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Yarn Basics

Updated: Mar 30

Yarn. Easily the absolute best part of crochet, and also the most overwhelming part of crochet for beginners! With all of the different colors, sizes, textures, and prices, it’s super easy to get confused and even frustrated, but I promise that as you learn more about yarn, you will become just as addicted as I am!

How is Yarn Sold? Yarn Packaging

If you have already explored the yarn isles in any craft store then I’m sure you’ve noticed that yarn can be packaged in several different ways. There’s no “good” or “bad” packaging technique, but the way it’s packaged will tell you a lot about the yarn itself.

What is a Ball?

A ball of yarn is one of the most recognizable types of yarn packaging – this is the way that yarn is typically portrayed in cartoons. Most yarns that you will find in chain craft stores will be sold as a ball or a skein.

A ball of yarn is literally that, yarn rolled up into a spherical ball. Balls of yarn can be easy to use as they do not tangle very easily and if you use something like a yarn bowl, then crocheting with a yarn ball will be even easier!

Ball of yarn.

What is a Skein?

A skein is the majority of the yarn packaging at any major craft store. It is similar to a ball of yarn but is formed into an oblong, oval shape. Some skeins will unravel from the outside, and some can be pulled from one side and it will unravel from the inside. Once you find the end of the yarn, it will become apparent which type of skein it is.

I’ve also noticed that while using skeins, as you near the end and the skein begins losing its shape, it is more likely to start tangling but by winding the remaining yarn into a ball, you can avoid the tangling.

Skein of yarn.

What is a Hank?

A hank of yarn is typically what you will find in your local specialty yarn shops. Yarn that has been wound into a hank is more often than not, high-quality yarn. It is wound this way to allow the dye to reach all parts of the yarn without it tangling up. When you buy a hank of yarn you will have to untwist it and wind it into a ball or cake.

If you try to crochet from the twisted hank, you will have SOOO many tangles and will quickly become frustrated. Below I show what a twisted and an untwisted hank looks like. I’ve also included a few photos showing what it looks like as you wind your hank into a ball.

What is a Cake?

A “cake” of yarn is named for the shape it’s wound into. A cake! They are wound up in a criss-cross pattern forming a uniform cylindrical shape. These are easy to store and crochet from as they unwind from the outside in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion and BONUS – they won’t roll around on you as you crochet!

Cake yarn is often variegated, which means it has more than one color in an ombre effect. The way it’s packaged allows you to see every color in the order it will unwind.

Cake of yarn.

Yarn Types, Fiber Content

Your choice of yarn will determine the overall look of your crochet project. There are certain types of yarn that might be perfect for one project, but not for another. There are three types: Natural, Synthetic, and Blended. You may even need to choose a type of yarn based on an allergy, for example, if you are making a scarf for a friend who is allergic to wool, you definitely want to stay away from wool yarns, including wool blends!

Natural Fibers

Natural fibers can come from plants or animals.

Here are some common natural animal fibers:

  • Alpaca – very fine, soft fibers from alpacas

  • Silk – lush fiber from silkworms

  • Cashmere – silky and soft, expensive fibers from cashmere goats

  • Mohair – hairy yarn from angora goats

  • Wool – warm and durable, many types of wool yarn

Natural animal fibers– 25% alpaca, 75% cormo wool

Here are some common natural plant fibers:

  • Linen – strong, stiff yarn, typically blended with other fibers

  • Bamboo – soft, luxurious yarn made with bamboo grass

  • Cotton – “cool” yarn, an inelastic yarn made from the cotton plant

Natural plant fibers– 100% cotton

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibers are man-made and they are generally inexpensive and easy to care for.

Here are some common synthetic fibers:

  • Nylon

  • Acrylic

  • Polyester

Synthetic fibers– 100% acrylic

Blended Fibers

Blended yarn is simply natural fibers mixed with synthetic fibers. In a lot of the major chain craft stores, you can find a lot of acrylic and wool blended yarn.

Blended fibers– 80% acrylic, 20% wool

As I mentioned above, certain types of yarn will be better than others, depending on your project. Acrylic yarn is the most versatile of them all, it’s what you will find at any craft store. It’s easy to wash, it holds up well, and it’s inexpensive. You can use acrylic yarn for blankets, home decor, and more. Wool yarn and wool blends are great for winter items such as mittens, hats, and scarves. Cotton yarn is a “cooler” yarn that is great for summer projects, baby projects, and more!

To learn how to read a yarn label, check out my post, 'How to Read a Yarn Label.'

Yarn Weight, Explained

An important thing to understand about yarn is that they come in many different weight categories. If you want to read more about yarn weight classes, check out my other post, 'Yarn Weights, Explained.'

For now, here is a summary of the Craft Yarn Council’s Yarn Weight Standards.

The thinnest yarn is considered to be “lace” (0) and the thickest is “jumbo” (7). For beginners, I would suggest starting with a “medium” weight yarn (4) as it is the most widely available and is the easiest to work with. Medium weight yarn is also referred to as “aran” or “worsted weight”


If you are following the Learn to Crochet series, check out my related posts, and if you have any comments or questions, drop them below.

Happy Crocheting!

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Hey, I’m Chrysta! Welcome to my blog, where I share free crochet patterns, tutorials, tips & tricks, and so much more! 

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