Reading Yarn Labels, Calculating Yardage, and Determining Gauge

How to read the Labels on Yarn

In our first week of this “Crochetpedia” series we will be covering how to properly read yarn labels, their symbols and information, and we will also be using that information to swatch yarn in order to determine the gauge needed to accurately follow patterns. For non-apparel projects, gauge is not as important of a factor but it is still an aspect of crochet that is important to understand. Gauge is especially important when wanting to achieve certain measurements in a project as well as being sure you acquire the correct yardage, as different hook sizes use varying amounts of yarn per stitch.

One of the first things you will notice when shopping for yarn is that every fiber company has its own unique label for their product; however, the information on the labels is generally (but not always) the same. Each label will usually display these basic, must know, bits of information: the weight class of the yarn, the yardage per skein, the fiber content, washing and care instructions, gauge, yarn name, and the dye lot number. All of these symbols and instructions will undoubtedly appear to be overwhelming at first glance, but after reading through this breakdown the label will no longer look intimidating.

Weight Classes of Yarn

All yarn is separated into “weights” and are given a number that corresponds to that weight class. These numbers range from the thinnest lace weight “0” to the current popular trend of jumbo “7”. When determining which yarn to choose for your project, weight class plays a crucial role; weight will dictate the project’s size and thickness, the gauge you use, the level of difficulty to work with, how much yardage you use, and pretty much every aspect of your final outcome. The most common weight of yarn is “4” referred to as “worsted weight”, this is a medium thick yarn and is one of the most versatile of all the weights.

Yarn Weights

Yardage

The total amount of the yarn will be displayed, generally, in four different measurements: ounces, grams, meters, and yards. For the most part, a crochet project is measured in yards but there are some instances when other measurements are used. For those situations, than it is a very useful tool to understand and apply the following equation for substituting yarn measurements for one that makes more sense to you. I know we all can recall sitting in math class listening to our teacher drag on and on about finding the missing variable in those overly frustrating word problems and thinking to ourselves “when am I ever gonna use cross multiplication in real life?”. Well, ladies and gentleman, here is where you can actually apply that math lesson. Since I am sure many of you are like me and forgot all about cross multiplication after the test was over, here is a recap.

Note: If Viewing on a mobile device, turn to view in landscape format for the equation to align properly. 

In order for this equation to work we must know three things:

Variable A: the amount of mass per skein (ounces/grams)

Variable B: the length of fiber per skein(yards/meters)

Variable C: how much mass or length we require

Knowing these three variables will allow for the equation set up in order to solve for the unknown variable, X, which is the difference between what we need(C) and what we have(A/B). I know this all sounds VERY confusing but stay with me!

Mass (Variable A) = Length (Variable B) so then C = X

Note: remember X is the variable we are solving for and C is the variable of the outcome we require.

So what does all this mean? Let’s say you look at the yarn label in the store of 1 small skein of yarn, and it says that within that skein contains 150 yards of yarn(length) and weighs 3 ounces(mass), but the pattern you are using is measured in ounces and requires 5 ounces of yarn.

So let’s recap the variables that we know:

Variable A = 3 ounces per skein(mass)

Variable B = 150 yards per skein(length)

Variable C = 5 ounces required by pattern(need)

What we don’t know, and need to solve for, is the amount of yards within the 5 ounces of yarn (X).

3oz (A) = 150 yds(B) then 5 oz(C) = X yds

150 yds = 3 oz                                 B=A

X yds    = 5 oz                                X = C

If we cross multiply we get the equation  150(5) = 3(X)  or   B(C) = A(X)

In order to solve for Variable X we need to get it on one side of the equation alone, we can achieve this by dividing each side of the equation by Variable A. To help you understand this steps meaning we first need to understand fractions. A whole number is written as A/1 when multiplied by its inverse 1/A the number then becomes A/A or 1 and as we know any number multiplied by 1 is equal to that number. For example 5 x 1 = 5 therefore by multiplying the right side of the equation by the inverse of Variable A we are able to “rid” that side of Variable A and are left with 1(X) which is equal to just X.

Step One in Numbers

150(5)  = 3(X)             or             (150/1(5/1))1/3 = (3/1(X/1))1/3     

  3            3  

Step One in Variables

  B(C)  = A(X)             or               (B/1(C/1))1/3 = (A/1(X/1))1/A

   A            A

Step Two in Numbers

150(5)  = X              or                  (150(5))1/3= X  

    3 

Step Two in Variables

B(C)  = X                 or                   (B(C))1/A = X

  A

In math you must follow an order of operations:

Parentheses -> Exponents -> Multiplication -> Division -> Addition -> Subtraction

Step Three: Parentheses

750 = X           or         (750)1/3= X                                  

 3

Step Four: Division

250 = X

So we need to purchase 250 yards of yarn in order to have enough for our project according to the pattern.

While this equation will be rarely needed, it is still a very useful tool to keep at your disposal. For example, if you have a ball of yarn you used part of in a previous project and still have the original label, you can weigh the ball of yarn and use this equation to estimate how many yards are still left to use. This way you can avoid starting a new project with it and coming up a few yards short and having to choose whether or not to buy more yarn to finish the project or unravel it wasting all your hard work.

The Craftista's Equation

Whew okay! Enough Math!

Fiber Content

Although this section is fairly self explanatory, there are a few things worth going over. This section of the yarn label is where you will find which type of fibers were used in creating that skein of yarn. For those who have a fiber allergy or sensitivity, this section can be extremely important. When choosing yarn for a project it is highly suggested that you check the fiber content, no matter how pretty that ball of yarn is it may not be ideal material for your piece. If you were making a summer shawl you certainly would not want to use a warm fiber such as wool, choosing something more breezy like cotton would work more to your advantage.You would also not want to use a fiber that requires specific care to a recipient who does not posses such means, like a child.

Washing Instructions and Care

In order to preserve the integrity of your finished work you will need to have, at least, a basic understanding of the washing and care symbols shown on the yarn labels. Although these symbols may appear to be an “alien language” once you understand the basic shapes and their meaning then they become easy to understand.

Laundry Care Icons

Gauge

Typically on a yarn label you will see a square diagram with either knitting needles or a crochet hook in the center, surrounded by measurements, and a suggested hook size. Most beginner crocheters use this as a guide on which hook to choose in order to work with the yarn, however, this is only a suggested hook size; you are free to use whichever hook you please but know that this will seriously impact your work. Determining proper gauge is extremely important when creating works that require specific measurements, such as when working on apparel items and need to achieve specific measurements within an allotted number of stitches and rows.

What do I mean by this? Some crocheters stitch much looser or tighter than others, this is called tension. If you and I were to follow the exact same pattern for a sweater, using the exact same materials and hook, the finished products would still be quite different due to each of our unique individual tensions.

In order to discover the correct gauge for a project to compensate for your tension, you will need to look at the other information shown within the square diagram and make a swatch based upon those dimensions. The swatch will be a 4”x4” square (10cmx10cm)  using single crochet of the yarn you wish to use and the recommended hook size. It is a good idea to wash the yarn swatch according to its care instructions to gain an idea of shrinking if working with apparel. Once you have completed the 4×4 swatch, count the number of single crochets across as well as the total number of rows, then check those numbers with the stitches and rows listed within the square diagram on the label.

Different Tensions

Do they match? If so, then your tension is correct for the recommended hook size.

Correct Gauge

Do you have less than the numbers listed? If so, then your tension is looser than the recommended hook size and you will need to size down.

Too Large of Gauge

Do you have more than the numbers listed? If so, then your tension is tighter than the recommended hook size and you will need to size up.

Too Small of Gauge

You may be thinking to yourself “well if I’m off by a little I could just stretch my swatch to match” Wrong! Not only is it a bad idea to stretch your swatch, as it will result in you not having the proper dimensions for your finished piece, you also chance ruining the integrity of your work at the end from constantly being tugged on.

Yarn Name and Dye Lot

Finally we come to the last two bits of important information located on the yarn label, name and dye lot of yarn color. Usually above the barcode this is where you will locate the name of the colorway of the skein of yarn, this is crucial to note as many companies make similar colorways but are each slightly different(light blue vs sky blue). Knowing the colorways name also facilitates in searching for a specific color, should you ever need to purchase more. However, be careful, even though they may be the same named color if they vary in dye lot numbers they could be ever so slightly different shades. Yarn is dyed in lots, or groups, by the fiber company; despite their efforts to keep each skein of a color as close in shade to each other as possible sometimes they may differ. So when picking your skeins, try to keep them within the same dye lot as much as possible.

I hope that you now feel confident when walking down the yarn aisle, unafraid of the symbols and diagrams found on the yarn labels. The next project you do you can feel like a pro when gathering the correct amount of skeins, and picking the perfect gauge so there will be no unraveling your work, that you spent hours creating, due to a mistake that could have been avoided by properly reading the yarn label.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please either message me at tiffany@cafedelcraft.com or comment below on this post. Thank you for reading!

Happy Crafting!

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