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Helpful Knitting Hints: Picking the Right Yarn for Your Knitting Project

Updated on October 11, 2017
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An avid knitter for over 10 years, Donna enjoys sharing her free patterns and knitting experience with other fiber fans and yarn lovers.

How to pick the right yarn for your knitting project  (c) purl3agony 2012
How to pick the right yarn for your knitting project (c) purl3agony 2012

So you've found a knitting pattern you want to start. Great! The next step: choosing the right yarn to make your project perfect. Yarn stores and the internet are filled with such a kaleidoscope of choices that it can be overwhelming. Here are some simple things to consider for making the right decision for your knitting project.


Gauge is a word that fills most knitters' hearts with dread. Some people ignore it, other people don't understand it. I'm not going to go into a long explanation about gauge. has an excellent article here, and has a useful description and a video tutorial here (about halfway down the page).

knitted necklace  (c) purl3agony 2011
knitted necklace (c) purl3agony 2011

However, gauge is probably the most important consideration when choosing yarn. It's true that gauge is not so essential when making things like scarves, cowls, necklaces, and blankets. If you use a thinner yarn, your project will come out thinner and usually shorter. If you use a yarn that is thicker than what is suggested, your finished piece will be wider and probably longer. You can easily compensate for these discrepancies by adding or omitting repeats of the pattern from your item.

If you are knitting an item of clothing, however, you really should use yarn that knits to the correct gauge. Most professional patterns will include a gauge. It will tell you how many stitches and knitted rows will create a 4 inch, or 10 centimeter, square. Likewise, most commercially available yarn will include a gauge indication on its label. When choosing yarn for your project, unless you want to make some modifications and calculations, you should select a yarn that matches the gauge for your knitting pattern. (You can usually work with yarn that is 1/2 stitch apart from the gauge required - for instance, 5 stitches per inch as opposed to 5.5 stitches - and adjust your needle size if necessary to get your gauge right.)

draped tulip top  (c) purl3agony 2011
draped tulip top (c) purl3agony 2011


Most shawls and some sweaters will look better if the yarn drapes or flows over the body. I designed the sweater to the right with a cowl that gently drapes in front. Drape can be achieved in two ways: knitting in a looser gauge, or by using a more flexible yarn. There are a lot of man-made fibers and blends available in yarn, so it's hard to give a complete list of yarns that drape well. Generally rayon, silk, bamboo, merino, and tencel are good choices. Otherwise, go by how soft the yarn feels in your hand. Super-soft yarn will usually drape well, rougher yarn is more sturdy and usually does not offer a lot of drape.

Color and Style

Yarn is available in a rainbow of colors, and your choice is a matter of personal taste. Some yarn is designed with changing colors (as in variegated yarn) or to create stripes (self-striping yarn). These fashionable yarns can create some beautiful finished pieces. But in other cases, they can also distract from the finished look of your knitted item. Some textual stitches (like an intricate lace pattern) can get lost in a busy variegated yarn. Likewise, a striping yarn can sometimes overpower a cable pattern. If your pattern has a lot of texture in the stitches, let that be the center of attention and consider a solid color or a subtle palette.


There a lot of things to consider when buying yarn, and one of them is your wallet. Here's a simple calculation: you have a sweater pattern that calls for 8 balls of yarn, and you've fallen in love with a yarn that is $10 a ball. So, eight balls of yarn at $10 each = $80 (and you still have to knit the sweater yourself!)

I've set a limit for myself for how much I will pay per ball/skein for yarn, and I don't go over it. However, if you do fall in love with some yarn that's over your budget, consider using it for a smaller project that may only require a skein or two. This way, you get the enjoyment of using your favorite yarn without breaking the bank!

Fiber Content

Nowadays, you can find yarn made out of almost everything: hemp, metal, soy, milk, thistle, linen, and the list goes on. Your decision about fiber content can be as simple as personal choice. But when you're making knitted goods for others, here are some things to consider:

Allergies - particularly if you are knitting for babies, you may want to stay away from animal fibers to avoid any allergy problems. Instead, stick to acrylic or cotton to be safe (they're machine washable too!).

Climate - a thick, cozy wool sweater is great in the winter, unless you live in a warmer climate where it might not get a lot of use. A knitted tank top made from linen might not be very comfortable in a cooler location. Keep in mind the wearability of a yarn fiber for the temperature zone of the wearer.

Washability and Care - a lot of natural fibers require hand washing or dry cleaning. Take this into consideration when selecting the fiber content of your yarn. Who wants to worry about sending a sweater to the dry cleaners every time it needs to be washed?

Choosing the right yarn will help ensure you love your knitted item when it's finished! I hope these hints help you make the best decision :)

Copyright © 2012 by Donna Herron. All rights reserved.


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