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Worsted weight yarn comparison

Link easily to this tutorial in your patterns: www.planetjune.com/wwyarn

Worsted weight acrylic yarn is what I use and recommend for my amigurumi designs. That’s 100% acrylic yarn, marked as worsted weight, medium weight, or number 4. (Outside North America, it may also be called 10 ply or aran weight.)

worsted weight acrylic yarns

That makes it sound pretty locked down, and that any yarn you choose that fits those requirements will be exactly the same. Of course, if you’ve ever touched, let alone used, two brands of worsted weight acrylic, you’ll know that’s not the case. Thickness, loft (bounciness), stretchiness, softness, shininess – all these properties vary wildly between different yarns all marked as worsted weight acrylic, and that’s why I usually recommend that you don’t mix yarns within an amigurumi.

I thought it might be interesting to try to quantify some of this, as scientifically as possible. So, time for a yarn experiment!

The Contenders

I took 8 samples of worsted weight acrylic yarns, choosing a different colour for each so we can recognise them later:

worsted weight acrylic yarns

  1. Lion Brand Vanna’s Choice (yellow)
  2. Caron Simply Soft (purple)
  3. Hobby Lobby I Love This Yarn! (grey)
  4. Patons Canadiana (beige)
  5. Red Heart Soft (brown)
  6. KnitPicks Brava (red)
  7. Loops & Threads Impeccable (green) – Michaels’ store brand
  8. Bernat Satin (lime)

Test 1: wraps per inch (WPI)

Yarn thickness is often measured in terms of wraps per inch (WPI). To find the WPI, you wrap the yarn around something (e.g. a ruler) so the wraps are touching but not squashed tightly together, and count how many wraps fit into 1 inch. A higher WPI number means a finer yarn.

measuring yarn thickness: wraps per inch
Here there are 12 wraps between the 3″ and 4″ markers on the ruler.

My WPI results were consistently higher than the ones I found on Ravelry, e.g. Bernat Satin (pictured above) apparently has a WPI of 9, not the 12 I measured. But as I’m looking for a trend, not the actual numbers, that doesn’t matter – I measured each of my samples using consistent methodology, so the thicker yarns will have a smaller WPI number in my test.

Test 2: crocheted sample

I crochet with very consistent tension, as you can see by how even the stitches look in my amigurumi. So crocheting an amigurumi-style sample was the best way for me to ensure a consistent result for this test, plus it’s more relevant for amigurumi than a flat square swatch would be. I used an E (3.5mm) hook and crocheted a cup shape with each yarn, using the same pattern for each cup, and making sure the sample was large enough to measure the finished single crochet stitch width and height.

cup-shaped amigurumi sample

As you can see, the samples varied in size considerably:

cup-shaped amigurumi samples
These two samples were crocheted using the same hook and pattern, but the different yarns make a huge difference to the finished size! The Bernat Satin sample easily fits inside the Lion Brand Vanna’s Choice sample.

I flattened each cup to remove any inaccuracy from the 3D shape (it’s hard to measure an accurate diameter). To get an accurate measurement, I measured over 10 stitches and 6 rows to get my average stitch heights and widths.

An Aside: Watch Out!

Even within the same yarn, I’ve found that there can be slight thickness differences between different colours, but here’s an example of a larger difference: for years I’ve been talking with friends about how Bernat Satin seems thinner than it used to when I first started buying it, so I decided to try the WPI test with a sample of Bernat Satin that I bought in 2007.

After verifying that the change in the yarn was real (old WPI 11, new WPI 12), I checked the ball bands from several skeins of old and new Satin. All Bernat Satin has a weight of 100g, but the older balls were labelled as between 149 and 152m per 100g skein. All the newer balls are labelled as 182m per 100g skein. That’s 30 metres more yarn with the same total weight, which means the yarn really has got thinner (and the gauge information was never modified, although the gauge is definitely different since the change!)

So my little caution is to watch out – even if you’re buying the same brand and type of yarn, it may not have exactly the same thickness.

The Results

Yarn Sample Colour WPI Stitch width / mm Stitch height / mm
LB Vanna’s Choice yellow 11 6.2 5.5
C Simply Soft purple 13 5.4 4.8
HL I Love This Yarn! grey 12 5.9 5.0
P Canadiana beige 13 5.3 4.7
RH Soft brown 13 5.3 4.7
KP Brava Worsted red 13 5.6 5.0
L&T Impeccable green 11 6.3 5.5
B Satin lime 12 5.3 4.7

I arranged all the flattened samples by size here so you can see the difference visually too – 0.3mm per stitch may not sound like much, but you can see that it really makes a difference, even in a small amigurumi piece:

worsted weight acrylic yarns
Flattened samples from the top – the height of the samples shows the stitch width variation

worsted weight acrylic yarns
Flattened samples from the side – the height of the samples shows the stitch length variation

Now here’s the table again, this time with the yarns arranged in the same order as in the photos above. Italics show the thinnest yarns, and bold shows the thickest.

Yarn Sample Colour WPI Stitch width / mm Stitch height / mm
B Satin lime 12 5.3 4.7
P Canadiana beige 13 5.3 4.7
RH Soft brown 13 5.3 4.7
C Simply Soft purple 13 5.4 4.8
KP Brava Worsted red 13 5.6 5.0
HL I Love This Yarn! grey 12 5.9 5.0
LB Vanna’s Choice yellow 11 6.2 5.5
L&T Impeccable green 11 6.3 5.5

But it’s not just weight that plays a part; the yarns’ appearance and feel also vary. Old-fashioned acrylics felt hard and looked matte, whereas many modern ‘soft’ acrylics feel silkier to work with, and have more of a sheen to them. You may prefer a firmer, more rigid yarn for amigurumi, or like the shinier, softer look and feel. For me, I like both, but I’d never want to mix them in one project.

This final table of results is more subjective, but it’s my attempt to classify the yarns by which are similar enough to use within one project, both in terms of softness/shininess and weight. These are just my opinion, and I may have invented the term ‘light worsted’, but I feel it applies for subdividing the ‘worsted’ weight into strata of weights that match each other more closely.

Yarn Sample Colour Shininess Weight
B Satin lime sheen light worsted
P Canadiana beige sheen light worsted
RH Soft brown sheen light worsted
C Simply Soft purple sheen light worsted
KP Brava Worsted rust slight sheen worsted
HL I Love This Yarn! grey slight sheen worsted
LB Vanna’s Choice yellow slight sheen heavy worsted
L&T Impeccable green no sheen heavy worsted

So, I’d use any of the top 4 yarns (Bernat, Patons, Red Heart, Caron) interchangeably – they have a similar weight and sheen to them, and the size difference is no more than that between different shades of the same type of yarn. Of the remaining four, they make 2 pairs in terms of weight, but the KnitPicks and Lion Brand are far softer than the Hobby Lobby and Michaels’ store brands, and have more sheen, so I wouldn’t mix them.

Recommendations

  • Although some worsted weight yarns are thicker than others, all make good amigurumi! The only difference is the size of the finished result – they will scale correctly so using the same pattern with a thicker yarn will give you a taller, wider and deeper amigurumi – it will remain in proportion to the original design.
  • These results aren’t so important if you’re making simple amigurumi e.g. a brown bird with a yellow beak and feet, but if you’re making multi-coloured amigurumi with colour changes within the pieces, or more complex shaping, I recommend you use my results (and/or do your own test first), to make sure the yarns you’re selected are comparable in thickness, feel, and appearance before you start.
  • Don’t believe the gauge info when you’re comparing yarns for amigurumi! Only half the yarns I tested had crochet-specific gauge info, but according to those that did, you’d expect Vanna’s Choice (one of the heaviest yarns I tested) to be thinner than Red Heart Soft (among the lightest yarns in my test) – that’s clearly incorrect. The other gauge information (for recommended hook/needle sizes and knitting) seemed equally random/incorrect compared with my tests.

I hope you found my little experiment useful! I know it’s answered some questions for me, and now I’ll feel more confident about deciding to mix, or not mix, certain yarns in my future amigurumi projects.

80 Comments »

  1. Judy Dunnett said

    Thank you so much for this very interesting article. We will soon be blessed with a new grandchild and I wanted to use up my existing stash but wasn’t sure what I could use this article has clarified my answers.

    I’m originally from SA but live in the States now. Will hopefully be visiting sometime in July/Aug. I was surprised at how many different yarns you have as I couldn’t find a lot when I last visited Durban.

    Happy knitting/crocheting and thanks for the great info.

    • June said

      You’re right, Judy: none of these yarns are available in South Africa. I’ve had to start importing all mine from the US and Canada since I moved here – North Americans don’t realise how lucky they are when it comes to yarn!

  2. Nancy G. said

    Thanks for the info. I will keep this handy to refer. Also, I think because of the economy, brands are putting less and less ounces to the skein. 4oz=1 skein used to be the norm. Now I’m afraid they are going down to 21/2 ounces!

  3. Jenn said

    Hi, Knit Picks Brava recently changed manufacturers, and is now significantly thinner and somewhat shinier – not all the way to the Simply Soft and its kin, but very noticeable. This changes the “which yarns pair up with what, when” information.

    • June said

      That’s very interesting, Jenn – thanks for that info! I’d be interested to try the new (improved?) Brava if I can figure out a way to get my hands on some :)

      (By the way, I hope nobody will take my comparison as a definitive list of which yarns are similar – yarns change all the time, and there are even a noticeable differences in thickness, shine, etc between different shades of the same yarn. The yarns I tested were just what I happened to have on hand; they may not match up exactly with the skeins in your stash. The important thing to remember is that all yarn marked ‘worsted weight’ – or any other weight – is definitely not the same, and you should be aware of that going into a project, especially if you plan to mix and match between brands. To be safe, do your own visual comparison first and make a swatch to see if the yarns look comparable to you.)

  4. This thorough yarn breakdown is much appreciated. As a designer of baby items I am sometimes frustrated by the differences between varied yarns of the same weight. The yarns I prefer (Cascade Cherub for worsted and Berroco Comfort for bulky) are slimmer than other commercial yarns, leading my customers to experiencing trouble with substitution. Gauge is so important and I feel that beginning crochet instructors/intro to crochet texts should put more of an emphasis on it. Thanks again for showing the differences between yarns of the same weight.

  5. Anita Smith said

    No one in my family can wear wool.
    One thing that you did not address is the fuzzy factor after the item is washed. Could you recommend one that will stand up?

    • June said

      I’m afraid not, Anita – as this article is inspired by my amigurumi designs, which never get washed, this isn’t an area I can advise on; I don’t typically use these yarns to make garments. Two suggestions:

      1. Look up each yarn you’re considering on Ravelry and see how people who have used each yarn rate it.
      2. Do your own test: crochet or knit (or however you intend to craft these garments) a square swatch from each yarn you’re considering (in different colours so you remember which is which), then wash them as you would your garments, and see how they stand up!
  6. Carol said

    I think you should send your research to each of the manufacturers. Maybe suggest that a change in labeling for everyone. Light worsted, heavy worsted opposed to just worsted. I understand it’s a comparable thing but it seems to me that a measure of some sort can be had to better define yarns.

  7. Lorena said

    Thank you, this is very interesting and educational

  8. Rachel Star Guerrero said

    thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!

  9. ashleigh said

    This is fabulous.

  10. Marcia said

    Thank you so much for doing this yarn comparison. I am a pattern designer and have been telling my customers this for a long time. I wish they understood it better as they blame me for sizing issues when they’ve used a yarn that is not recommended for their projects and the items turn out too large because of the size yarn they used. I always put on the gauge, but you know how that goes…..they want to get the pattern done and then…oh,oh…it’s not what they thought it would be like. :( Thanks again for the work it took to put this comparison together for everyone. :)

  11. diane iorio said

    I wish they would change, the yarn ,instruction,s in the back to.light medium and heavy.like they do on coffee cans..thank you for sharing your chart.june I love to crochet.but I HATE ALL THE GUESS WORK.PEACEOUT!!!

  12. Maria said

    Very interesting and helpful. I did not understand why the acrylic yarn was different in texture from brand to brand.

  13. Caryl said

    Your research is very helpful – thanks – I wish I could but Caron simply soft in Cape Town as I would like to use it for a babette blanket

  14. Shanon said

    I don’t remember how I came across your blog but I love it. I enjoy knitting and crocheting and just wanted to mention that I have come across this same problem in my knitting projects. I always suggest to new knitters and crocheters to make a gauge sample no matter what, even if they are using the same brand and style of yarn as their pattern calls for.

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