Crocheting is an excellent pastime that many people love. When starting out, many people have a lot of questions, including how to choose good yarn.
When learning to crochet, many beginners stick with the basic cotton, wool, or acrylic yarn types. Which type of each variety is best depends on what the crocheting project is. There are also different fibers, weight, yarn texture, dye, and colors to consider when choosing yarn.
Luckily, choosing yarn is not as hard as it seems once it’s broken down into manageable pieces. Keep reading below to learn more about how to choose the right type of yarn for your crochet projects.
Types of Yarn
Before you can choose the right yarn for your project, you need to have a basic understanding of the different types of yarn and the benefits and disadvantages of each. We’ll focus on the three basic types: cotton, wool, and acrylic. Of course, there are dozens of other yarn types, but these three are the most common. They’re also the easiest for a beginner to find and work with.
There’s also crochet thread, which is the thinnest of yarns—it’s very delicate and light, used mostly to make lace and doilies. Most beginners don’t use it due to its slippery texture and complexity to work with. Even a lot of experienced crocheters don’t bother with it.
In this article, we’ll focus on the more popular types of yarn, starting with cotton!
Cotton is sourced from the cotton plant; this type of yarn is light, absorbent, breathable, and strong, making it perfect for projects that will endure lots of wear and tear.
Cotton is very forgiving and flexible, making it good for beginners who are practicing their stitches. Cotton yarn is also breathable, making it great for creating clothing. It’s lightweight and does not irritate the skin.
It also absorbs water, which makes it wonderful for making washcloths and dishrags. Unfortunately, this feature isn’t great for most types of clothing. Cotton yarn is also very durable, machine washable, and dryer-safe, which is rare among most yarns made with natural fiber.
Cotton yarn is inelastic, meaning it doesn’t stretch while you work with it. However, when the finished project is worn out, it’s common for the project’s own weight to pull and stretch it, especially if the project gets wet. But because the yarn isn’t elastic, it has a beautiful stitch definition. Stitch definition means each stitch is distinguishable from the next, which makes it easy to count and redo stitches. Many beginners find this quality to be very beneficial because it makes the yarn easy to work with. Stitch definition also makes the finished project look much neater!
When working with inelastic yarns, you’ll need to keep more tension on the yarn. This constant tension and pressure will cause physical stress on your hands and wrists. If you crochet for long periods of time, this may even cause damage to your joints.
Wool yarn, on the other hand, is naturally elastic, making it easier to work with. However, this also makes the yarn much less flexible but more resistant to wrinkling. It also has the ability to retain its shape. This stubbornness to change shape makes wool yarn more durable, and your finished project will be much less likely to end up being ripped or ruined.
Wool is very warm and can hold one-third of its weight in moisture without getting damp or feeling clammy against the skin. The shape of its fibers also allows the collected moisture to evaporate quickly. At a beginner level, wool yarn is the best choice. Elasticity makes it easy to control tightness and consistency and doesn’t wear out the hands so quickly.
There are four types of wool yarn:
- Merino, from the merino sheep breed.
- Shetland wool, from the Shetland Islands of Scotland.
- Icelandic, from unique sheep breeds in Iceland. These breeds produce soft and rustic-looking yarn.
- Lamb wool, from the first time a sheep is sheared. It makes the yarn soft and fluffy. This type is less common than the other.
How thick the wool is and how tightly it’s spun both affect the yarn. The finer the wool, the more delicate it is. There are four types of thickness: fine, medium, long, and double. The thicker the yarn is, the quicker you can crochet with it—it will require fewer stitches and fewer rows to finish a project.
One downside to wool yarn is wool allergies. While a true wool allergy is rare, a majority of people are allergic to wool itself, or the lanolin/the natural oil in the wool. This causes skin irritation, itchiness, sneezing, and red, puffy eyes.
Acrylic yarn is a love-it-or-hate-it crocheting medium. Some crocheters love it, others hate it—still, it’s a very common beginner’s yarn. As a manmade fiber, it comes in almost any color under the sun. It’s cheap and easy to mass-produce in large quantities. This makes it a common material for making clothing or other projects where a lot of yarn is needed. Acrylic yarn is easy to clean and machine washable. It won’t go through any shrinking or shedding, however, it’s best to air-dry any projects made with acrylic.
Acrylic yarn is also lightweight, strong, colorfast, and hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, this yarn isn’t breathable, retains water and odors, and melts under direct heat. Many who use acrylic yarn in their crocheting projects complain that their projects do not keep their shape due to the twisted texture of the material. Additionally, the man-made fibers pill more than other fibers but are also less likely to develop holes.
When choosing your yarn, the first decision you’ll need to make is what type of fiber you want to work with. There’s plenty of options, from both animal fibers, plant fibers, and man-made fibers. The type of fiber will be listed on the yarn label; as you continue crocheting, you’ll get used to different types of yarn, and you’ll probably be able to identify the fiber by look or feel alone.
Cotton yarn is inelastic, which makes it harder to work with. However, this same quality makes it a great choice for specific projects when you need your project to keep its shape. And, though it is slightly more challenging than working with wool yarn, it’s pretty beginner-friendly.
Cotton fiber is made mostly of cellulose, which conducts heat away from the body. In hotter temperatures, you may find it unpleasant to work with heavy, hot wool yarn—cotton yarn is a great alternative, as it is much lighter and more breathable.
Wool yarn is made from very resilient fiber and is preferred by beginners who are practicing their stitches. If you make a mistake, wool yarn is easy to unravel and reuse (called ‘frogging’). Wool allergies are a danger to be aware of, but for most crochet beginners, wool yarn is a good choice.
Acrylic yarn is perhaps the most popular choice amongst crocheters. It comes in almost every color and is one of the most affordable options. However, acrylic yarn is challenging to crochet with, because the threads split apart around the needle. If this continues to happen and you are having a tough time crocheting with it, try another brand or switch to cotton or wool yarn.
Different fiber types might require different washing instructions, which is important to consider if your project will need to be repeatedly washed. Different fibers also have different drying needs. Some must be hung to dry and will shrink in the dryer, but others are dryer-safe. The yarn label should provide this information—if not, you might need to do a little personal research.
Every type of yarn comes in different thicknesses. Thickness is referred to as ‘weight’, and is listed on the yarn label, numbered 1-7 (thinnest to thickest). The easiest and most beginner-friendly is worsted weight yarn, listed as #4 on the yarn label. This is a good, medium-weight yarn. If worsted weight isn’t available, a “3” DK weight is acceptable, though some beginner crocheters may find it too thin to work with. A “5” bulky weight is a good alternative as well, but may not be as easy to work with.
A quick tip: the yarn label will specify the weight of the yarn, but most will also correct the size of the crochet hook recommended for the yarn weight. The correct size of the hook will affect the gauge of the yarn.
Dye and Color
If you’re going to be crocheting a large project, or even one that requires more than one ball of yarn, you’ll want to make sure that the colors all match. Look for the dye lot on the label—this shows that the yarn balls you get all come from the same dye lot number, so they don’t have a significant color difference.
Dye lots are the numbers yarn makers give to yarn that was dyed at the same time and in the same batch of color. Yarn is dyed in large quantities, and although the same dye formula is used each time, the dye can look different.
The total amount of water, the temperature of the dye bath, dye content, and how long the fiber spends in the dye can affect how the color changes between batches. The color change can be dramatic, or hardly visible. Because the changes are so slight, you will want to check the dye lot number on the label to be sure of what you want.
Cotton and wool are great for dyeing. Acrylic yarn is a manmade fiber that comes in every color. Even if you can’t find the color you need, you can dye it yourself with kool-aid, or food coloring and a microwave. As a beginner, try to choose lighter-colored yarn. It can be challenging to see your stitches when working with dark colors.
Comfort and Ease of Use
We’ve already spoken about the differences between the types of yarn, but we’ve only lightly addressed how working with different yarns affects the crocheter. Some cotton yarns can aggravate arthritis or carpal tunnel, and the inelasticity of certain types can cause sore joints or joint damage.
Wool yarn is easier on the joints, but it is hot and can be hard to work with in warmer temperatures. Other types of yarn are slippery or difficult to work with. Alpaca and fuzzy yarn—like lamb wool or faux fur—are difficult to work with because they have almost no stitch definition, making it hard to distinguish one stitch from the next.
Just as it is important to choose the right type of yarn for your project, it is also important to know the proper crocheting terms.
Blocking – Blocking is the process of soaking your yarn in water and pinning it down into the desired shape. Depending on the project, blocking can help straighten the edges or stretch the yarn into the right shape. As a beginner, blocking can be beneficial—it can make your project look more uniform until you’re experienced enough to keep your edges straight and your project in shape.
Yarn texture – Different yarns have different textures—some are fuzzy, some are wiry, some have glittery plastic strands woven into the fibers. Of all the novelty yarns, eyelash yarns are the worst to work with. As a beginner, choose smooth yarns because more textured yarns are difficult to work with, and you can easily become frustrated and quit your work. Once you’re more experienced, you can move on to harder yarn types.
Yarn yardage – Every ball of yarn has different yardage. This refers to how much yarn is rolled into the ball. Yardage relates to price. Be sure to check the label on your yarn to see how much yarn you’re buying.
Yarn price – The price of yarn varies greatly through fiber types and yarn brands. As a beginner, it’s best to choose the most affordable yarns—like cotton, wool, and acrylic—to give yourself experience before spending a lot of money.