The Many Types of Yarn and Their Uses

Woolen Yarn Balls

If you are new to the world of knitting or crochet, yarn can seem very confusing at first. Not all yarn is the same!

Walking down the aisle of a yarn store can be mystifying and overwhelming – so today I wanted to cover all the different kinds of yarn you might encounter, as well as explain the different materials yarn is made from so you can always be sure you have the right kind of yarn for your next creative project!


What Is Yarn Made Of? An Overview of Natural + Synthetic Fibers

Yarn is made from fibers being spun into one continuous strand. These strands can be used alone {singles} or they can be plied together for thicker and stronger yarn. {Most yarn is 3-ply but 2-ply and 4-ply are also common}.

There are many different kinds of fibers that can be used to spin yarn. There are plant-based fibers such as cotton and bamboo, there are wool-based yarns such as merino, angora, and alpaca, and there are also synthetic yarns such as acrylic, rayon, and nylon.

Each type of yarn has its own unique properties that can make it more suitable for different projects than others. For example, sheep’s wool is warm and water-resistant – but it is also prone to shrinking and felting, so one has to consider this before throwing an item made from wool into the laundry.

Let’s go over the different fibers yarn can be made from in-depth:

Cotton Yarn

Cotton yarn is spun from cotton bolls – a fluffy white fluff ball that grows on the cotton plant. Cotton fiber is soft, cool, and absorbent. Cotton is not the best choice for keeping you warm or dry in the snow – but it makes for a great fabric for items that get a lot of regular use or need to soak up water – such as dish towels and washcloths.

Things to Make Out of Cotton:

  • Dish Towels
  • Wash Cloths
  • Lightweight Summer Sweaters and Shirts
  • Lightweight Summer Blankets and Throws
  • Placemats
  • Bags + Totes
  • Amigurami {Plush Dolls}
  • Tablecloths

Sheep’s Wool

Wool primarily comes from sheep. There are many different breeds of sheep and not surprisingly, different types of wool with different properties.

Some wool can be quite rough and scratchy – which is more commonly known as rug wool. Rough + Scratchy wool works great for rugs – but not so much a sweater or blanket.

Merino wool is a popular choice for many people because it is one of the softest wools because it has a very fine micron count. {Micron is how the thickness of the fibers is measured}.

Other sheep wool breeds that are popular include Shetland and Corriedale. These are popular choices for hand spinners due to their staple length.

While most people believe that wool is very warm – some types of wool such as merino can be used for summer garments, although to spin and knit it fine enough for that application often requires the use of machines.

Wool fibers are very strong, insulating, and moisture-wicking. It takes a lot to get wool wet – although once it is wet it can be very difficult to get dry.

Wool is prone to shrinking and felting, so it’s important if you make something out of wool that you only hand wash it unless you are using superwash wool yarn, which is not as prone to shrinking and felting.

Best Uses for Wool Yarn:

  • Hats
  • Mittens
  • Socks
  • Blankets
  • Sweaters

Acrylic Yarn

Acrylic yarn is a synthetic yarn made from polymers. {Essentially: Plastic!} While we typically think of plastic as something hard, when it is spun into yarn it can actually be quite soft and even fluffy.

This yarn is one of the cheaper yarns and most common. It is sometimes blended with wool or cotton, but it also is often sold on its own.

You can find acrylic yarn in a very wide variety of different colors and it is lightweight, warm, soft, and very easy to clean. You do not have to worry about acrylic shrinking as much as you do with cotton or wool.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is it is relatively inexpensive. If you are creating a large project such as a blanket or sweater it can be much more economical.

Of course, there are also disadvantages to acrylic yarn. As it’s made out of plastic, it can melt or even burn in high temperatures of a dryer. It is not moisture-wicking nor breathable, making it a poor choice for wet and cold conditions, though it is often used for blankets and hats nonetheless.

What to Make With Acrylic Yarn:

  • Blankets
  • Pillows and Pillow Covers
  • Hats
  • Sweaters
  • Scarves
  • Headbands

Other Fibers Used in Making Yarn

In addition to cotton, wool, and acrylic yarn, you may from time to time encounter other fibers used for making yarn. Oftentimes, different kinds of fibers are blended together.

  • Alpaca – Similar properties as wool with more drape
  • Angora – From the angora rabbit – very lightweight and very warm – perfect for hats!
  • Mohair – From the mohair goat, similar to wool and alpaca
  • Cashmere – A very expensive yarn from the cashmere goat that is one of the softest fibers.
  • Linen – Made from the flax plant, more common to spin into fine yarns for weaving
  • Silk – One of the strongest fibers, silk comes from silkworms and is suitable for lightweight clothings or projects you want to have a silky sheen.
  • Rayon – Rayon is a manmade fiber which replicates silk.
  • Nylon – A manmade fiber, nylon is strong and often blended with rayon and cotton for added strength and softness.
  • Bamboo – Natural plant made fiber from the bamboo plant – an excellent natural alternative to cotton.
  • Hemp – Shares many of the same properties as cotton.

Now that we’ve gone over the different materials of yarn, let’s get into the specifics of ply and weight!

Types of Yarns

Art Yarn: Art yarn is a relatively newer term but is used to describe handspun yarn that can be beautiful, wild, and unpredictable. A number of different fibers can be used to make art yarn and it’s often all about the texture and colors. Art yarn is typically inconsistent so it’s important to consider that when making a project.

Bouclé: This yarn is loopy and bumpy. It is often used in decorative scarves, but can of course also be incorporated in sweaters, shawls and more.

Chenille Yarn: Chenille Yarn is made by machine by cutting a strand of yarn to make it “fuzzy”. I love chenille yarn for things you want to be extra soft – blankets, sweaters, scarves, etc.

Handspun: Handspun yarn is made on a spinning wheel or with a drop spindle rather than by machine. I actually learned how to spin yarn long before I had any idea how to crochet or knit ironically. It can be a lot of fun to spin your own yarn, or you can often find hand-spun yarn in small independent yarn shops. One thing to consider with handspun yarn is that dye lots and weight can sometimes vary so be sure you consider that when planning a project.

Faux Fur Yarn: Faux Furn yarn is similar to chenille yarn, although the fibers are much longer, giving this yarn a fuzzy and furry effect.

Novelty Yarn: Novelty yarn is most often used for specialized or decorative purposes. For example, Red Heart Scrubby Yarn is a stretchy, rough yarn perfect for making handmade dish scrubbies, exfoliating washcloths and other bath + body items. Fringe yarn is often used to give items a decorative border.

Thick and Thin: Thick and thin yarn alternates between thick strands of yarn and thin strands of yarn. It is typically handspun and can give a project an interesting texture when worked up.

T-Shirt Yarn: T-shirt yarn is made by cutting long continuous strips of knit cotton t-shirt material. You can make your own or you can often find it in craft stores near the novelty yarn section.

Variegated Yarn: Variegated yarn is a yarn that is multi-colored and changes colors as you go along. Variegated yarn can be made of a number of fibers so it’s not surprising to find it in acrylic, wool, and cotton yarns. There are a number of beautiful things you can make with variegated yarn.

Yarn Weights

Knowing what fiber your yarn is made out of is half the battle – you also need to know how thick and strong the yarn is, as different thicknesses {weights} are suitable for different projects.

The weight/ply of the yarn will also determine what size knitting needles or crochet hook you should use.

Lace Weight Yarn

Lace weight yarn is exactly what it sounds like – yarn for making lace. It is the finest of all yarns – going any finer would technically be thread!

Lace Weight yarn is most commonly used in shawls, tablecloths, doilies, and other projects which require a very fine yarn. Many people have also started using lace weight yarn to create miniature crochet projects.

Lace weight yarn is also sometimes called cobweb because it is so fine it is similar to a spider’s web.

Super Fine Yarn

Superfine yarn is the next size up and is often called fingering weight or sock yarn. This yarn is typically 3 ply and very fine.

It is most often used for socks, hats, and sweaters. While you could technically make a blanket out of it, it would take you a very long time since the yarn is so fine!

Fine Yarn

The next size is fine yarn, which is sometimes also called Sport weight or baby yarn because it’s a popular choice for baby blankets.

This is a thin yarn that can be used for nearly any kind of project, though the finer the yarn the longer it will take to complete a larger project.

Light Yarn

Light yarn, also known as DK weight is a great lightweight yarn that can be used for almost anything – hats, gloves, mittens, socks, scarves, sweaters, etc.

Medium Yarn

Many beginners start with medium yarn because it is not so thick or fine that it is difficult to work with. Medium weight yarn can be used for just about everything and anything.

Bulky Yarn

Bulky yarn is considerably thicker than medium yarn and is a great choice for blankets, heavy sweaters, and rugs. If you cannot find bulky yarn, one trick is to use 2-3 strands of medium yarn together while knitting or crocheting.

One big advantage to bulky yarn is because it is larger in the size you can finish a larger project such as a blanket with less stitches.

Super Bulky

Many art yarns fall into this category and again like bulky yarn makes it very quick work to finish a large project.

Jumbo Yarn

Jumbo yarn is relatively newer in the world of yarn, especially as arm knitting grew in popularity a few years back. Wool roving, which is what spinners use to make yarn is often classified as jumbo yarn. If using wool roving in a blanket however it is important to know that wool roving will break when pulled.


How To Know What Kind of Yarn to Use

Now that we’ve covered the different fibers yarn can be made from as well as the different weights and sizes you can find yarn in, let’s talk a little bit about what things to consider to help you choose the right kind of yarn to use.

Your Pattern: Most patterns will specify a type of yarn to use, especially if the pattern is provided by one of the popular yarn manufacturers. The pattern should specify the weight of the yarn to be used and often also includes what size hook or knitting needles will be best.

Price: While it’d be nice if we all had an unlimited budget for yarn, the reality is that some yarns are considerably more budget-friendly than others. Fibers such as cashmere for example are relatively more difficult to come by and as such cashmere is priced considerably higher. Acrylic and cotton yarns are often the least expensive, although sometimes depending on what you are making it could be worth splurging for merino wool.

Availability: We do not have many yarn stores where I live so what is readily available is often a deciding factor for me. Sometimes I have great luck in buying yarn online, while other times I am at the mercy of whatever my local Walmart store is carrying in stock. (And I have to drive 20 miles just to go there!) Because the yarn isn’t always easy for me to get nearby I also greatly enjoy spinning my own yarn – I can make whatever I like!

The Size of the Completed Project: Another thing to consider is the size of the completed project and how soon you want it to be finished. Finer yarns are going to take much longer to work up than bulky yarns.


Common Yarn Questions Answered!

It’s completely normal to have a lot of questions about all the different types of yarns, so I’ve put together a list of those questions and their answers below.

What is the difference between Woolen, Worsted and Semi-Worsted?

When looking at yarns, you might also notice one of three words: Woolen, Worsted or Semi-worsted. This is a word that describes the method used to spin the yarn and the type of twist the yarn has.

Woolen Yarn is light and fluffy but not quite as strong as worsted yarn. It is best for hats and blankets.

Worsted Yarn is very strong but not as light or fluffy. It is best for things that get a lot of wear and tear, such as socks.

Semi-Worsted Yarn is the balance between both – stronger than woolen yarn but fluffier than worsted yarn.

You can find worsted and semi-worsted yarn in almost any of the different yarn weights, although worsted is more common in the superfine, fine, and light yarns because it gives the yarn added strength since the yarn is so thin.

Woolen yarn is more common in medium and bulky yarn weights, especially because it adds to the airiness and fluffiness of the yarn.

Which Yarn Material Is Best?

It is impossible to say that any yarn is better than any other mainly because it depends on the intended use. Wool is a better choice for a blanket or socks but cotton would be considerably better for dish towels.

Understanding the properties and characteristics of the fibers in the yarn will help you decide what yarn material is best for you.

In general, acrylic yarn is a common and inexpensive all-purpose yarn. If you need something warm and moisture-wicking, wool is a great choice. If you need something lightweight or absorbent, cotton is a good choice.

Of course, you can also always get a blended yarn which will give you a little bit of everything!

How Much Yarn Will I Need for a Project?

How much yarn you need for a project greatly depends on the weight of the yarn you are using. In general, the finer the yarn, the more yards of yarn you will need.

While bulky yarn is considerably thicker than fine yarn, you may find that you often need the same number of skeins for a project because bulky yarn skeins do not have as much yardage as fine yarn skeins.

The type of stitch you use along with your tension will also influence how much yarn you need. For example, some crochet stitches such as the puff stitch are “yarn eaters” while other stitches such as treble crochet can give you a good bit of height without as much yarn.

Most patterns will specify how many skeins or yards of yarn are needed in your project. Be sure when planning for a project you check to make sure you are able to have a sufficient amount of yarn to complete it, especially if dye lot is a concern.


I hope this guide on all of the different types of yarns and their uses, as well as an explanation of different yarn weights, is helpful for you, especially if you are new to knitting, crochet, or weaving! If you have any questions please do ask in the comments section below!

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