Monday, February 11, 2013

Tips From the Knit Doctor - Ball Bands

            Yarn bands, also called ball bands, are the paper labels wrapped around, or tied to, yarn balls and skeins. They contain much information to help you choose the right yarn for your project.
First, fiber content is always listed, usually as percents. If you want your project to look and drape like the original, you need to choose a similar fiber. For wool, you can substitute a wool or wool blend, or another animal fiber like alpaca. Plant fibers like cotton will behave differently; for instance, cotton is heavy and can stretch under its own weight and won’t rebound the way wool does. For more information on fibers and their properties, I recommend Clara Parkes’ book The Knitters Book of Yarn.

            Also listed are the number of grams and/or ounces of fiber in the skein, as well as how many yards it contains. Skein sizes vary, as do their number of yards, so when substituting a yarn, it is not enough to buy the same number of skeins the pattern calls for, nor the same number of grams; you must make sure you purchase enough yards of the yarn. Suppose, for example, the suggested amount of yarn is five 100-g skeins containing 220 yards (or 1100 yards total). To substitute yarn in 50-g balls containing 104 yards, you would need 10.6 skeins to reach 1100 yards (1100 yds needed divided by 104 yards per skein), so you would need to buy 11 skeins to make sure you had enough.

            The yarn weight (as opposed to skein weight) will also be given. Companies are starting to include a symbol (which looks like a yarn skein) with a number inside ranging from 0-6, with 0 being the finest, thinnest yarns, and 6 being thick bulky yarns. Yarn weight can also be determined from the knit gauge, which is given on the ball band as stitches per inch or stitches per four inches; the more stitches per inch, the thinner the yarn. Choose a yarn with the same weight as the original, or you’ll need to recalculate the number of stitches throughout the pattern to get the same size; this can be a challenge with a complicated garment. The Craft Yarn Council publishes a chart of yarn weight standards:
Note the dye lot on the band when purchasing multiple skeins of yarn. Color can vary from one dye lot to another, so make sure all the yarn for a project is from the same dye lot. Buying an extra skein is a good idea since, if you later discover you need more yarn, you may not be able to find that same dye lot.
The band also recommends a needle size, with which the listed gauge was achieved. You, however, may need a different needle size to get the same gauge, and you may prefer a denser fabric, or a looser one. Knitting small samples with different needle sizes will help you find your best needle size and calculate your gauge. Care instructions are also included, usually given in symbols. A chart of the symbols and what they mean can be found here:
With all this information at your fingertips, you can more confidently choose the perfect yarn for your project.