Understanding Yarn Labels

Yarn labels are brimming with valuable information that will help you pick the right yarn for your project, or alternatively, the right project for your yarn. Here are the typical pieces of information you will find on a yarn label.

  • 1 Weight classification: The weight classification will tell you how thick your yarn is. Is it a bulky yarn used for winter knits and blankets, or is it superfine and used for lacework? Whenever knitters talk about yarn weight, it is the weight classification, i.e. the thickness, they are talking about, and not the net weight of the ball of yarn. In the US it has been standardized by the Craft Yarn Council, and all US yarns has a symbol of a ball of yarn with a number, giving you the weight in the Standard Yarn Weight System. Other countries have different classifications or no classification at all. If a knitting pattern calls for a specific yarn weight, you can often exchange to a different yarn in the same weight class without adjusting the pattern (do check the gauge to be sure).
  • 2 Weight and yardage: The amount of yarn, in terms of the length and the mass of the ball or hank of yarn, may be given in imperial or metric units, or a combination of the two. You need this information to make sure you buy enough yarn for a given project. Knitting patterns will tell you how many balls of yarn you will need if you use the same yarn as the designer. Keep in mind that you cannot be sure that you will need the same amount of a different yarn even if it’s the same weight class. Your personal tension may also affect how much yarn you need. Always buy an extra ball for large projects.
  • 3 Fiber content: Yarn can be made from a large variety of materials. You have the natural animal fibers such as sheep’s wool, alpaca, silk, cashmere and mohair. Then there’s the plant fibers such as cotton, bamboo, linen and hemp. Finally you have the synthetic fibers (acrylic yarn) such as rayon, nylon and polyester. Many yarns are mixes of different fibers because each fiber has its own characteristics. There’s a lot to learn about choosing the right yarn for the right project, but that deserves an article or two of it’s own. If you have a local yarn shop, be sure to ask for their advice.
  • 4 Gauge information for knitting: The gauge on the yarn label is the typical number of stitches and rows that a knitter will have within a 4 by 4 inches square knitted in stockinette stitch with needles of the size suggested on the yarn label. Your personal gauge may be different, perhaps you are a tight knitter (welcome to the club), or you tend to keep it loose. You can knit with another needle size, either to adjust for you personal gauge, or to achieve an effect with the fabric – smaller needle sizes will give you a tighter and stiffer fabric, whereas larger needle sizes will give you a looser fabric with more drape. If you are using a knitting pattern, and substituting the yarn, you want a yarn with a near match in gauge. I am writing a detailed guide about how and why we knit gauge swatches. Stay tuned. I’ve previously written a short explanation about gauge swatches.
  • 5 Gauge information for crochet: Same information, but for crocheters.
  • 6 Washing instructions: The washing instructions for the yarn will also apply to the knitted garments you produce with the yarn, so save the yarn label or write down the information. If you give knitted items as gifts, don’t forget to include the washing instructions. The care symbols can vary a bit from country to country. Here are the US care symbols. The European symbols are similar with the temperatures given in Celsius degrees, rather than a number of dots.
yarn label with explanations
Typical US yarn label from the brand Lily. Notice that the weight classification is given in two different ways: The yarn weight symbol from the Craft Yarn Council, and with the common descriptor “worsted”. 4 strands of yarn were spun together to form the yarn, hence the 4-ply (note that in the UK, weight classification is related to the number of plies, and they do not correspond to the US ones). The gauge information is given as a little pictogram of a square with needles in the middle.

Color & Dye-lot

  • 7 Color: The color information is usually located near the bar-code. The color may have a name or a number, or maybe both.
  • 8 Dye-lot: Yarn coloring is typically done in big batches, and the manufacturer can’t guarantee that the color is an exact match from one batch to the next. If you are buying yarn for a big project like a sweater, be sure to buy yarn, not only with the same color, but also from the same dye-lot. This will ensure that your garment has a uniform color. If you are knitting with hand-dyed yarn there’s usually no dye-lot and even if there is, the rule of thumb is that no two skeins are identical in color. Instead it’s common to alternate skeins every other row if the project requires more than one skein.
Yarn labels with explanations
Examples of non-US yarn labels – Malabrigo from Peru, and Katia from Spain. The Malabrigo label is very manimalistic with only the most necessary information. There’s no weight classification, so you will have to remember or look up which weight class typically has 4.5-5.5 sts. per inch (it’s worsted). There’s also no care symbols, so you will have to look up how to care for superwash merino wool, and finally there’s no dye-lot because it’s hand-dyed. The Katia label is similar to the US label above except it lags a weight classification, and it has one really cool extra feature – a pictogram of a sweater with a number, indicating how many skeins you will need to knit a typical sweater.

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