There is a wonderland of yarn out there waiting for you. But how do you know which yarn is best for your upcoming crochet project or where to get that yarn? Understanding how to read yarn labels and how to buy yarn can go a long way in getting the right yarn on your crochet hook. Learn how to read yarn labels, specifically for crocheters, and where to buy the best yarns available.
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Yarn labels are designed by yarn companies to give you the information you need to pick the right yarn for your project or stash. There’s a lot of information on those labels, but I’ll break it all down here for you. You can expect to see *most* of this information on commercially available yarns.
The most prominent text on a label is likely to be the company name and/or the yarn name. In this case, the yarn is called Shine and the company is Knit Picks/ WeCrochet. This helps to easily identify the yarn in the store or on your shelf. Yarn names will sometimes make mention of the fiber content (for example “Touch of Alpaca” from Lion Brand), but it’s best to actually check the fiber content on the label instead of going with the name.
Yarn weight refers to the thinness or thickness of a yarn. Weights are categorized by a name (lace, superfine, sport, etc.) with a corresponding number (category 0, 1, 2, etc.). The Craft Yarn Council has a handy guide in case you need to reference what the weights mean and the recommended hooks for each yarn weight.
Here are two important things to remember about yarn weight:
- The lower the number, the finer or thinner the yarn, ranging from 0 – Lace weight to 7 – Jumbo weight.
- Individul yarn weights include a range of sizes. Not all category 4 – Worsted weight yarns are the same and you can’t automaticcally swap out one yarn for another in the same category. Keep scrolling for tips on substituting yarns in your patterns.
Yarn weights are a guide to put you on the right track, but you’ll want to dive deeper into the gauge of a particular yarn to really determine if is it is a right fit for your project. Projects like blankets and washcloths give you some leeway with gauge. But wearables like tops and cardigans require a more precise gauge to achieve the correct fit.
Most commercially available yarns will list the color in text AND in number on the label. The text is mainly for the consumer (you and I) and the color number is used more by those within the industry (suppliers, distributors, and sellers). Yarn names can be straightforward like this label (the yarn is called Cream, and it is, indeed, cream), or more whimsical and romantic.
Dye Lot Number
While we’re on the subject of colors, let’s drill down a bit and talk about dye lot numbers. Dye lot numbers signify the batch of yarn that your ball came from. Matching lot numbers between skeins ensures that the color will be consistent throughout your project. Yarn of the same color can be different shades between lots, so try your best to get plenty of the lot you need when working on big projects like sweaters and blankets.
If you can’t get the same lot for your big projects, try alternating skeins throughout the project. Change color between skeins every row or every 2 rows. This will make the subtle differences between skeins a little less obvious.
There are yarns that claim to have no lot, meaning that the company has found a way to keep yarn shades consistent from batch to batch. I haven’t tested this myself, but I’m wary to believe that there is no difference between yarns that were dyed years apart. This is a gray area in the yarny world, so keep your wits about yourself when mixing dye lots or using yarns with no dye lot.
Amount (aka Yardage)
This area signifies the amount of yarn in the individual skein or ball. On this particular label, you will find the yards and grams of the skein. You can use this information to ensure that you purchase enough of the yarn you need for the project you’re planning to make. This label shows length in imperial measures and weight in metric, but most commercial labels will offer both measurements in both imperial and metric.
Gauge and Crochet Hook Recommendation
If you’ve ever brought up gauge to a crocheter, you likely got a few eye rolls and a deep sigh. Gauge can be a tricky concept to wrap your head around, but it really is quite simple and makes a huge difference to nearly any crochet project.
The boxed area in the photo above is saying the following: “Knit Picks recommends a hook of any size between an E (3.5mm) and a 7 (4.5mm) and you’ll get 16-20 single crochet stitches in a 4″ section of fabric using a hook in that range.”
Gauge refers to the number of stitches within a given measurement (usually 4 inches) using a particular hook. The information on gauge from the yarn label is just a suggestion, as every crocheter’s tension (how tight or loosely you crochet) is a little different. Consider making your own gauge swatch for whatever project you’re currently working on.
The recommended hook sizes on the label are just that – recommendations. This information assumes you want to make crochet fabric of medium density worked in basic stitches. But the hook you actually use will depend on your project and your individual tension. When in doubt, start with the recommended hook size and adjust up or down based on the fabric it creates.
Fiber content refers to what the yarn is actually made of. Fibers fall into 3 main categories:
- Animal fibers – wool, alpaca, cashmere, etc. Benefits: warm, elastic, breathable. Disadvantages: can be irritating to the skin, cost prohibitive, tough to find in big box stores.
- Plant fibers – cotton, bamboo, linen, etc. Benefits: moisture-wicking, breathable, sustainable. Disadvantages: heavier fibers, inelastic, color can fade.
- Synthetic fibers – acrylic, nylon, polyester, etc. Benefits: affordable, accessible, easy-care. Disadvantages: environmental impacts, pilling issues, wide variation in quality.
One yarn store may have dozens of yarns with different fiber contents, so pay close attention to the label, especially if you have allergies to any of the fibers present. When in doubt, Google it.
Ensure that your finished piece will stand the test of time by following the care instructions on the label. If you’re not familiar with care symbols, try this handy chart. This information can also help you determine how to block your finished piece.
Where to Buy Yarn
There are a plethora of places to purchase yarn both in-person and online. It pays to shop around, not only to save a few dollars, but you might stumble upon a yarnicorn (which is a yarn that is just so perfect and unexpected that you have to have it!).
Now that you know what information is offered on a yarn label, here are some suggestions for your next place to shop for yarn:
// Big Box Store
Big box stores are the common chain stores that most makers know about. Here in the U.S., we have JOANN, Michaels, WalMart, and some grocery stores like Meijer, as well as Dollar Tree and Target, both of which just started carrying their own labels of yarn. Big box stores are the best places to find popular yarns at low prices. Labels like Red Heart Super Saver, Lily Sugar & Creme, and Caron Simply Soft are easy to find at these stores. Dedicated craft stores like JOANN and Michaels are constantly updating their yarn selection and bringing in seasonal products.
// Local Yarn Store
Local yarn stores (also know as LYSs) are in-person shops often owned by an individual or small group. These shops offer a personal touch to makers of every skill level. Crocheters can look forward to classes and special events along with a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Some (really, most) LYSs also have an online retail presence.
Staff at your LYS make decisions about the yarns they carry, the setup of the store, and their calendar of events. Because of this, every shop will offer a different adventure. The best way to find your LYS(s) is to do a quick Google search of “yarn stores near me”. And don’t forget to search for LYSs when on business trips and vacations.
// Online via Distributors
Yarn distributors are online sites that sell yarns but don’t necessarily make the yarns. Some examples would be LoveCrafts, Amazon, and Webs. The benefit of these sites is that you can search a wide variety of yarns in one place, often filtering results by the exact criteria you need. They’re also a great place to look if your in-person stores don’t have the quantity or colors of certain yarns that you’re looking for.
// Online via Direct Sales
Unlike yarn distributors, direct sales companies mainly focus on selling their own branded yarns (while some will also sell yarn from other companies). These are companies like WeCrochet, Lion Brand, and Purl Soho. It’s a good idea to buy direct if you know the exact yarn you are looking for, as these companies often offer great deals when compared to purchasing their yarns elsewhere.
// Online via Independent Dyers
There’s a major trend of “discovering” and supporting independent dyers in the crochet world and I am so excited about it. Independent dye brands, or “indie” dyers, are typically made up of 1 person or a small group that dye yarn and sell it directly to consumers, distributors, and/or yarn shops. The definition of an indie dyer is pretty fluid, as many are branching into having larger teams, brick & mortar stores, and even selling exclusively to distributors. The common thread of an indie dyer is the lack of corporate backing. Some of my favorite indie dyers are Jake of Kenyarn, Ashley of Montana Crochet, and Laverne of BzyPeach (who specializes in plant fibers!).
// Other Ways to Acquire Yarn
While there are several ways to buy brand new yarn both online and in-person, a resourceful maker who loves a challenge might be interested in these options. Some of these options may result in buying/acquiring yarn second-hand, so be sure to clean the yarn before using or gifting.
- Garage sales and flea markets.
- Make your own (t-shirt yarn, sari yarn).
- Online craft groups. Try Facebook or local organizations.
- Estate sales.
- Upcycle old projects or store-bought clothing.
A Quick & Dirty Guide to Yarn Substitutions
If you’re diving into a new pattern or project but you can’t or don’t want to use the yarn recommended, you’ll have to make a substitution. When substituting yarns in a pattern, you’re looking to match not only the size of the finished piece but often the texture and drape of the finished fabric as well.
The most accurate way to substitute yarn in a pattern is to get a skein of the potential substitute, make a gauge swatch, and compare it to the gauge in the pattern. While this method is preferred, it can be a costly and time-consuming experiment. Here’s a simple method for finding a reasonable yarn substitute for crochet projects without spending time and money upfront.
Step 1: Get the Specs from the Original yarn
Find the yardage and fiber content from the original yarn. You can often find the fiber content and yardage of the original yarn on the label, in the pattern itself, or from a quick Google search.
For this example, let’s say the original yarn is Cascade 220 Superwash, which is a 100% superwash merino wool. This ball has 220 yards per 100 grams.
Step 2: Find a Yarn with Similar Specs
Search for yarns that come close to the original fiber content and yardage. Finding a yarn with similar yardage is the main priority. Similar yardage suggests that you’ll achieve a similar gauge and be close in the total yardage used. I try to stay within a +/-20% range with matching yardage. Matching the fiber content goes a long way in ensuring the texture and drape of the final piece will be similar, but you can go off script here.
The yarn I am considering for a substitute is a yarn from my stash called K+C Element, which is a cotton and acrylic blend with 204 yards per 100 grams. My +/-20% margin of yardage is 44 yards (Cascade 220 has 220 yards; 20% of 220 = 44 yards). 204 yards per 100 grams falls within my 20% margin, so this yarn is a good choice in terms of yardage. I know from the label that my substitute has a different fiber content so the fabric may perform differently, but that is ok, as my first priority is using yarn from my stash.
Step 3: Figure Out How Much Yarn You Need
Calculate how much of the substitute yarn I need to complete the pattern. Now that we’ve found a suitable substitute, we’ll need to figure out how much of the new yarn we need to complete our pattern. If you have a pattern, it should list the exact yardage used. Try your best to match that yardage and pick up 1 extra ball of your substitute yarn just to be safe.
If your pattern does not list yardage and instead says something like “4 skeins Cascade 220 Superwash”, start by calculating that amount. 220 yards x 4 skeins = 880 total yards. 880 yards / 102 yards per 50g ball of K+C Element = 8.62 skeins, which we’ll round up to 9 skeins. I’d purchase 10, again, just to be safe.
Plan B: YarnSub.com
When all else fails and you can’t seem to find a reasonable sub for your yarn, try YarnSub.com. Yarn Sub is a database of over 10,000 yarns that tracks the features of yarns to suggest reasonable substitutes with the click of a mouse.
Suggestions on YarnSub.com are rated as being an excellent match or a good match, and a comparison of the two yarns is listed so you can make an informed decision. Visit YarnSub.com and test different yarns you typically use to see what substitutes are suggested. NOTE: Yarn Sub does not list every single yarn commercially available, but it’s a great place to start.
Yarn Labels, Buying, and Substitutions Q&A
What are some tips on how to buy yarn?
While it’s fun to browse yarn, approach the practice with some kind of plan. Try to purchase yarns for a specific project if you can. If you’re on a for-fun trip to the yarn aisle, narrow down your preferences by color, fiber, weight, or some other criteria to ensure that you don’t walk out of the store with yarn you’ll never actually use. Oh, and sign up for yarn company email lists so you can get alerted for coupons and sales.
Where can I buy good-quality yarn?
With easy access to nearly every website that sells yarn, you don’t have to go far to find good quality. It really depends on what quality means to you. If quality yarn means a good bargain, try big box stores or online distributors. If quality means local or hand-dyed yarn, try your local yarn store or find dyers via social media.
What is the best yarn for crochet beginners?
The best yarn for crochet beginners is a category 3 – DK or 4 – worsted weight yarn in a solid color. I’d recommend merino wool, cotton, or acrylic in a sage green, which tends to be very easy on the eyes. Start with a 5mm crochet hook to learn the basics, then experiment with different yarn weights, fibers, and colors.
What is the best place to buy yarn online?
My favorite places to buy yarn online are WeCrochet, Lion Brand, Purl Soho, WeAreKnitters (use code MGMRRIK8G at checkout for $12 off), and indie dyers. Each site offers something different, from luxury to value to variety. The best place to buy yarn online is very subjective, considering that we all have different motivations when shopping. Take the time to shop around if you can, and don’t be afraid to get a skein or 2 of a yarn you’ve never tried before.
Can I crochet with any yarn?
100% absolutely yes! The idea of “crochet yarn” was developed as a marketing tactic by a knit-focused industry. Beginner crocheters are often steered toward big-name acrylic and cotton yarns from big box companies while knitters are encouraged to indulge in the luxurious side of yarn crafts very early on. As a crocheter with decades of experience under my belt, I can confidently say that we can crochet with anything. Some yarns are more suited to one craft over the other, but, if you can buy it, you can use it.
How do you substitute yarn in crochet?
First, see what yarn is recommended in the pattern. Then find a yarn with similar yardage within +/-20%. Try your best to match the fiber content as well.
Can I crochet with a different yarn weight than what is recommended in the pattern?
Yarn weights indicate how thick a single strand of yarn is. Different weights generally mean different yardage. When substituting yarn, try to find a yarn with similar yardage, even if that means going into a different yarn weight. But, generally, you cannot swap one yarn weight for another without having to make many other changes (hook size, tension, size of the finished project, etc.).