If you're interested in knitting you might feel overwhelmed with all the information coming at you! Yarn, needles, gauge, weight, patterns... As enthusiastic as you can be, knitting is a slow hobby, we will start with the most basic stuff you need to understand: the yarn.
Types of yarns
Yarn is a continuous often plied strand composed of either natural or man-made fibers or filaments and used in weaving and knitting to form cloth - that is the Merriam-Webster definition.
We will see later what plied or stranded means, in the meantime let's focus on the yarn composition which is natural or man-made.
Plants are great producers and cotton was one the first source of fiber for clothes, some cotton balls were dated to 5000 BC. Other plants like linen and hemp are also used.
It's the domestication of cattle that made the use of their fiber possible. The most common natural fibers are animals such as wool from sheep, angora from the rabbit and/or sheep, cashmere from the Himalayan goats, as well as alpaca and silk. Of course, depending on where you are living some fibers are more available than others: like camel yarn.
Of course, the list is not exhaustive.
Some of these fibers, because they are rare and/or difficult to obtain, are expensive and delicate, especially cashmere which is often mixed with other fibers. As soon as this type of material is present in the wool, the knits obtained must be carefully maintained.
There are also synthetic fibers such as acrylic, nylon, polyester or bamboo. These fibers are ideal for people with allergies and although they are synthetic, they are also often used to complement natural fibers. They provide structure, strength (especially nylon when you want to make socks and want to avoid tearing at the heels). They are also more accessible from an economic point of view and more practical when you have to wash the knits!
Plied or Stranded yarn
Now we know where the yarn is coming from, but from the animal to getting yarn there is still a lot to do...
In the case of animal fibers, the animal must be shaved, the fiber is then cleaned and carded.
The card step is essential as it involves disentangling the fibers, airing them and arranging them so that they can be spinned which result in a thread of yarn. Carding can be done on natural fiber or with fiber already dyed.
The video below shows how wool is carded (here it is really a very small piece of equipment, it is obvious that larger machines exist to work more material at once).
@paradisefibers is using fiber that has been previously carded and dyed, by re-carding the fibers they reorganizer fibers parallel to each other's on the blending board. By using different colors, they are creating a gradient #rolag.
This rolag is then spun (on the wheel or spindle of the Sleeping Beauty 👸🧙♀️🐉, among others). At the end of the first video and in this second video, you can see how the rolag is spun into yarn.
The fibers in the rolag are a little bit pulled away from each other to create length and twisted to create strength and limit a further pull-apart effect: the strand of yarn is obtained.
The strand can be as thin or thick as one wants.
Once the strand as the right thickness, it can be left as is which is called a #single strand of yarn. The spinning will give the yarn a natural twist but there will be no more manipulation.
This product tends to be more fragile, the fibers are less tight and less coiled, therefore there is less friction between the fibers 👩🔬🐁. They are easier to pull-apart.
You can easily see that on the dark-blue/purple strand each strand of fiber is coiled around each other and that's it! Single yarn result in squishy and soft knits.
A stranded yarn is composed by many singles (2, 4 or more) twisted together on themselves (see how the pink yarn has various strand twisted together like liquorice 🤩).
This kind of yarn is referred as plied yarn, ply being the number of singles used.
Stranded yarn gives much more detailed stitches and a finished object with much more structures. The different levels of torsion create a stronger thread, it can be broken but you will need to pull harder.
When you have both yarn:👩🔬👨🔬 EXPERIMENT👨🔬👩🔬
As you might have already understood everything as an impact on your knitting, from the yarn composition to its weight.
Knitting for Dummies explains that the yarn weight is the thickness of your yarn. Yarn weight determines how many stitches it takes to knit 1 inch.
The thicker the yarn, the less stitches you will get in 1 inch.
The thinner the yarn, the more stitches you will get in 1 inch.
It's all about gauge 😉
Various categories exists depending where you live but Craft Yarn Council made a pretty easy to use table, the name chosen are easy to remember and follow.
Each category has a name, a number and the kind of yarn they include, as well as the needle or crochet size recommended and a standardized gauge.
This table is great to compare yarn at your LYS or craft store. It's great to help you determine what kind of project you can do, and the needle/crochet size recommended to work with.
You can also use the gauge information, but I feel you have to be an experimented knitter to do so. That is because we, as people, are different (I know you're mind blown right now 😉) and when knitting/crocheting a lot of factors can impact the gauge: composition of yarn, type of needles, size of needle, simple pattern or lace/cables...
Some are loose knitter while others are tighter, so for the same project: they will need to use different needle size to get to right gauge.
The only thing you can do: knit a gauge, block and count the numner of stitches/rows in 4"/10cm. If your numbers are not right, change the needle size and rework your gauge.
But don't worry, I will write a blog post just about gauge.
This table is mostly informative, the gauge is given for a tight knit like this stockinette 👇.
If you're interested in knitting lace (yarn weight 0 or 1), you don't want to use needles size 1.5 to 3.25mm, you're not looking for a tight knit. You want something light so you will want to go to 4mm. That will help in having nice and big eyelets, a very light work.
My wedding veil - pictures by Maude Touchette
However, for winter clothes and accessories, you will want to stick with the gauge, a similar yarn weight and right needles as you will want a warmer garment that keeps the cold away !
There is a lot more to say about yarn, but we will keep that for next time.
Feel free to weight in in the talk 👇
Not endorsed by any of the products or brand used/cited. Their work helps illustrate my point.