Don't feel badly when you're buying off the shelf. Just because there are large quantities of those yarns available doesn't mean that your project will end up the same as another persons. Think of all those patterns! What are the chances you will pick the same one, in the same color, knitted on the same needles???


First consider the twist direction. A "Z" runs upward and to the right and an "S" runs up and to the left. This shows how the yarn was spun together.

Textures -

  • Spiral - thin yarn spun around a thick yarn
  • Slub - a single strand that varies from thick to thin and is spun with a smooth or another slubbed yarn strand
  • Chenille - two thin threads spun around a short, velvety texture yarn
  • Nub - two yarn strands spun to create periodic bumps
  • Eyelash - threads that hang out of the spun thread at regular increments along the length of the yarn (like eyelashes flutter from your eyes)
  • Boucle - two yarn strands that are spun with different tension to create a puffy strand with a tight strand (these look like loops)

By the way, always feel your yarn when selecting it. If you don't like the way it feels on the roll, it won't feel any better against your skin after completing the project. There is a large variety of soft yarn out there. Sometimes, you just have to look for it.

Sizes -

  • 1 - Super Fine (also called sock, baby or Fingerling weight) - for socks, baby items, or close-fitting items - nice for US size 0-3 needles
  • 2 - Fine (Sportweight) - for heavier socks, lightweight clothing - US size 3-5 needles
  • 3 - Light (DK or double knitting or light worsted-weight) - for sport or worsted items - US size 5-7 needles
  • 4 - Medium (worsted-weight) - any project - US size 7-9
  • 5 - Bulky (chunky, craft or rug yarn) - outdoor sweaters/ jackets, accessories, rugs, afghans - US size 9-11 needles
  • 6 - Super Bulky (bulky or roving) - heavy sweaters, coats, afghans - US size 11 and larger needles

These are basic recommendations. Use your imagination when selecting yarn and needle sizes. Super Fine knitted with size 11 needles will give you an lace-style shawl. Super Bulky will not fit on size 1 needles due to the bulk.

Reading Labels:

Labels contain so much information that sometimes they can be confusing, especially when they only use symbols.

You'll normally see a set of crossed knitting needles or a crochet hook that give you the recommended needle or hook size along with how many sets(sts) you could have within a specified area of measurement. (Sets are stitches.) This will be helpful if you're gauging for your own design or using a different yarn than the one used in your pattern of choice.

There will be a break down of how many ounces (or pounds) are in the ball along with grams, yards and meters. Again, this can be used for gauging your pattern.

# of balls of yarn X # of yards in a skein = total yardage

The fabric content will be listed along with any special care for the yarn (ie., hand wash, no ironing, no bleach, etc...) You will find country of origin information alongside manufacturer information.

Usually appearing near the bar code will be the color number and lot number, if there is one. The lot number can be the single most important factor in your knitting project. If you don't purchase enough of the same dye lot to complete your project you run the risk of having a multicolored finished project. This occurs naturally in the dyeing process. If you've ever dyed clothes you know what I mean. Be slightly off in the soak time or in the dye mixture and you could end up several colors off.

Fortunately, some yarns have no dye lot. If this is the case, it will be noted on the label, sometimes in big letters as an advertising ploy.

Reading Patterns:

When attempting your first project you'll inevitably start with a pattern. When choosing your first pattern most people choose something very simple using only the garter, or knit stitch. This is normally the first stitch that you learn.

Here's an example of a pattern - (sorry if it's blurry)

This pattern came from a yarn label. Many labels come with free patterns ranging from easy to advanced.

Normally, a pattern will include a level guide - this one says "Easy".

Finished measurements of the pattern (based on the same material and needle usage).

How much material you'll need to complete the project. (Make sure you buy enough yarn from the same dye lot to complete the project - see the Reading Labels section for more information on this topic.)

If you use a gauge, the pattern should tell you how large it would be with a certain number of sets. I always recommend using a gauge. (A gauge is simply a ruler, but you can purchase a knitters gauge if you want.) At first I thought it a waste of time, but this helps you remain consistent on your yarn tension while knitting and should keep you from making a lopsided garment. (See my Second Knitting Project post for further information on this!)

The pattern should also include a list of the stitches to be used. If there are terms or abbreviations that you don't know or understand grab a book or check on-line for a guide. Don't let new stitches stop you once you're comfortable with the garter stitch!

Stay tuned for more knitting basics!

Chatting with a new blogging buddy tonight gave me this idea. Thanks Mrs. U!

1 comment:

Mrs. U said...

Holy cow!!! This is chock-full of EXCELLENT information!! I hope you don't mind, but I REALLY need to print this out!!!

Thank you SO very much!!

Mrs. U