More goodies from the mailbag. Laura wrote:

I recently came across the Mary Francis Knitting and Crocheting Book. It is darling!? Even though the credits don’t specify, I assume it’s a reprint of a book originally written around 1920. Woven within the story are quite extensive photo demos of knitting and crochet, along with many patterns for doll clothes, and even Red Cross knitting patterns. The text of the book describes yarns as 2-fold, 3-fold or 4-fold, and appear to be referring to what we would call ‘ply’ today–though perhaps more in the UK style. The book then goes on to say that yarns are named Germantown Zephyr or Germantown Wool (4-fold or 8-fold), Knitting Worsted, Saxony Wool, Woolen Knitting Floss, Teazle Yarn, or Angora Wool. Would you have any info on what the modern equivalents of these might be? Any references to point me toward?? I did a google search, but mostly came up with “Bear Brand Germantown Yarns,” a few skeins of which have retired in my stash….It would seem that Germantown could refer to worsted weight or heavier (about a 3 or 4 in the modern number scheme trying to standardize the industry), Saxony might be more of a baby or sport weight (2ish, I suppose?) and Knitting Floss might be more like Shetland yarns–lace or baby/fingering weight (1 or 2ish, I’m thinking).

I know there are lots of people now interested in older knitting patterns – everything from ponchos published in the 1970s through the truly vintage stuff going back to the late 1800s. The older the book, the harder it can be to figure out how to make the garment using today’s materials. Laura’s problem is a very common one for anyone looking at these older patterns.

I can’t claim to be an expert on this on this, but I have had a little bit of experience with legacy/historical patterns. From my limited exposure,?Laura’s guesses are spot on.

For the yarns described in her book, Germantown’s closest equivalent is true worsted (not just something within the group system 3 or 4 designation;?the group system being a lousy method yarn classification). The closest modern yarn is Cascade 220 – a 100% wool that knits at 5 stitches per inch. Many patterns call for that size yarn to be doubled. I’ve had good results using either a true worsted, or even a lofty DK when the pattern calls for knitting with two strands.

Saxony was often used for baby items, knit on 15s or 16s. The modern needle size equivalent would be 00s or an size in between 00 and 000. I’ve had success substituting modern three-ply fingering or baby yarn. (4-ply fingering is standard sock weight, knitting at 28 stitches = 4 inches, 3-ply is lighter, usually knitting at 32 stitches = 4 inches.) Perhaps Jamieson Shetland Spindrift might work, being lofty and able to be knit down to that gauge. Brown Sheep WildFoote is one of the lightest sock yarns around now that Kroy 3 Ply is discontinued. Froelich Wolle Special Blauband is also on the thin end of the fingering spectrum. Much thicker and denser but machine washable is Dale Baby Ull. Knit tightly it might work, but I think that the Spindrift or Wildfoote would have a more historically accurate look.

I also suspect that Knitting Floss is lace weight. Skacel Merino Lace might make a good substitute.

Teazle, and Angora Wool are tougher. My suggestion would be to look at the needle size and gauge. Since most historical patterns don’t give gauge, are sized fairly small and fit FAR tighter than modern ones, the best way to figure out gauge is to look at the stitch count around the wrist or cuff rather than around the chest. Fit on wrists don’t change much, nor is ease generally a big factor there. Compare whatever you get to the wrist measurement of a modern piece – women’s small, men’s small, or children’s about size 6 for post-baby garments. Using that measurement roughly estimate how many stitches per inch the piece had just above the ribbing.

I’ve been working on this chart for a while, collecting historical yarn names and modern gauge/needle size equivalents. Also some suggestions on possible modern yarns. I started with some needle size data abstracted from Lois Baker’s highly useful comparative needle chart. Most of the historical yarn types I cite are from patterns before the 1930s. Note that these are not hard and fast categorizations, many yarns/needle sizes can slip up or down a peg. Also note that texture is difficult to match. I have no way of knowing if one yarn type was say, closer in feel to Spindrift than it is to Regia. Feel free to attach corrections/additions in the comments. I’ll update the chart body and put a link to it under ‘Reference’ at right.
For yarns from the 1950s through 1970s, VintageKnits maintains a very useful guideto fiber content and actual gauges of specific yarn brand names. It’s divided roughly by weight into several pages.

Historical Needle Size

Modern Needle Size

Expected Gauge
and Modern Yarn Type

Typical Historical Yarn Names

Possible Modern Substitutes
(no guarantees)



1 ply Cobweb wool
Cotton thread



UK 24


US #00000000 (8/0)

1 ply Cobweb wool
Cotton thread


Size 80 cotton

UK 22


US #000000


1 ply Cobweb wool
Cotton thread

Wool Floss
Spool Cotton
Knitting cotton


UK 19
US 18 Steel

US #00000

1 ply Cobweb wool
Cotton thread


Size 50-80 cotton
Jamieson 1-Ply Cobweb Wool

US 17 Steel


1 ply Cobweb wool
Cotton thread



UK 18
US 16 Steel

US #0000

2 ply Lace weight
Cotton thread

Berlin Wool
Briggs Knitting Silk

Size 50 cotton
Skacel Merino Lace

UK 17
US 15 Steel

US #000

2 ply Lace weight
Cotton thread

Berlin Wool, Andalusian Wool

Size 30 cotton
Skacel Merino
Lace Lorna’s Laces Helen’s Lace

UK 15
US 14 Steel

US #00

3 ply Fingering
Light Fingering
30-32 st = 4 in

Saxony, Shetland, Pompador,
German Fingering, Alliance

Jamieson Shetland Spindrift,
Brown Sheep Wildfoote, Dale Baby Ull (knit very tightly), Kroy 3-Ply

Most of
the lighter weight sock yarns

UK 14
US 13 Steel
US 0 Standard

US #0

3 ply Fingering
Light Fingering
30-32 st = 4 in

4 ply Fingering
28-30 st = 4 in

Saxony, Zephyr,


Jamieson Shetland Spindrift; Kroy 3-Ply

Most of the lighter weight sock yarns

UK 13
US 12 Steel



US #1 (some)

3 ply Fingering
Light Fingering
30-32 st = 4 in

4 ply Fingering
28-30 st = 4 in

Saxony, Zephyr, Cocoon

Jamieson Shetland Spindrift; Kroy 3-Ply
Dale Baby Ull (knit very tightly)
Most of the lighter weight sock yarns
Most standard sock yarns;
Rowan 4 ply yarns

US 1 Standard


US #1 (most)

4 ply Fingering
28-30 st = 4in

Saxony, Beehive, Penelope

Most standard sock yarns;
Rowan 4 ply yarns

UK 12
US 11 Steel
US 2 Standard

2.75 mm
US #2

4 ply Fingering
28-30 st = 4 in

Beehive, Peacock, Penelope

Most standard sock yarns;
Rowan 4 ply yarns

UK 11
US 10 Steel
US 3 Standard


US #3 (some)

4 ply Fingering 28-30 st = 4


Lighter sport weights
25-28 st = 4 in


Koigu; GGH Marathon; Zitron

UK 10

US #3 (most)

Sport weight
24 st = 4 inches 


Louet Gems Opal Merino; Jaeger

US 9 Steel

US 4 Standard


US #4

Sport weight
24 st = 4 in


Louet Gems Opal Merin; Jaeger

UK 9
US 8 Steel
US 5Standard

US #5

Gansey weight,
23 st = 4 in

Jumper wool

Wendy Guernsey 5 Ply

UK 8

US #6

DK weight
22 st = 4 in

Germantown, Zephyr, Saxony

Jaeger Matchmaker DK; Jo
Sharp DK Wool;
Most standard DK weight yarns;
Most 4 ply fingering weights, doubled

US 6 Standard


DK weight
22-21 st = 4 in


Lighter airy worsteds, heavy
cable spun DKs, most 4 ply fingering weights doubled
Whatever can be knit to
just under regulation worsted weight

UK 7

US #7

20 st = 4 in


Cascade 220

US 7 Standard

4. 75mm

20 st = 4 in



UK 6
US 8 Standard

US #8

Heavy worsted

19 st = 4 inches

18 st = 4 inches


Most standard Aran weight
yarns; Most standard sport weight yarn, doubled;
Most standard mass market yarns labeled “Worsted” with on-label gauges of
19-18 stitches over 4 inches (10cm)

UK 5 (some)
US 9 Standard


18 st = 4 inches



UK 5

US #9

Light bulky
17-16 st = 4 in



US 10 Standard (some)


Light bulky
17-16 st = 4 in



UK 4

US 10 Standard


US #10

Light bulky
17-16 st = 4 in



UK 3

US 10 1/2 Standard

US #10 1/2 (some)

15-13 st = 4 in

Germantown doubled

Two strands of Cascade 220;
Most standard worsteds, doubled

UK 2


US #10 1/2 (some)

15-13 st = 4 in



UK 1


15-13 st = 4 in



UK 0


US #11

15-13 st = 4 in



UK 00

US #13

Super bulky
12 or fewer st = 4 in



UK 000

US #15

Super bulky
12 or fewer st = 4 in




US #17

10 or fewer st = 4 in




US #18

10 or fewer st = 4 in





US #19

8 or fewer st = 4 in




US #35

8 or fewer st = 4 in




US #50

6 or fewer st = 4 in



5 responses

  1. […] know that lots of folks who visit here are looking for my chart of vintage needle sizes, historical yarns as plotted against gauge and modern needle sizes (with a few modern yarn recommendations).  That chart was ported over in the Great Blog […]

  2. This is a great chart! I have a potholder pattern from 1946 by J. & P. Coats that calls for “Crochet cord”. Any idea what this is, or what it might equate to in present day products? Thanks in advance for your help!

    1. Hmmm…. Very hard to say without seeing the pattern. But I suspect one of the cotton crochet threads. You may get a good match from looking at the recommended crochet hook size. For example, a commonly recommended hook size for potholders was a US Steel #6, which translates to a modern metric size of about 1.8mm. For a #6/1.8mm hook, a thread of size 10 would be appropriate. Coats & Clarks classic Knit Cro Sheen thread is a size 10.

      One last silly thought – this is a potholder and doesn’t need to actually fit anyone. Since a gauge swatch is almost as big as a potholder, just take your thread and hook and just make one. If it’s too small to be an effective potholder, tell everyone it’s a mug coaster, then try again with a larger thread and hook. :)

  3. Thanks for your Germantown wool information. I just acquired a 1944 pattern for an 18″ rag doll which calls for 18 yards of 4-fold Germantown wool for her hair. The instructions say to cut 22 strands 21″ long, place close together and stitch through the center. Attach to dolls head for partial wig and braids. For her bangs, cut a piece of cardboard 1 3/4″ by 4″ and wrap 3 3/4 yards of wool around it, without overlapping, to make a strip about 4″ long.

    Hope this might help to clafify the gauge of this wool.

  4. I have a 1918 copy of the Handbook of Wool Knitting and Crochet. From experimentation and research, I have generally figured out the most common yarns.

    Zephyr, according to my 1913 dictionary, refers to a fine, soft “Cassemir”yarn. The nearest I can find in modern yarn is a 2 or 3 ply lightweight cashmere yarn that is only slightly heavier than sock yarn, but not quite as heavy as a the next class of yarn. In a pinch, doubled up sock yarn will do.

    Shetland floss is usually 2 ply, lightweight or very lightweight yarn. Closest I have found is wool sock yarn.

    Germantown simply refers to the mills in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Germantown wool is a description of the type of yarn. There were many yarns produced in this region. The ply is the key here. 4 ply/4 fold is pretty close to our modern worsted or a tighter fisherman’s merino wool. 8 fold is thicker, closer to our modern “bulky” or “chunky” yarns, but retaining the coarser wool texture.

    The fine crochet cotton used in my book is usually a mercerized, 6 ply, no. 15. This can still be found today.

    Saxony yarn is recommended in the book for baby booties and doll clothes. It is a 3 ply yarn made of fine wool. Still available today. Finer than worsted or fishermans wool, closer to a sportweight due to its fine texture.

    Gotta love old yarn.

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