What is Worsted Weight Yarn? The Most Versatile Yarn for Knitting
Check out this helpful guide if you want to learn more about worsted yarn or discover a worsted yarn equivalent.
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If you know even the slightest bit about knitting or crochet, you’re most likely familiar with worsted weight yarn. Also known as ‘afghan,’ ‘aran,’ or simply ‘medium,’ this seemingly do-it-all weight of yarn can be used for a variety of projects.
According to the standard yarn weight system devised by the Craft Yarn Council of America, worsted yarn is a medium-weight yarn - heavier than DK, sport weight, baby weight, and fingering, but lighter than chunky and bulky.
When all other yarns fail you, it’s nice to know you can turn to worsted - the medium-weight powerhouse, often labeled with a prominent number 4 on the packaging - to see you through a tough spot.
This yarn is easy to work with and knits up quickly without too much bulk.
But exactly what is this weight of yarn and why is it almost every yarn enthusiast’s old standby? We break it down for you below.
Beginner knitters love using worsted yarn. Find some great patterns by checking out Knitting for Beginners: 50+ Easy Knitting Patterns
History of Worsted Yarn
According to Ashley Little in her craftsy.com article, “Your Yarn BFF: Get to Know Worsted Weight Yarn,” worsted yarn is named for Worstead, a village in the English county of Norfolk. In the 12th century, Worstead was a hub for manufacturing yarn and cloth.
Although Worstead is no longer the worsted-fiber manufacturing giant it once was, the yarn still bears its name today. In fact, the term ‘worsted’ is derived from a particular spinning method.
Worsted wool comes from sheep with really long wool. These sheep generally live in more easily accessible, lush pastures, as opposed to sheep that do best in harsher environments.
According to Leimomi Oakes of thedreamstress.com in her article, "Terminology: What’s the difference between worsted & woolen wool fabrics?" the essential feature of worsted yarn is the straight, parallel fibers that come from these sheep.
Back in the day, long, fine staple wool was spun to create worsted yarn; today, other long fibers are also used.
Because worsted wool is made from long fibers which all lie parallel, the natural crimp of the wool is removed forming a very tight, hard yarn when spun. There is little space between the fibers, so when woven into fabric, worsted fabric has a tighter, harder, shinier finish and can make a finer, lighter-weight fabric.
Worsted wool (long staple) fabric is most often used in the making of tailored garments such as suits, as opposed to woolen wool (short staple), which is used for knitted items such as sweaters.
Worsted Weight Yarn Equivalent
Yarn weights are confusing enough if you stick to one system, but when you throw in different geographical locations and substitutions, it’s a whole other ballgame.
Using the American Standard Yarn Weight System as a baseline, worsted (US) is slightly thinner than aran (UK). Both are approximately equal to 10ply (AU/NZ).
Keep in mind yarn weight refers to the thickness of the thread, not the weight of the ball or even of the thread itself.
In terms of gauge, worsted weight yarn is approximately 16-20 stitches per 4in/10cm on 4.5-5.5mm needles.
Since the term ‘worsted’ refers to the particular spinning method, it is possible to find worsted-spun DK yarn. However, this is relatively rare unless you’re buying hand spun yarn.
Be sure to check out the infographic below to see other yarn weights and categories you will encounter as you knit.
Click here to download a PDF of the Yarn Weights Chart you see below.
What is Worsted Yarn Used For?
The beauty of worsted yarn is its versatility. More specifically, if you’re trying out a new technique or stitch, using a worsted yarn will help you see clear stitch definition.
It will also be easy to spot mistakes if you use a light colored yarn, so worsted yarn is often recommended for beginner knitters.
The good news is you can use this weight of yarn for a wide variety of knitted projects and garments. It can work well for both cool weather and warm weather garments.
Worsted yarn is easily substituted for another yarn in the same category, so you will have plenty of substitution options to choose from if need be.
From hats to baby cardigans to scarves, worsted yarn can really do it all. With so many patterns to choose from, the hardest part will be knowing where to start. However, you simply can’t go wrong with this medium-weight powerhouse.
As knit designer Gretchen Tracy from ballstothewallsknits.com explains:
"Worsted weight yarn is my go-to when I want to make something that both knits up quickly and still preserves the stitch definition that characterizes lighter weight yarns."
Be sure to check out the video below to learn how to knit the garter stitch - a great stitch for beginners to master - using worsted yarn.
Benefits of Worsted Yarn
As you’ve probably already gathered, worsted yarn has a wide variety of excellent benefits.
- Knitters will love working with this fiber due to its clear stitch definition and ease of use – the yarn is neither too bulky nor too thin.
- The tight construction and medium weight allows you to easily work simple stitches such as stockinette or more advanced techniques such as cables and lace.
- If you’re on a budget, you can often get more finished knit fabric from a skein of worsted yarn than other weights such as bulky or super bulky. In other words, it’s possible you won’t need to buy as much yarn in order to complete your project.
- Since worsted yarn is often devoid of extra touches such as fur or sequins, you can usually complete the pattern in a timely manner and catch mistakes more easily.
Still need convincing? Check out what knit and crochet teacher Bronislava of handmade-rukodelky.blogspot.com has to say:
"As an educator, when I teach new students to knit and crochet I use the worsted (or even thicker) yarns. I believe that from a dexterity point of view the thicker yarns and bigger knitting needles or hooks are better for beginners.
Then, of course, another benefit is that winter sweaters hand knitted with worsted yarns can be warm - just imagine yourself hiking in the forest wearing the coolest looking design made by you from a lovely thick wool and breathing crispy air. I see that as a benefit.
What about warm thick socks on your feet while sitting by the fireplace with hot cocoa? Baby blankets and afghans made from worsted yarns are not too heavy or light, and therefore one wrapped in such a blanket doesn't feel either too hot or too cold. I could go on and on with many other benefits of worsted yarns."
Worsted Yarn Weight Options
If you’re interested in colorwork knitting, worsted yarn is a wonderful choice.
- The stranding in Fair Isle and other styles is clean and the yarn lays nicely on the wrong side of the work, so you won’t need to worry about any snafus when working up your pattern.
- Worsted yarn is also ideal for those worried about available color choices or being limited by a certain brand of yarn. The majority of worsted yarns are similar from brand to brand, so you can easily choose a yarn from multiple companies and work them into a single project. As long as the fibers and weights are similar, mixing and matching brands will open up your color choices.
- Are you intent on adding more bulk to worsted yarn? The easiest solution is using more than one strand at a time. This technique is also a nice way to add color to a project. Two strands used at once will create a cozy sweater and three strands used at once will make a bulky scarf.
- The fiber construction of worsted yarn makes it strong and durable so it will stand up to normal wear. As long as you properly care for your knitted items, the garments you knit with worsted yarn should stand the test of time.
Free Knitting Patterns for Worsted Yarn
The versatility and functionality of worsted yarn is undeniable. This yarn is ideal for almost any type of knitting pattern and fiber enthusiasts of all skill levels can’t get enough.
As knit and crochet designer Heidi Gustad of handsoccupied.com explains:
"If you had to choose a single yarn weight to work with for the rest of your life, worsted weight is ideal. There is such a range of worsted yarn to choose from, no matter your budget or skill level! Grab some worsted weight yarn in your favorite color to whip up your new favorite sweater or afghan."
There are so many wonderful patterns to choose from and so many beautiful designs to create with the medium-weight all-star. Now that you know all about worsted yarn, it’s time to put your knowledge to use.
Grab your needles and a few skeins of worsted yarn and embark on your next knitting adventure! This resourceful fiber will not let you down.
If you’re looking for a pattern using worsted yarn, be sure to check out the free knitting patterns below. We’ve done the legwork for you and rounded up the best of the best:
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