Specifically, this page is about the things you need to know about yarn if you want to buy or request a yarn. It is directed largely at people who are not fiber-arts people themselves.
That is, this is what to know, or what to figure out, if you’re a normal person (often referred to as a muggle), who wants to buy a yarn for your fiber-artist friend/family member/whatever.
So, the first thing I will ask you is if you want yarn or fiber. This is actually a simple question. Does your friend spin? Whether they spin on a spinning wheel or drop spindle, doesn’t matter, but if they don’t spin at all, fiber won’t help them very much.
Let’s say you want yarn. The next question is what size yarn you want?
Also called gauge, size is important (stop snickering). I’ll list them from largest to smallest.
These gauges are self explanatory. Big, thick, squishy yarn, good for some kinds of hats and scarves and such. Not good for anything where the texture or pattern is very complicated, as the chunkiness obscures it. Currently Gnomespun doesn’t have a Chunky base, though I could likely get one if you have a request. If I get many requests, I’ll carry it regularly.
This is a “workhorse” of knitting. Almost anything can be made out of this gauge, as long as you don’t want a real thin fabric. It’s thick for socks, and not so great for lace. Great for scarves and hats and warm shawls that are still warm but not puffy. Knucks and mittens are often made with this weight. Afghans and Sweaters are VERY often made with this weight. Gnomespun’s worsted weight yarn is “Eshu.” It is washable.
I think of this as the “cross” yarn. It makes a thinner fabric than worsted, but isn’t in the fine “more yardage and longer knit time” category. A little better for some textures than worsted. Some lighter sweaters are made with this weight. There is is not currently a Gnomespun DK, though Eshu can often be subbed in.
A good weight for medium-fine work where you still want some heft. A lot of color work, cables, and some shawls are done in this size. Lighter scarves, heavier hiking socks, midweight shawls/wraps, things like that are made with this yarn. Fine sweaters are made with this weight, but they often take long enough to deter knitters. There isn’t a Gnomespun Sport at the moment, though Insi can often be subbed for lighter sport weight yarns.
A little lighter than sport, socks are made mostly with this weight (surprised?). A lot of more lacey shawls and wraps are also made with this, as are many glove patterns. This is currently a very popular yarn weight. “Phouka” is a very traditional and sturdy washable sock yarn. “Insi” is a slightly heavier fingering weight yarn with some handspun character. Insi should be handwashed. (Note: If you want to google this, use “Fingering Yarn” or you may regret it)
Laceweight (joked about as “frog hair”) is used… for lace! Shock and amazement, “Anansi” is the laceweight I currently dye for the shop, a lovely 50/50 Silk/Merino yarn with excellent softness and shine. This yarn should be washed gently by hand in cold water and dried by laying out.
Note: There are some few knitters who prefer one weight to another on principle.
How Much Yarn:
I know this seems obvious, but it isn’t, necessarily. You need to know how much yarn you need. And how much DO you need? Well, what do you want them to be able to make?
Also, do they crochet, or knit? Crochet takes an average of 1/3rd more yarn than knitting, but often uses lighter yarns for the same project. So it’s important.
Here’s a few suggestions, numbers in knitting, crochet numbers in parens. These are for adult sizes, kids are smaller. The sweater measurement is for worsted weight and has enough to do a heavily cabled sweater, as you use smaller yarn, you’ll need longer, if you do a smooth sweater you’ll need less. 2000 should be enough to do most sweaters I can think of, even in large sizes.
Scarf: 300-500 (400-800) yds (variable according to yarn and scarf)
Socks: 400 (540) yds
Hat: 150-200 (200-270) yds
Mittens: 150-200 (200-270) yds
Sweater: 2000-2500 (2700-3300) yds
Final note. I estimate large. If I were you, I’d get a little more than your estimation unless you *know* it’s not going to take extra. Scarves can be made shorter or thinner to use less yarn. You can’t not knit the end of a mitten or just leave off the bottom of a sweater.
Also remember, as part of that, that most of the yarns I make are one time deals. Even if I make more, the chance of it matching perfectly in color and size is almost nil. So get enough the first go-round.
So you’ve decided you want to get your spinning friend fiber. You rock! Spinners love fiber.
There are a lot of fibers out there. Not all fibers were created equal, and this is good. Just among sheep there are dozens of varieties. And that’s before you add in alpaca, and silk… and bamboo, tencel, soy, seasilk, etc. It can be vastly overwhelming, even for a fiber person.
So, what do you need to know? Well, the first thing to know is if they’re allergic to anything. If touching wool makes them break out in hives, well, then you don’t want to buy them wool.
After that… what are they going to be making? Different fibers have very different properties. Is it going to be next to the skin? Outerwear? Is it going to take heavy use?
Here’s a “full” list of the fibers I’ve had on my shop. A lot of common and uncommon sheep breeds especially. Don’t be intimidated, just read along. I’ve tried to include descriptions of all the basic qualities and most common functions.
And, of course, if you need help, drop me a message. I’m more than happy to help you pick.
Merino is probably the best known sheep breed. Considered the standard of soft wool. Not very durable, however. It’s not, practically, the best fiber for every purpose but it’s one any knitter/crocheter/weaver will recognize. If you know they like soft and squishy, you can also look at the other “fine wools” like Polwarth, Rambouillet, BFL, and Finn. If you know they like interesting, go for an odd or ancient breed like Manx Loaghtan, or Jacob. Just look at what they spin, and either the list, or I, can help you pick. Please feel free to ask me!
Alpaca – Very soft and silky, but not bouncy. Not much memory, very “flat” drape.
Silk – Mmmm sleek and soft. Largely used pure in finer yarns. Stronger than most of the soft fibers.
Cashmere – From adorable goats. VERY very soft. But not durable, and expensive.
Nylon – A synthetic polymer, added to yarns and fiber to increase their durability and wear for things like socks.
There are many others, but those are the basics I work with. I’ll continue expand the full list as I use/include more fibers. If you have questions about these or others, please feel free to drop me a note at dan at gnomespunyarn.com
How Much Fiber:
Depends on what they're planning to make! (helpful, right?) But that is the answer. But a brief run down of estimation...
4oz is a good go-to unit to think about. My fiber, and a lot of skeins of yarn are either 4oz or 100g (or a multiple thereof). 100g is 3.5oz.
4oz is enough for an average pair of socks, a hat with some extra, mittens with some extra, or a small (or very fine spun) shawl.
8oz is enough for a vest or large shawl.
1-2 pounds is enough for a sleeved sweater depending on the size and pattern. Sweaters for me are used to be right around 1.5 and are now around 2 as I've aged.
Superwash or Not:
Superwash is a process that makes fibers harder to felt, and thus more washable in machines. I rarely carry superwash fiber, but much of my yarn is superwash.
And that's it!
And that’s what you need to know. Besides color, of course, I can talk to you about what colors/patterns are possible/coordinating if you want, but I think I’ll pass on writing a full color/design entry for now.
Contact me if you have questions or need assistance!