Monday, January 6, 2014

How to Read a Yarn Label - Part 1

Yarn labels can vary greatly in the information that each one provides. The standard the yarn companies work towards has changed a great deal over my long knitting career. I remember when yardage or metre information was not commonly provided. When I first started knitting we purchased yarn by weight (in ounces) and by name of weight, for example DK or worsted. Here in Canada we have switched from the imperial system to the metric one. Due to the amount of yarn that comes from U.S. distributors and the use of American patterns many knitters here still work in imperial measurements.

I'm happy that we are getting more information on most current labels, however in some cases the information is becoming more vague instead of more precise. I often wonder if this confuses novice knitters? This may be due to the huge variety of yarn now available to modern knitters, Ravelry currently lists over 8000 brands of yarn. It may also be a result of the recognition that results vary more between knitters than was previously recognized.

I've listed below the type of information you will find on many labels. I've included some comments on the quirks and variations that I've been coming across as well.

Yarn Company Name and Yarn Name 
Sometimes this can be the same, especially with very small yarn companies.

Fibre Content  
This is usually done by percentage. It can vary widely in the level of detail. Superwash wools are normally labelled as such. Some labels indicate types of wool others don't. Alpaca yarn labels may indicate the grade of Alpaca. Most labels give wool type and alpaca grade when they are the top quality but others of lower grades leave that information off. Grading information standards vary from country to country so the labeling may not mean what the knitter thinks it does based on their location.

Amount of Yarn. This includes length and weight in both imperial and metric measurements. We now often see a mix of the two systems. Grams are often used for weight, especially now that many are non-standard amounts instead of even amounts in ounces that in the past were standardized put ups.

Gauge information. This shows the average suggested needles size, as well as how many stitches are in a 4 inch (10 cm) swatch. On occasion this information is based on what the intended use of the yarn is. As an example Fingering weight yarn that is intended for socks. The knitter might choose to knit a shawl at a much looser gauge.Having worked in my LYS I can also share that we often saw labels with gauge information that made no sense to the shop staff. We would occasionally have a few of us swatch and compare so we could make reasonable recommendations to our customers.

Recommended needle size
Modern labels are much more likely to show a range of needle sizes instead of a single size. Sizes are in U.S. or metric. Metric seems to be becoming more popular due to it's accuracy across brands. We used to have a British needle size system and there are older systems as well. I still have needles that belonged to my grandmothers and and they vary in size even when they are labelled with the same number size. You can see a comparison chart here. Japan has another system you can see another chart here.

Please check back for more on this topic, I'll post Part 2 on Jan 8th.

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