Monthly Archives: January 2013

Anatomy of a Yarn Label

If you are me, when you walk into a yarn shop you are filled with great desire to hug all of the yarn. Then, once the initial euphoria fades, you start doing a mental catalogue of yarn weights and colours on the shelves, vis-a-vis what kind of yarn you want to buy and what kind of project it is going to be for. (Or you might just buy yarn not knowing what you’re going to make with it. I hear that sometimes happens).

[These helpful picture frames hang on the shelves at Needles in the Hay, which is think is pretty much the darling-est thing ever.]

Every yarn store is a bit different in how they arrange their yarns, but one thing that is quite common is to see general arrangements by weight (all the sock yarns in one section, all the laceweight in another, etc), or sometimes also by manufacturer (all Noro yarns over here, all Malabrigo yarns over there, etc). Whatever organizational scheme the shop uses is designed to help you access the yarn you need by narrowing it down according to a selective piece of information. Yarn weight matters for the kind of gauge and garment you want to get out of it, so it tends to be pretty common as a way of organizing yarn – many knitters (myself included) also organize their own yarn stashes in this way.


If you’re left to your own devices, however, this is all information that can be gleaned from reading the yarn labels or ball-bands. It turns out these little slips of paper are useful for much more than just holding a price tag or for keeping it contained while you squeeze and squish the living daylights out of the yarn. There is a lot of information contained on yarn labels, and if you are savvy about reading and interpreting this information, you can ultimately have more control over the finished results of your knitting.

I plucked a few skeins of yarn from my stash to help demonstrate this, and I’d like to show you in this post what the key pieces of information are that you should expect to find on your yarn labels and how this can help you in the long run with your knitting. While there is always some form of variation in label information between dyers and yarn manufacturers, you can expect some common ground. In the photo above I’ve got a skein each of (from top to bottom) Green Mountain Spinnery Wonderfully Wooly, Socks That Rock lightweight, Sweet Georgia superwash chunky, and Cascade 220 heathers. The Sweet Georgia and Cascade 220 are going to play along with me here for a close-up visual demonstration below.

(Click for original, to embiggen)

Source – Let’s say you pulled the yarn out of your stash from a long time ago, or it was given to you, or you just have no idea what it is or where it came from. The label should tell you both the yarn name and the manufacturer name, and source information for where you can get more. In the current era, it is not uncommon to find a web site or email address in this place.

Yarn Weight – This is probably the first thing a lot of knitters look for. The actual yarn weight is specified by a weight measurement of the skein in ounces or grams (or both), and the number of yards or metres (or both) of yarn contained in the skein. Weight of fiber per yardage amount is, in large part, what determines how thick or thin the yarn is. For example, the Sweet Georgia Superwash Chunky here has 120 yds per 100g skein, whereas the Cascade 220 Heathers has 220 yards (oh look, it’s in the yarn name too! ;) ) per 100g skein. Clearly these two yarns are of very different yarn weights, even though the amount of fibre contained in each skein is the same. However, it’s not just yarn weight that makes a difference for how thick it is, but also the plying method and fiber content, which is why the other piece of information people tend to look at is the gauge.

Gauge – The gauge notation on the label tells us the anticipated number of stitches and rows per amount of fabric, usually over 1 inch/2.5cm  or 4 inches/10 cm. The Sweet Georgia reads as 3 to 3.5 sts per inch with 5.5-8mm needles, and the Cascade 220 reads as 18-20 sts per 4 ins with 4.5-5.0mm needles. What this does is give you a ballpark figure to place these yarns in a category according to standardized yarn weight systems – what this says is that if you take the Cascade 220 and knit with it on either a 4.5mm or 5.0mm needle, you are most likely to achieve a gauge of 18-20 sts over 4 inches of stockinette fabric. According to standardized yarn guidelines, this means this yarn is classified as a worsted weight yarn. If your yarn store shelves yarn by weight, it means that it may also be sitting next to other yarns that are also worsted weight, which might be helpful if you’re looking for more ideas for the same project.

It is entirely possible, however, that you could pick up Cascade 220 and achieve a gauge of 18-20 sts by using a needle just to one side of that needle range, say a 4.0mm or 5.5mm needle, depending on whether you happen to be a loose or tight knitter as compared to the average. There is no way the people who print the yarn labels can anticipate all knitterly variation, but they do their best to give you a sense of where the yarn fits on the gauge scale compared to other weights of yarn that exist. If you are less experienced as a knitter, this is the kind of self-knowledge you will gain over time, so the answer is clearly just to knit more. (Heh.)


Fibre Content – both of these yarns are made of wool, but the Sweet Georgia is marked as a superwash wool whereas the Cascade 220 is marked as Peruvian Highland wool. This means, essentially, that the Cascade 220 is ‘regular’ wool and the Sweet Georgia is specially treated wool. Fiber content matters for knowing how the fabric will behave (and I recommend picking up some Clara Parkes reading if you want to know all there is to know on that subject) and whether it is an animal fibre or plant fiber, organic or not, what country it was sourced from if this is known, and so on. This is also closely related to how you should wash the knitted item once it is finished, which is why labels also tend to include…

Washing Instructions – You’ll see the Cascade 220 yarn label includes actual symbols, typical of the symbols you would also find on a garment label. Thankfully, the symbols tend to be the same, so if you don’t know what the symbols on your garment labels mean either, you can look that up and do just fine. Some of this may also be indicated by written instructions for clarity, as the Sweet Georgia label indicates that you can “gentle machine wash cold” and “lay flat to dry” (in other words try not to blast the daylights out of it by shoving it into the machine dryer), and a lot of yarn companies will tell you similar instructions. If in doubt about how to wash it, check the label.

Colour – this is key information if you reach a point in your project where you’ve run out and need to buy more in order to finish. If you have at least the colour name or number (different companies label differently), you can do this very easily. Some yarns will have not only the colour name but also dye lot information, in other words, the batch number of when that particular yarn was dyed. Some times dye lots of the same colour can vary dramatically, so if you can match both the yarn colour AND the dye lot, you are golden.

And that, my dear knitter friends, has been your friendly neighbourhood tour of yarn labels and ball bands. It’s been a real pleasure – be sure to tip your waitresses and try the veal!

Have a great knitterly weekend!


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So, I don’t know who exactly is in charge of the time-space continuum around here, but I’m really not sure it’s supposed to be the middle of January already. I mean, really? I thought we were still in the first week of the year – can’t a girl get a bit of procrastination time on the whole New Year’s resolution thing? Ah well, nothing for it but to keep knitting I suppose. I have a whackload of knits going on behind the scenes around here, but keep trying to get the smaller finish-able projects in there because, what can I say, a girl needs some of those.


I finished my Union Station beret a week or two ago (possibly it was last week, but then, see above re: my loose relationship with the normal structure of time), and am really quite pleased with it. It’s in Ultra Alpaca which is a lovely warm wool/alpaca worsted weight yarn, and we’re going to need hats around here for another 2 months at least.


In true idiosyncratic knitter fashion, however, I haven’t actually worn it yet because I want to knit myself a plain pair of mittens or gloves to go with it and then I can leave the house with a matched set. (I briefly contemplated working up a true matching set of mittens with similar cable motifs on them but then quietly shut that down…maybe down the road, but not just yet). Something plain will do fine, so I think I’ve found my next small project to get ready on the needles.


Thanks to seeing several movies over the last month I am also finally nearing the end of my ribbed socks (my own free pattern, if you would like it), which have languished for several months in my handbag. (It’s really a good thing that knitting doesn’t fight back out of neglect, some days I think it would be totally justified in doing so). Normally I like to make socks my portable knitting, but lately sweater sleeves have been taking over in that department. I have noticed this is a poor thing for my sock drawer, because lately I’ve been playing favourites and wearing the same half-dozen pairs of hand-knit socks over and over again each week. It’s definitely time for a few new pairs in the rotation!

I hope you’ve got a great small or portable project to work on too, and that you can fill in your knitting time whenever possible. Happy Thursday!




Filed under finished object: accessories

So you’ve decided to be a knitter

The other day I had a thoughtful question from a blog reader, along the lines of “how do I get past the beginner stage of knitting, now that I’m ready to move beyond plain scarves?” Which is a pretty good question, and one to which there are many possible answers. (Also, in case this bears observation, if nothing else Stephanie’s recent travails with her Doctor Who scarf are a good reminder that moving to beyond-beginner projects doesn’t mean you abandon scarves altogether. Also also: scarves might be technically simple but they can demand a mammoth-sized amount of patience and perseverance. Technical skill isn’t all that gets things done around here, just saying.)


So, let’s say you’re there – you’ve done some time with scarves or other forms of plain rectangles or squares and want to move on, but aren’t really sure how to do it yet. If you have the advantage of having access to a Local Yarn Shop (LYS), this is always a nice place to start because they often have project recommendations or classes to peruse, or shop samples of knitted items to stare at and think about what you’d like to make next. If you don’t have the luxury of a nice LYS nearby, though, and are left mostly with your wits and a vague multi-directional sense of “I WANT TO KNIT THINGS,” then you’ve got a lot of options. Almost too much choice, in fact.

I would start here by acknowledging to yourself that almost everything is going to feel new to you – therefore, there really is no wrong choice here for what kind of project you decide to work on. A lot of people will tell you that a specific kind of project is the right choice – hats, for example, are very popular (they teach you about working in the round and decreasing, plus are fairly small), others would say dive right into socks (hand knit socks are eminently satisfying and teach you many similar skills to hats as well as the heel turn or short rows), and they might be right. The thing is, those people are only right if they are recommending a project that you yourself want to make.

The best possible choice you can make is to pick a project that you really want to knit – if you desire the finished object enough, then that will give you motivational fuel and excitement to keep going and learn the things you need to learn to make it. It’s true that stockinette hats in the round are going to require you to learn fewer new skills all at once than, say, a cabled pullover, but there are no rules here about what you must do. Knit as pleases you and see what happens.


I have only one proviso to the above, which is DO make sure you are capable of doing the following: Knit, purl, and at least one kind of cast-on and one kind of bind-off method. Every knitting project out there will require you to know these things – although if you stick to garter stitch only you can happily avoid purl stitches for as long as you like. Definitions of “beginner” and “non-beginner” vary almost as much as knitters themselves, but as far as I am concerned, if you can do those 4 things I list above, you are ready to move on.

Another fairly specific recommendation I have is DO set yourself up with at least one knitting reference manual that explains a variety of knitting techniques, cast-on and bind-off methods, finishing techniques, and so on, with helpful photographs for reference. I mention a few of them in this blog post, which I would still recommend, but there is also Stephanie’s Knitting Rules book for fun and perspective, Kate has two ‘beginner and beyond’ style knitting books, there’s Margaret’s Knitting Answer Book, Leslie’s book is nothing but cast-ons and bind-offs, and so on and so on.

The reason I suggest acquiring a physical manual (or e-book form if you prefer, if you find one with electronic versions), is that it is one of the best ways I can think of to combat the “I don’t know what I don’t know” situation that most of us find ourselves in at the beginning of any new pursuit. You can certainly find a whole host of knitting information out there on the web, via YouTube videos, in various magazine or company websites – and the more you knit and explore the knitting internet, you will discover these things. The trick there is that it is much easier to find this kind of information when you already know what it is you are looking for. If you don’t know what you’re looking for to begin with, it helps to have a collection of that information at arm’s reach. (Also: I like books. Hurray for books!)


What do you want to make next? Find an answer (or five) to this question and you will be all set. You don’t need to worry about what you might be able to make in a few months or next year or after you’ve learned X, Y, and Z, just worry about what you want to make now. Once you know what that thing is, narrow down what yarn and supplies and skills you’ll need to do it, possibly also track down a knitterly friend via web or physical space (“hi! I’ll buy you a latte/lunch/whatever you want if you’ll show me how to read a chart! Love and kisses!”), and go ahead and make it.

If you don’t know what you want to make, there are a lot of ways you can start to narrow down an answer. For starters, if you’re a member of Ravelry (it’s free if you’re not), take a few minutes with yourself and peruse the Advanced Pattern Search feature. (I blogged about this feature previously in this post, if you are curious for more). The wonderful thing about this feature is that it allows you to target your search by item (show me all the hats!), weight of yarn, construction, fabric characteristics (show me all the hats in bulky yarn with cables on them knitted in the round!), and it will vastly narrow the number of patterns you are choosing from. The pattern listings will tell you where/how the pattern is available, for how much, and so on.

You could also get ideas just by perusing your local newsstand or magazine rack – publications like Interweave Knits, Knitscene, Knit Simple, and many more, are often available right there on the shelf and you can see physically on the page what the item is and how complex the written instructions are, before you start to make it. The nice thing about magazine publications is also that they give you a variety of kinds of items – most will include some accessories, some garments, and one or two items for the home. They will also highlight a few articles on technique and knitter stories, which are always interesting to have around when you’re soaking up knowledge.

Other ways you can narrow down what you want to make:
-Something you want to wear
-Something you want to make as a gift
-Something you saw another knitter making and you wanted to make it too
-Something you saw in a store/movie and you wanted to make something similar
-Something to teach you a new skill that you want to learn (I must learn to knit in the round! I will find something made in the round!)

(You get the idea.)


Once you start making new things (do not be surprised if that one cabled hat leads to matching mittens, and a sweater that you saw in that one magazine so you decided to try it out for the hell of it, and maybe a little baby cardi because your nephew/kid/child you met once would look cute in it), the biggest challenge will be managing the new skills. Things you will likely start encountering once you move towards projects beyond a basic scarf will likely include some subset of the following:

-Working in the round, on either circular needles, double-pointed needles, or Magic Loop with a long circular
-Working increases and decreases
-Working with a charted pattern
-Sewing seams, such as the shoulders or sides of a sweater
-Working button holes
-Picking up stitches
-Executing cables, with or without a cable needle; Or any of a number of other specialized techniques including lace knitting, colour-work knitting, entrelac, beaded knitting, and so on. Within a single technique there will be enormous variation in level of difficulty, so try to see past the technique itself and consider how much of it is used in that project and how comfortable you are with it going in.

Mostly, remember that everyone is a beginner at something; Nobody is a master at everything. Also, nobody is perfect at everything, and we all get frustrated with our knitting at some point or another. If you have a moment of confusion or frustration or tearfully showing up at your friend’s door/running to the yarn shop/throwing yourself into a knitting class/hugging your confused cat while you figure out what you were doing wrong: congratulations, you are doing knitting correctly. We’ve all been there, and we have t-shirts.

Go forth and knit things, knitter friends! If you have a favourite tip for “beginner” knitters out there, please feel free to leave one in the comments. Catch you next time!



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New year, new knits

So, after my Christmas knitting turned out to yield less satisfying results – though I am continuing in search of more Mission Falls 1824 wool in the hopes of getting some more a bit closer to my dye lot(s) – I decided that at New Year’s I would start something new that would just be a single skein project. No need to worry about changing between dye lots, after all, when you’ve just got the one skein.


I cast on something else in dark purple (since I liked that dark purple Mission Falls even if it was ill-fated), and went with a Union Station beret since it’s my own pattern and therefore familiar, and also, who doesn’t want more winter hats in January? I’ll take all I can get, that’s for sure.


The yarn is Berroco Ultra Alpaca (one of my favourite yarns) in ‘beetroot’, a dark enough purple that it could almost be considered a neutral, but still purple enough that it’s got colour and interest to it. I’ve been toying a lot more these days with the idea of knitting with darker colours. Even though the stitch patterns are less visibly dominant unless you’re up close, dark colours have a very dressy look to them and some days that’s a nice thing to have in your knitwear. I’m working away at this a few rounds at a time in between other projects, and have grand fantasies of a matching pair of gloves while the weather is still cool.


Also, speaking of fitting in projects – it turns out that seeing the James Bond movie a second time means you can get about this much of your second ribbed sock done at the same time. (I love plain ribbed socks for movie theatre knitting – they’re simple enough that my fingers can feel what they’re doing even if I’m not looking at it, and I just save the heels for other times. Movie + Sock Knitting, a combo coming soon to a Knitter’s World of Leisure near you).

[ETA: these are Socks That Rock lightweight in ‘Tlingit’ colourway.]

Have a good knitterly weekend, knitter friends!




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