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How do I Choose the Best Sweater Yarn?

By Greer Hed
Updated May 16, 2024
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When choosing the best sweater yarn, consider what kind of sweater you would like to make and who will be wearing the finished sweater. Accurate knitting gauge is especially important when knitting a sweater, in order to ensure the sweater fits properly. Gauge is the number of stitches that can be counted in an inch (2.54 cm) of knitted fabric. Yarn weight should also be considered, as not all people can wear garments knitted with super bulky yarn. The fiber content of the yarn is also important, as a light sweater for spring would be hot and uncomfortable knitted in wool yarn, while a winter sweater knitted in cool bamboo fiber would not be warm enough.

If a knitter's gauge is off when making a sweater, the garment will almost certainly turn out too large or too small. To ensure accurate gauge, the chosen yarn should be as similar as possible to what's suggested by the sweater pattern. If the pattern calls for fingering weight yarn that knits at a gauge of eight stitches to the inch, for instance, then the knitter should attempt to purchase sweater yarn that knits at a similar gauge, if not the same gauge.

A knitter may also want to consider the body shape of the intended sweater recipient before beginning to knit a sweater in heavier yarn weights. Lace, fingering, sport, and double knitting (DK) weight yarns all have thin strands that knit up into a thinner fabric. Worsted and aran weight yarns are usually the most common weights chosen for use for sweaters, and knit up into a fabric of medium thickness. Bulky and super bulky weight yarns, however, create a very thick fabric that can add mass to the person wearing it, and therefore might not be good choices if the sweater recipient is somewhat overweight.

Fiber content is also an important consideration when selecting a sweater yarn. Wool is relatively inexpensive, warm, and durable, and produces a fabric that has good memory so it won't stretch out of shape, making fiber blends with high wool content a good choice for almost any warm winter garment. For those who are allergic to wool but still wish to knit a warm sweater suitable for cold weather wear, hypoallergenic alpaca will knit up into a very warm, soft garment with lots of drape and a fuzzy texture that resembles the halo characteristic of mohair. Cotton is usually preferable for a garment intended for warm weather wear, though because cotton lacks memory and durability, a blend of cotton and wool, or cotton and linen may be the best choice. Acrylic or superwash wool would be appropriate choices for a sweater meant for a baby or a child, as both types of yarn can be machine washed.

As an adult-sized sweater requires a lot of yardage and takes time to knit, the knitter should keep in mind that she will be working with a relatively large amount of the same yarn for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as several months. Therefore, the best choice is a yarn that makes the individual knitter feel comfortable while knitting with it. Many knitters dislike blends that contain acrylic or plant fiber, for example, as both types of fiber can be tough on the hands. Other knitters object to yarn that has knots or vegetable matter in the skein, or to yarn that has a tendency to pill or break. For some, cost is no object and the enjoyment of working with cashmere or other luxury fiber is its own reward, while other knitters prefer to be more conservative and choose a so-called workhorse wool to complete large projects like sweaters.

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Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Feb 21, 2013

@indigomoth - I don't really knit in order to get cheap clothing. I mean, I usually use hand dyed yarn and that tends to be fairly expensive (although if you shop around online you can find some for a reasonable price). When you consider how much work it takes to hand dye yarn, you won't begrudge the sellers.

I knit so that I have something productive to do with my hands when I'm watching television or chatting and for the pride I feel when I finish the product. That's worth more to me than saving money.

By indigomoth — On Feb 21, 2013

I have to admit, I usually just get whatever is on sale, only making the most basic of attempts to keep it close to what the pattern demands. Which means, occasionally it's turned out badly, but usually it works.

Wool is so expensive these days, particularly anything with any kind of natural fiber in it. It's a sad fact that it's often cheaper to just buy a sweater.

By vogueknit17 — On Dec 15, 2010

@hyrax53, yes I am, tht website is certainly useful. I most recently used it to determine a good subsitute for Berroco yarn while trying to make a bulky sweater when I couldn't find Berroco in the color I wanted to make it.

By hyrax53 — On Dec 13, 2010

@vogueknit17, I imagine you are also familiar with Ravelry, the website which offers substitutions for many yarn brands, as well as sweater knitting patterns and other knitting projects, indexed for easy searching and shopping.

By vogueknit17 — On Dec 10, 2010

It is usually fairly easy to figure out yarn substitutions. Many yarns come with a description of their weight on the package; if you are shopping online, a lot of stores will describe the yarn weight and even offer a list of other, comparable yarns that they carry. If you cannot find this information elsewhere, the brand's website often gives a thorough explanation of each yarn's yardage per skein, recommended gauge, and its weight and thickness.

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