YARN LABELS 101

A couple of people have written to me saying they also have problems with yarn labels. Here in the US, they’re not very standardized – especially compared to labels made for the European market. Here are some examples.

First, here’s a label for Harlekin, a yarn imported from Germany:

Harlekin

You can see not only a recommended needle size, but also a rough consumption guide for how much yarn it might take to make several different garments for average size men, women and children. Note the littlesquare shape with numbers above, below andaside it – that’s the gauge square, andshows how many stitches and rowsthe maker recommends for this yarn. It also has complete care instructions. This is pretty much the Cadillac standard of yarn labels in terms of the amount of information on it.

By contrast, here’s a label for a US yarn, made by a small producer (to be fair, it’s an old label, and current ones from the same maker might have more info on them):

You’ll see that this label has yardage, but no gauge info; and wash directions are rudimentary at best.

Most yarns fall somwhere between these two. Here’s one that’s typical:

No little gauge square, but the info is there in prose. Good care information. Yardage and skein weight are also there.

There is a move afoot led by the Craft Yarn Council (mostly made up of mass-market yarn distributors and makers, plus some magazine publishers) to standardize on a new set of yarn descriptors for weight, and for those descriptors to appear on future yarn labels.

You might see markings like these:

While there is considerable weight behind implementaton of these symbols, frankly I think they are not worth the paper they’re printed on. The effort is a laudable one – to simplify the system of yarn designations, removing confusion from terms like worsted, DK, sport and the rest. But what they do is substitute a set of imprecise descriptors for the admittedly arcane but specific existing terms.

Here’s the chart of what each symbol means:

Gr. 1

Gr. 2

Gr. 3

Gr. 4

Gr. 5

Gr. 6

Type of
Yarns in
Category
Sock,
Fingering,
Baby
Sport,
Baby
DK,
Light
Worsted
Worsted,
Afghan,
Aran
Chunky,
Craft,
Rug
Bulky,
Roving
Knit Gauge
Range* in
Stockinette
Stitch to 4 inches
27?32
sts
23?26
sts
21?24
st
16?20
sts
12?15
sts
6?11
sts
Recommended
Needle in
Metric Size
Range
2.25?
3.25
mm
3.25?
3.75
mm
3.75?
4.5
mm
4.5?
5.5
mm
5.5?
8
mm
8 mm
and
larger
Recommended
Needle U.S.
Size Range
1 to 3
3 to 5
5 to 7
7 to 9
9 to 11
11
and
larger
Crochet Gauge
Ranges in
Single Crochet
to 4 inch

21?32
sts
16?20
sts
12?17
sts
11?14
sts
8?11
sts
5?9
sts
Recommended
Hook in Metric
Size Range
2.25?
3.5
mm
3.5?
4.5
mm
4.5?
5.5
mm
5.5?
6.5
mm
6.5?
9
mm
9
mm and
larger
Recommended
Hook U.S.
Size Range
B?1
to
E?4
E?4
to
7
7
to
I?9
I?9
to
K?10 1⁄2
K?10 1⁄2 to
M?13
M?13
and
larger

(source: Craft Yarn Council’s http://www.yarnstandards.com/weight.html)

For example, you’ll note that the old standard of DK – a pretty precise designation meaning 5.5 stitches per inch is now lumped into a broaderguideline that covers everything from 21-24 spi. That’s a TREMENDOUS difference, as true sport weight yarns cannot be successfully substituted for the heavier DKs. But magazines are printing patterns as being made from a Group 3 yarn. The way this symbol is so prominently featured leads beginners to believe that ANY Group 3 yarn can be used.

"Oh" you say, "they can’t be that naiive." Well they are. I’m not a yarn shop owner, but just in my visits to my LYS I’ve seen a good half dozen projects ruined by exactly this error. My heart really goes out to the folks who buy yarns sight-unseen on line, or people who shop in crafts stores for their knitting supplies. Neither venue offers hands-on help or the sanity check of dealing with another knitter face to face. Who knows how many people are abandoning projects (and knitting) in disgust because they picked out yarn with only the symbols for guidance andhave been disappointed.

My advice? If you’re a designer or yarn maker, tryresist the pressure to use this ill-conceived system. If you’re a knitter – ignore it. Look at the gauge listed (provided there is a gauge listed) NOT the yarn group. If you’re doing substitutions, plan on swatching. Lots. Start with the maker’s recommended gauge. Some yarns may perform well over a range of gauges, but not every yarn is guaranteed to achieve the full range of gauges listed in its newly assigned group.

4 responses

  1. Great information here!! I suggest you publish this with IK or something! I am saving this one to disk. Thanks a bunch – JuneJune P [gobills@comcast.net]

  2. Damn straight. Down with this system, up with common sense. Here in Canada, a worsted is 20 sts. to 10cm. A chunky is 16. An Aran falls in between. Unless there has been a complex plan to confuse me afoot for 20 years, this guide doesn’t even begin to get me yarn that is going to be remotely appropriate. Woe betide the consumer who falls for this one. I’m determined to ignore it, and all it’s incarnations.Stephanie [stephaniepearl@sympatico.ca]

  3. I can see where your coming from, but as a relativly new knitter, this is pretty handy. When flipping through a mag or new book, they have lovely patterns and a sugested yarn. But usually I can’t afford the yarn, and they don’t always tell you the weight of the yarn used in the model. This “bad” system, lets me know,”hey, they used a bulky weight yarn” so that when I go out shoping, I have a starting reference at which type of yarn I’m going to need. Those people who came in to your LYS with failed projects may have forgotten to do what is drilled into all knitter’s head. Swatch, and if you can’t get the yarn to work, don’t use it. I think most people who start knitting are smart enough to realize that not all yarn in the groups will always be the same. A boulce (sp?) worsted weight yarn looks thicker than 4-ply yarn, and knits up differently, too. Just my .02. Feel free to ignore me :o)lisa[dariaknits@earthlink.net]

    Ahh. But “Bulky” does mean something to me, and it doesn’t mean 6-11 stitches per inch/Group 6. It means something heavier than Aran (18 stitches per inch), but not a superbulky (12 stitches per inch or fewer). I’d probably look for something that knit at 14-15 stitches per 4 inches if someone told me “Bulky.” There’s too much variation between 6 stitches/4 inches and 11 stitches/4 inches for true codification. Both the grade groups and the labels used to describe them are too inclusive under the new system.

    My problem isn’t in the fact that categories are established, it’s that they overlay poorly on the old system, are too inclusive lumping yarns of many weights together, and codify the “gauge creep” pheonomenon that has been foisted on the knitting public by mass-market yarn makers over the past ten years.

    As to swatching – yes, if people bothered to do it there would be less of a problem. But new knitters (and even many experienced ones) don’t bother. The way the system is being used in popular magazines gives a false impression of universality and leads people to make otherwise avoidable mistakes.

    And no. Not everyone knitting is smart enough to realize this. There’s a bell curve of both ability and intelligence in every group. You may be in the pointy end of enlightenment, but there’s a whole belly of the bell curve behind you, followed by some legitimately challenged (and some truly appaling willful ignorance) in the pointy end that trails the pack. I believe this system is confusing enough to perturb the belly, not just the trailing pointy end of our community.

    So I repeat – ignore these misleading new groupsings. Go by real gauge and swatch.

  4. It feels wonderful to see someone else trying to set this straight for the newer knitters and being willing to take a stand. Thank you, Kim! How some of the finest laceweights and fingering weight could be dumped together into the same category is beyond me–it feels like a declaration by the people who created this system that they do not believe anybody really does fine lacework anymore. My book coming out has a lot of shawl patterns in fingering weight, but if you substituted Merino Oro–and knit that yarn on size 5.5 mm!–let’s just say it wouldn’t look nor fit the same, and leave it at that.

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