by Alison Stapleton

A Good Yarn

Yarns are long stories told over a campfire, sipping hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Yarns are all wool acrylics and threads used in crochet. A yarn is a general term for all the types of wool, cotton and blends that you will use once you pick up your crochet hook.

Natural Yarns

All natural yarns come from plants or animals.

To be listed as 100% wool for example they have to be made 100% from the fleece of a sheep.

Many natural yarns are blends. Blended yarns are either made with other natural yarns, like cotton or silk, or synthetic yarns like acrylic for durability.

Natural yarns are biodegradable and will eventually rot away. They are safe for the planet.

This is why we don’t have many examples of ancient crochet garments.

Animal based yarns


Wool comes from sheep. It is made from the fleece of a ewe (a female sheep) which is shorn or cut off every year. This process is called shearing.

Shearing does not hurt the animal it is rather like cutting your hair.

Fleece is spun into wool hanks which are long loops of wool. The hanks are twisted and then may be rolled into balls.

Wool was originally spun on a spinning wheel but now mostly by machine. Some communities still spin their own wool from their own sheep.

Wool has superb warming capabilities and a jersey made from 100% wool is warm and cozy although it can be a bit scratchy.

Wool has a distinctive smell when wet. Wool will shrink in a hot wash.


Cotton comes from a plant. It is grown as a crop and harvested once a year. Cotton fields are planted is warmer areas and although it is a natural product many chemicals are used in the bleaching of cotton. Cotton will shrink in a hot wash. Although often cotton is sold “preshrunk.”

Raw cotton is very rough to use in crochet.

Mercerized cotton threads have been smoothed to aid a free flow over the hook when crocheting. Mercerized cotton has a pleasant sheen.


Silk comes from silkworms. After the worm has wound one long thread around it’s body, in a figure eight pattern, the silk worm farmer picks the end of the silk thread and winds it onto a bobbin. This does kill the silk worm.

Each thread of silk is washed and dyed and may be spun with other fibers to create a thicker yarn.

Plant based yarns

Banana silk

Banana silk is made from the fronds leaves of the banana plant strelitzia nicolai

It is a slightly rough texture and good for rugs and mats. There is a sheen to the yarn.


Bamboo is a plant. The inner fibers are cut out and washed and spun into either a 100% bamboo yarn or it is mixed with other natural or synthetic fibers. Bamboo is grown in regrowth forests and takes little from the natural world.


Is a plant and has many uses. It is most often seen as hessian or burlap sacks from grain.

Synthetic yarns

All synthetic yarns are man made. Synthetic yarns first became widely available in the 1800’s. Victorians used silks and cottons and wools.


Nylon was originally created in both New York (NY) and London, England (LON) at the same time. Nylon is a basis for many synthetic yarns.


Rayon is a derivative or nylon and has a dry silky feel and sheen.


Acrylic yarns can be a blend of several man made yarns twisted to form the length of yarn. Acrylic yarns wash well and hold their colours well. Acrylics are often used in children’s clothes. Acrylics are used for durability.

Mixed yarns

Mixed yarns are a combination of either natural or synthetic yarns.

Often they combine 2% silk with cotton or bamboo to give the yarn a silky feel.

Wool is combined with acrylics for cost purposes as natural wool is expensive.

Yarn thicknesses

Yarns purchased today often conform to the standard thickness symbols for the weight.

The thicker the yarn the bigger the crochet hook you need, and the thinner the yarn the thinner the hook you need.

When wool is spun the finest thread is known as lace and moving up the scale the manufacturers combine two three or four threads together in the manufacture of thicker yarns.

Yarns come in different thicknesses. They each have a name and are used for different things.

The thicker the yarn the thicker the hook.

Do not use a thin hook with thick yarn or a thick hook with a thin yarn.

As a rule the thickness of the yarns should be the same as the diameter of the hook.

Yarn weight and category names

Yarns have been categorized by their thickness. Most yarns conform to these symbols and you can swop out the recommended yarns for each pattern by using a yarn in the same weight as the suggested yarns.

In this way if you don’t have the specific ball of wool you can make adjustments and use a yarn of a similar weight to obtain the same results as the item in the pattern.

0 = Lace (fingerling), use hook 1.00 mm – 1.50 mm

1 = Superfine (sock), use hook 2.50 mm – 3.50 mm

2 = Fine (baby or 4 ply), use hook 3.50 mm – 4.50 mm

3 = Light (double knitting or DK), use hook 4.50 mm – 5.50 mm

4 = Medium (worsted, Afghan or Aran), use hook 5.50 mm – 6.50 mm

5 = Bulky (bulky or rug), use hook 6.50 mm – 9.00 mm

6 = Super bulky (super bulky), use hook 9.00 mm – 15.00 mm

7 = Jumbo (jumbo), use hook 15.00 mm or larger

1ply Fingerling

This is the fine thread that comes from a spinning wheel. It is the basis of all yarn weights. This is also referred to a floss. It is as thin as dental floss.

It is used is light and airy shawls and christening shawls.


Used for socks and light baby shawls.


3ply is used for socks and thin under garments. It is used for Scottish Fair Isle where two colors are used at ones and the spare color is carried over.

So the actual garment is thicker because of the two threads.


4ply is used with a 3.5mm hook and is a popular yarn weight.

4ply is good for cool summer tops and light garments.

Sport (Double knitting) (worsted)

Double knitting is used in many projects for nursery cardigans blankets and is easy to buy. Double knitting uses 5mm hooks.

Chunky or Bulky

Chunky and thick yarns you can use an 8mm, 9mm or 10mm hook.

Chunky yarns are great for afghans, chair covers and thick jerseys, coats and scarves

Extra Chunky Extra Bulky

Extra chunky yarn will use the biggest hooks. Such as a 12mm, 15mm or 20mm hook.

Extra chunky is used for baskets, rugs and mats.

In Thickness and in Thin

The thinner the yarn the thinner the hook, and the thicker the yarn the thicker the hook.