Yarn weights / yarn types – what the… ply?

A guide for beginner knitters/crocheters and everyone who’s interested.

It’s a jungle of words in the fiber world. So many different yarn types and even more words. Sometimes for the same thing. Does it make a difference depending on where you are on the planet? What does ply mean? Are Worsted and Aran weight yarn the same?

Some terms I came across when I started the serious (meaning: daily) knitting, were things like: fingering weight yarn, sport, DK, bulky, 2-ply, multi-ply and lace. Numerous words for yarn seemed to be thrown at me. I knew there were different needle sizes for different yarn types, but the whole categorisation was very new to me.

There are some tables on the web saying (e.g.) that the term “lace weight yarn” in the US equals what germans call a “1-ply yarn”. And that might be correct, singles could be a lace weight, but singles could also be a bulky. So that is not specific at all!

To shed some light, we’ll approach the topic systematically as follows:

  • The ply of yarn – what that means in yarn language
  • the effect of ply – on a finished object
  • yarn weights – terms you’ll come across
  • How to become a yarn teller – easy steps

The Ply of yarn

4-ply yarn
a 4-ply yarn

In the beginning, the fiber is not yet a ball of yarn (or a hank, skein etc., we’ll get into that in another blogpost). It’s not in thread form. Having a prepared fibre, the next step is spinning a single thread of yarn. That’s how we get singles. It’s often referred to as a 1-ply, but technically that’s not correct, a single thread of yarn is not plied. Now, if you take two single yarn threads, winding them around each other, that’s a 2-ply. So a 2-ply yarn is a single thread that consists of two threads (two threads plied together). There are also different plying (and spinning) techniques, which I’ll not explain in this blogpost. Three singles together will give you a 3-ply. Two 2-ply plied together will give you a 4-ply. Four singles will also give you a 4-ply (As shown in image). And so on, you get the idea.

The ply-effect

Pilling on a sweater sleeve

Generally speaking: More plies, less pilling. Pilling is the phenomenon when fiber makes these small (or not so small) balls of fiber on a finished object. On the image you can spot the pieces of fiber on the bottom. Most commonly they appear on those parts that are rubbed against something, such as the parts under the armpits. The sweater (it’s sleeve is shown in the image) is made of singles. As we learned: not a plied yarn.
Plying gives the yarn structure and more plies means more structure.
Also the tightness of the ply is relevant: a loosely plied yarn will pill more than a tightly plied yarn. Again, it’s about more structure in the more tight ply, compared to less structure in a loosely plied yarn. And by the way: not only wool pills, acrylics can pill too!

Yarn weights – solving the mystery

Threads of different yarn weights
threads of different yarn weights

The term “yarn weights” describes a categorisation of the yarn thickness. Not the actual weight, I found that quite confusing, when I first became aware of the categories.

Where as lace weight yarn is the thinnest yarn (often a single thread) and super bulky/jumbo the thickest yarn weight.

Let’s take a look at yarn weights:

Lace weight

Let’s get started with the tricky one: Lace is very thin yarn, that is usually worked on bigger needles. On a skein you’ll find around 800+ yards per 100g and most of the time it is a single thread of yarn. As described in the “ply” section above: singles are often called a 1-ply. Nonetheless, a lace could be a 2-ply or could even have more plies, but that is not very common.

A lace weight has 35+ wpi (wraps per inch – read on, to find out how that works)

Light Fingering weight

Getting just a little thicker than lace, we get a yarn that will have around 500-650 yards per 100g on a skein. Again, this could be a single thread, or it could be plied.

A light fingering has between 30 to 34 wpi.

Fingering weight

Yarns that are fingering weight, could also be labeled as Super fine yarn. You’ll get around 380-500 yards per 100g.

A fingering/super fine has between 22 to 30 wpi.

Sport weight

Also referred to as Fine yarn. On a skein you’ll get around 300-380 yards per 100g.

A sport weight has between 16 to 21 wpi.

DK weight

DK stands for Double knitting and is in the category of Light weight yarn. Per 100g you’ll get 230-300 yards.

A DK has between 12 to 16 wpi.

Worsted weight

Falls in the category of Medium weight yarn. There’s also a spinning method that is called worsted. So yarn could be “worsted spun”, but they don’t have to be worsted weight. Worsted weight yarn will give you around 200-225 yards per 100g.

Worsted has 10 to 11 wpi.

Aran weight

Just like Worsted, this is in the Medium weight yarn category and is often mistaken as worsted weight. There is just a slight difference between the yarn weights. As you might have guessed, as I am sorting the weights by thickness: Aran weight yarn is a little thicker than worsted weight yarn. That is also reflected in the yardage you get, which is 140-190 yards per 100g.

Aran has 8 to 9 wpi.

Bulky weight

We are getting to the thick yarns, so a bulky will give you 100-130 yards per 100g.

Bulky has 7 to 8 wpi.

Chunky weight

Might also be called super bulky. Now we are on 80-95 yards per 100g

Chunky has 5 to 6 wpi

Super bulky

Also called Jumbo. The category, where the thickest yarn fall into: per 100g there are only 80 yards or less on a skein.

Super bulky has 0 to 4 wpi.

Becoming a yarn teller

For lost labels or no available label

Become a yarn teller

To find out the ply of your yarn, you simply look at the yarn thread and twist it in your fingers in the opposite direction of the ply, so that the thread comes apart. Then just count the threads. Be aware! I’ve had yarns that seemed to be a 4-ply, but then I realized, each of the 4 plies was a 2-ply, making the yarn an 8-ply!

Ruler with yarn wrapped around to find out the wraps per inch
Finding out the wpi

The yarn weight could be decided on, when wrapped around a ruler, or anything that makes it possible to measure in inches. Wrap your yarn around (not too tight, but with no gaps in between) and count the wraps per inch (the abbreviation “wpi” stands for “wraps per inch”, you might find that on the web occasionally). That number will give you an indication about the yarn weight as explained in the previous section above. The yarn in the image for example is a single thread (no plies), with 10 wpi, which makes it a worsted.

Congratulations, you are a Yarnteller now!

Please let me know, if you need any further information or a different topic you would love to learn more about. Just leave your wishes in the comments.

Love, Sarah

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