Yarns Tips

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Yarn Standards

With so many different producers and manufacturers of yarn out there, the Craft Yarn Council of America has a great website to explain some of the standards that its members have tried to devise to bring some uniformity and organization to yarn and hook labeling so that it is easier for you to purchase the right materials and complete your project successfully. Take a look at http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/standards.html


The Twist

Ever wonder why a yarn looks so good when it's been knitted up, but just loses that look when crocheted? Turns out that the process of crocheting adds or takes away a twist to the yarn, and that little bit of twist or lack thereof changes the character of the yarn. This is one reason why a number of crocheters have decided to spin their own yarn!



No, I'm not talking about your living room curtains! In crochet terms, "drape" refers to the flexibility of the crochet fabric that a particular yarn or crochet technique creates. Because crochet usually creates a thick and dense fabric, it can lack drape and appear and feel stiff. Factors that most affect drape are the weight, texture, and fiber composition of the yarn used as well as the hook size chosen. Thinner yarns with a smoother texture will help you achieve a good drape. It also helps if the yarn is a silky type of yarn, like bamboo, alpaca, rayon, and some acrylics. Although pure cotton can yield a stiff fabric, certain types of cotton, like Pima, or cottons blended with at least 50 percent other silky-type fibers can increase the draping quality of the finished product.

You also can increase the draping effect of your fabric by going up a size in your hook selection. By loosening up your stitches, the fabric naturally has more give and flexibility. Thus, even with a worsted weight yarn, you can add drape. You'll just have to experiment with using different hook sizes with your chosen yarn -- you don't want sloppy and too loose stitches (the hook size is too large) or too knotted and tight stitches (the hook size is too small), but many yarns yield a good fabric within a 2 to 3 hook-size range.


Nylon Twine

Ever get tired of crocheting with just yarn? Then experiment! One really interesting medium to use is nylon twine. It's available in your local hardware store and is a great material for creating sturdy home decor items. It often comes in different colors too (my local store had hot pink, hot orange, green, and blue!), so let your imagination go wild. But, do stop often to take a break and to moisturize and rest your hands because the twine can be a little rough to work with.


What is Yarn Made Of?

Yarn can be made out of so many different fibers, both natural and synthetic. Natural fibers usually come from the fur of animals, such as sheep (wool), rabbits (angora), and goat (cashmere or mohair). or from plants, like cotton, bamboo, and the hemp plant. These days, people have discovered how to make fibers out of shrimp and crab shells (chitin) and milk proteins (milk casein)! It's important to find out the fiber source of the yarn you are using for a particular project because you want to be sure if the elasticity, the washability, the warmth or coolness, and the finished appearance of the yarn is appropriate for your chosen project.


Specialty Yarns

There are so many different specialty yarns, but sometimes, the names can be confusing and not very revealing about the qualities of the yarn. Here are a couple of widely-used terms for certain specialty yarns:

Boucle yarn usually refers to a nubbly, loopy yarn because the name in French means "curl". Boucle yarns create a bumpy, very textured fabric, but are difficult to work with because the stitches are difficult to see when crocheting.

Chenille yarn is very lush and soft, almost suede-like, and creates a very soft fabric. The downside is that chenille can easily tear and shed.

Eyelash yarn is quite hairy and yields a fluffy or fuzzy fabric. It too can be very difficult to work with.


Yarn Snags

Snags and splits in your yarn are so frustrating, but there are ways to help fix them. If the snag occurs near to where you're working on your crochet, then just unravel some stitches to the snag and then lightly roll the yarn back and forth in between your palms to retwist it, then resume your crocheting. If the snag occurs too far into a finished piece of work, then gently lift and tug the stitch with your nail and try to lightly twist it between your index finger and thumb, then gently tug around the stitch to reshape. If the snag is so bad that these techniques don't work, then see if you can pull the extra yarn into the back of the item and secure with a separate piece of yarn and then weave in the extra tails of yarn.


A Hank o' Yarn

Often, a yarn of good quality or a hand-spun yarn come in a "hank", which is made up of long loops of yarn that is then folded and twisted together. Do NOT try to use a hank of yarn as is -- you just have to wind it into a ball first. This is usually not a problem because the store where you bought your wonderful new yarn probably has a ball winder and "yarn swift" that you can use, but if you don't have access to a yarn swift, just untwist your hank and place the loops of yarn on the back of a chair, around someone else's arms, or around your own feet (makes for a great hamstring stretch!) and manually unwind the loops and wind into a ball.


Shopping for Yarn

Shopping for yarn when traveling adds some extra fun to your trip. There's a great website www.knitmap.com that helps you find yarn shops in the city of your destination. Just plug in the zip code or city into the search engine as well as other factors you are looking for in a yarn store, like store hours, classes or refreshments, and hit find! You'll get a city map that flags all of the yarn stores in the area. Just click on a flag and get specific information. Before you know it, you're discovering new yarns in a new city!


A New Ball of Yarn and its Label

Oh, we all just want to rip that label right off our new ball or skein of yarn and get started on a project. Well, slow down! There's valuable information on that label, and you're going to want it later. So, instead, peel the label off carefully so that it stays intact. Then, clip about 6 to 12 inches of the yarn itself and staple or attach it in some way to the label. That way, you will be remember which yarn the label went with and have all the care instructions and other valuable information needed.


Yarn Characteristics

There are all sorts of descriptive terms that are used to explain the qualities and characteristics of different types of yarn and how best to choose which one to use in a particular project. When selecting a yarn, you might want to consider its absorbency (how much water does the fiber hold), its breathability (how much air passes through the fiber), its dyeability (how the fiber absords and retains dye), its drape (how the yarn moves -- is it soft and flowing or stiff and less flexible), its elasticity (how stretchy the fiber is and its ability to maintain its original shape despite being pulled and pushed), and its thinness or thickness. Natural fibers have different combinations of these characteristics than do synthetic fibers, so it helps to find out about the different features of fibers.


Getting Rid of Wrinkles

So, you've had to "frog" a project and you've got a clump of yarn that's still wrinkled from where the stitches had been formed. What to do to save this yarn? Kelsey Innis on FaveCrafts has a great process by which to straighten out the yarn: First, wind the yarn around a large box, like a suit box (or the back of a chair. Once it's all wrapped around, then tie the hank that you have created in four places, equally spaced out, with contrasting color yarn and remove the hank from the chair or box. In the microwave, boil a bowl of water, turn off the microwave, and put the hank beside the bowl. Close the door and leave everything in the microwave for about 20 minutes. Then lie the hank flat on a towel and let it dry completely. When you're ready to reuse, wind it loosely into a ball.


The Half Skein of Yarn

So, what to do with all of those half skeins and balls of yarns left over from other projects?! Certainly, one approach is to collect up all the leftovers and donate them or take them to a swap meet. But, sometimes, it's just hard to let go of those special yarns, so another option is to group the yarns according to coordinating colors or textures and make a scarf, hat, amigurumi toys or other little projects that only need one or two balls of yarn. Or think big -- start making squares or other shapes to put together into an afghan or sweater. However you approach your stash, don't let it just sit there, get crocheting!


Bamboo Yarn

Bamboo yarn was quite popular not too long ago, but then people started discovering that it's not quite what it was touted to be. But, don't totally diss it yet -- there are a number of bamboo and other fiber blends out there that seem to enhance bamboo's ups (like its softness and natural antiseptic properties) while counteracting its downs (pure bamboo-yarn-made items tend to stretch a lot). One great combination is bamboo and wool -- soft, not itchy, and keeps its shape nicely.



Raffia ribbon or cord is a great medium to use for creating great summer hats and tote bags. Raffia comes from an African palm tree that has very long leaves. Under each frond leaf, the membrane is taken off to create a strong thin fiber that can be dyed and then either woven into textiles or wound into balls of "yarn" for crocheting. The qualities of raffia have been recreated synthetically with rayon and paper and are readily available at very reasonable prices.


Acrylic and Synthetic Yarns

Ever wonder about synthetic yarns and exactly where they come from? Well, as you probably guessed, there's a chemical process involved. Propylene, a natural gas derivative, is processed from a liquid into a powder that is then mixed with a solvent and turned into a thick, molasses-like substance. More processing ensues to turn the thick goo into fibers that can be spun into yarn.



I love that name, plarn! It's the name of yarn made of plastic. You can create your own plarn by cutting plastic shopping bags into strips. Experiment with different thicknesses of plastic and different widths of the strips. I haven't quite figured out how to join the strips together (that'll be another tip), but rolling the strips and using a loose tension and big hook make it easier to crochet with the plarn. Get creative, see what you can make with plarn, and leave me your comments!


Wool Yarns

If a yarn is described as "wool", that means it is made from the shearings of sheep. Wool yarns come in all different thicknesses and textures, from soft to more course. Many crocheters like to work with wool yarn because it can have some spring and give to it, making it very versatile when working different kinds of stitches and patterns. Pure wool is used for crocheted pieces that are going to be "felted" (see our tip on felting), but wool blends often can be handwashed or even machine washed. Wool is a great natural fiber for crochet projects and is abundantly available and reasonably priced.


Yarn Safety

It's hard to think of a ball of yarn as a dangerous object, but it can be for pets and small children, both of whom love to put things in their mouths! Ingested yarn can act like a saw in the intestines, cutting back and forth as it moves around, or can create a blockage that only painful and expensive surgery can fix. So, keep yarn (and the plastic bag that you brought it home in) away from curious little ones and see our tips for some ideas on how to store your yarn safely.


Storing Your Yarns

There are so many different ways to store your yarns, but the important thing is to have some system for storing them. First, think about what type of container you want to keep your yarns in -- I would suggest clear plastic containers that have tightly sealing lids to keep your yarns dry and safe from critters! Once you've gotten enough containers for your collection of yarns, you need to figure out how to sort your yarns. The two most popular ways are either by color or by texture. Whichever method you choose, with a little time and effort, you will have those yarns organized before long and will always know exactly what yarns you have on hand for your next great project!

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Phyllis Serbes