Deciphering Yarn Bands

I love yarn. Whenever a new shipment arrives at The Stitchin’ Den, opening the box is akin to unwrapping a Christmas gift. We usually start unpacking as soon as we can and lifting out each new yarn reveals a delicious new color and texture. It is just the most fun. Usually, this happy experience leads to another thought, “What can I knit with this lovely yarn?” Of course, that will be determined by the yarn — it’s weight, texture, composition, required care and expense. One of the first steps in determining this is to check the yarn label (or yarn band).

One thing I have learned is that not all yarn labels are the same. Most yarns should and do have information that includes:

  • Yarn name
  • Fiber content
  • Gauge information for knit and crochet (either for the number of stitches per inch or for a 4-inch swatch)
  • Yarn weight category
  • Color and dye lot
  • Information on how to care for finished garment
  • Country of origin
  • Contact information for the yarn company.
Although many labels have all or most of this information, they do not have a consistent look, so reading them can be a bit challenging. Below are examples of two very different looking yarn bands or labels. Notice that both yarns are labeled as Sport weight; however, only the Lambs Pride has a Standard Weight System number (circled in red). Another difference is that the Tahki yarn (blue label) has the gauge information for a 4-inch swatch (22 stitches) and the Lambs Pride has gauge information listed per inch, leaving the customer to multiply 6 stitches per inch x 4 inches = 24 stitches for a 4 inch swatch. You will also notice that, although both yarns are labeled as sport by the manufacturer, there is a half stitch difference per inch (5.5 for the Tahki and 6 for the Lamb’s Pride). As discussed in the previous post, this is something to keep in mind when calculating the overall size of your finished project. Also notice that the suggested needle size to achieve gauge is different; one suggests a US size 4 and one a US size 5 — another reason why making and blocking a swatch is important.
Tahki yarn ball band Lamb's Pride yarn ball band
Remember to keep in mind that yarn comes in different sized balls or skeins. Weight in grams and/or ounces and length in yards and/or meters appear on the label. Yardage may not be similar or even close if based on the manufacturer’s labeling alone. If you don’t check the meters or yards in each skein when calculating the amount of yarn to buy, you might end up short on yarn. I usually think of bulky yarns as 3.5 ounce skeins having 100-180 yards. However, I recently used two different yarns that, although both labeled “bulky” by the manufacturer, varied in length by more than 100 yards. One had 175 yards per 3.5 ounce (100 gram) ball and the other had 282 yards per 100 gram ball. I achieved gauge with both yarns using the needle sizes recommended on their labels. What mattered more than the “bulky” label, in this example, is the gauge or number of stitches per inch.

I am usually drawn to yarns that require hand washing. However, when knitting baby blankets, sweaters and hats, I go for the wool acrylic blends. The label will provide good information regarding care. You may see it written out as “hand wash only” (see Knockando photo above) or as a series of symbols. You can see them on the yarn label pictured and on a chart of the universal symbols below. The suggested care of yarns will vary depending on the fiber content. Superwash wool can usually be washed on a gentle cycle in your washing machine while alpaca and mohair yarns usually require hand washing.
Fiber Care Symbols
Finally, always keep at least one label of the yarn that you have purchased for each project. It is actually handy to put the label and a swatch in a Ziplock bag. It might sound over the top to be this organized, but it can be a life saver if you run out of yarn or want to order more of the same yarn. I cannot count the number of times that customers called the shop trying to track down a specific yarn. We have a better chance of finding your yarn if you have the name of the yarn, the manufacturer, color, and dye lot numbers. You will also have a nice swatch to remind you of how the yarn works up. You can tell a lot about the drape, look, and feel of yarn from a swatch.
Save a ball band for later reference

So, the next time you are shopping for yarn, take some time to really read the label. And once you have started your project, store your label and swatch for future reference.