Choosing Yarn ... Tips from a Pro

Wool: Woolen yarns come from sheep. It is warm and hard wearing with a great deal of memory. Wool is the only fiber that retains warmth even when wet.  However, with the invention of man-made fibers, we can now mix wool with rayon and other synthetics to give and even harder wearing fabric. Manufacturers have also found a method for treating wool and synthetic yarns to make them machine washable. Anti-tickle or Superwash Wool, for example, is effectively "plastic coated" to keep it from matting.

Mohair: Mohair is hair yarn that comes from angora goats. Although mohair goats are raised in Texas, most of the spinning, weaving and dying is done in Europe. Mohair dyes easily in brilliant colors and retains its color well.

Cashmere: Cashmere, also from a goat, is a product of Tibet and Northwetern China. The name comes from Kasmi where beautiful fine shawls have been amde for generations.

Alpaca: Alpaca comes from the Alpaca and Llama. These cousins to the Camel are found in South America. Huacauaand and Suni are the two distinct breeds of Llama, Suni providing the finest grade of yarn.  This very soft yarn is wiry and very resilient. The clothing industry consumes most of the alpaca produced.

Vicuna: Vicuna is also from the camalid family. This is the best alpaca obtainable in the world. At one time only a native chief of a member of the roal family had the right to wear vicuna. The fiber is pluched during the three hottest months of the year and production si strictly controlled. These animals have proven very difficult to domesticate.

Angora: This is the fur of the angora rabbit. In France, angora has been raised and spun for over 150 years. Because of its profitability, Americans have begun production, especially in Colorado. This extremely soft and fluffy yarn has a tendency to shed, so it is often blended with other yarns such as wool, rayon, silk and cotton which help to hold the angora fibers together.

Thickness and Weight:
There are as many definitions for the category as there are countries manufacturing yarn. Generally accepted is the following:
The "ply" of the yarn, e.g., 2 ply, 3 ply, 4 ply, etc, does not determine the weight or gauge of the yarn. Ply refers to the number of strands making up the piece of yarn. 3 ply= 3 strands plied or spun into one strand.
Gauge refers to the weight or thickness of yarn. The higher the gauge, the thinner the yarn. Gauge is determined by the length a standard amount of raw fiber can be spun to. eg: 1 lb or wool spun out to 12 times the standard length would be 12 gauge.  If it was spun out to 24 times the standard length, it would be 24 gauge.  The usual way of stating gauge is with a fraction. eg: 2/24 gauge means two strands of yarn spun together to give 24 gauge yarn.
The Passap machine is generally comfortable with 8 to 14 gauge single yarn or multiples of finer yarn that approach this guideline. Heavier yarns can be knitted using special techniques.
Many strands of fine yarn generally produce a softer/looser fabric than the equivalent gauge single strand yarn.

Guidelines on Choosing Yarns and Stitch Sizes
Consider the garment. High twist yarns (smooth, shiny or hard) are usually better for skirts and draped garment such as dresses.

Sable Crepe, Wool Crepe Deluxe, Diamante are all good choices.


Woolen and high bulk yarns are generally better for sweaters, hats, etc., where the garment should retain some shape rather than "cling" to body curves.

ALWAYS try a test square to see how it knits.


  • Change tensions
  • Change needle setups
  • Try different stitch patterns
  • Experiment until the yarn knits smoothly and doesn't fall off the needles
ALWAYS KNIT A TEST SQUARE and measure the stitches and rows per 10cm or whatever method is appropriate for the charting device/method in use.


Pat Holbrook is a long-time machine knitter, instructor and store owner. Her website is
Her article originally appeared in the "Pocket Yarn Buying Guide for Machine Knitters" book that is no longer in print.

Posted by Sue Jalowiec on 01/26/2016 at 12:00 AM | Categories:


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