One of the things that new knitters struggle with, is understanding the medium they are working with. Early in your knitting life you have very little understanding of how yarns vary from one to another or why they do once you start to recognize the differences. Many knitting reference books do describe the characteristics of various fibres but there are many other characteristics of yarn that it would help to understand. Much of this knowledge will be acquired as your knitting experience expands. However one of the differences between novice knitters and more experienced ones is the vocabulary that helps them share information regarding yarn characteristics. Newbies can't always take advantage of information being shared with them because they don't yet understand the nuances of the knitting lexicon. Often it takes the repetition of the information before true understanding is attained.
Yarn can be categorized in a number of different ways. The most common is by weight. The standardized system being used in North America is numbered from 0 - 6 as Lace, Superfine, Fine, Light, Medium, Bulky and Super Bulky. You can see the chart here from the Craft Yarn Council web site. It includes a number of names of yarn weights, as an example, Bulky yarn can also be referred to as Rug, Craft or Chunky. Names tend to differ geographically and Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have in the past named yarn weight in terms of ply numbered from 1 - 14. Many knitters feel that the system is too narrow with too many overlaps between each category. The gauge range can be problematic as well since it is based on stocking stitch and assumes a firm, solid fabric. Some yarns are purposefully knit at a much looser gauge, lace for example.
Yarn can also be categorized: by fibre, wool, cotton etc, spinning method, elasticity, drape and texture which has an impact on stitch definition. Texture type includes yarn like boucles and eyelash formats. Spinners have their own vocabulary that may or may not be shared by knitters.
Add to the above characteristics those of colour and we begin to understand why the yarns available to us can vary so widely.
I'll be writing future posts on the various aspects that go into creating yarn, so check back in the upcoming weeks for updates on this topic.
Part 2 is here.