When we started our alpaca farm I didn’t know anything about yarn or knitting. I didn’t understand the difference between a skein and a hank or DK and worsted. Since opening the farm, I’ve had a crash course in harvesting, processing, and preparing yarn for sale.
Prior to my newfound education, I thought a skein of yarn was just yarn. I didn’t understand weight classes, wraps per inch, or how micron counts fit into it all. I assumed a pair of mittens or a blanket could be made from any yarn available. Thankfully, I know better and I’m doing my best to prepare our alpaca fiber for buyers.
While yarn weights, wraps per inch, ply count, and gauge measurements are all far from a precise science, all of these metrics play a critical role in a successful knitting project. The best pattern won’t produce much if you have the wrong type of yarn or a poorly made skein of yarn.
Thankfully I now know the success of a knitting project depends on selecting and buying the right yarn weight. I also know there are standards for both terminology and labeling. Let’s review all that I’ve learned.
Yarn Weight Standards & Terminology
Because the terms of yarn can be super confusing and subjective, a system of standards was created by the Craft Yarn Council of America. This system makes it possible for all buyers to better understand yarn options and substitute yarn products. The system uses a scale from 0 to 7, with 0 or lace being the finest yarn and 7 or jumbo being the largest.
I automatically assumed thin was always best, but my new friends at the fiber mill quickly informed me this was not the case. Thin, lace quality yarn cannot be used for many projects so it sits on the shelves for years. I learned fine (sport), light (DK), and medium (worsted) are in much higher demand because they offer a much more versatile yarn. So needless to say, we are producing skeins of alpaca yarn in a variety of fingering, DK, sport, and worsted weights.
Let’s dive into all I’ve learned about yarn sales and usage!
Common Yarn Terminology
Weight Class – When you talk about a yarn’s weight, it actually has very little to do with how heavy the yarn is when you pick it up or put it on a scale. Instead, yarn weight refers to the thickness of the yarn’s strand. When purchasing yarn in an online alpaca store, you should always check the product description or the yarn label for the weight to determine the class or thickness. This will dictate what the yarn can be used for in knitting.
Here is an overview of weight classes:
- Lace – Lace yarn is very thin and it is often used to give a lacy appearance to shawls and the doilies that lay on top of end tables.
- Super Fine – Super fine yarn is lightweight and typically used for shawls, socks, or baby clothes.
- Fine – This is commonly referred to as sport yarn. It is a fine yarn that is very versatile. It is used to create products such as socks, wraps, and sweaters.
- Light – This is commonly referred to as DK. This weight of yarn is slightly heavier than a fine weight yarn and it is used to produce lightweight sweaters and shawls.
- Medium – This weight of yarn is generally called worsted and it is another frequently used weight. It is easy to work with, which makes it a great option for beginners.
- Bulky – Bulky yarn is generally twice as thick as a worsted weight and it is used for making sweaters, scarves, rugs, and throws.
- Super Bulky – This is called roving and it has a very unique look and feel. Roving is a thick yarn that is commonly used for scarves and hats.
- Jumbo – Jumbo yarn is the thickest yarn weight and hasn’t been on the market for many years. In all honesty, I’d had a hard time finding quality information about this weight.
Ply Count – Ply count refers to the number of plies in the yarn. An example of this would be 1 ply, 2 ply, or 3 ply. The ply count will influence how the yarn converts into a finished product, so this is something you want to carefully watch and consider.
Wraps Per Inch – To measure yarn in wraps per inch (or WPI) you will need a ruler and something to wrap the yarn around. This could be a pencil, straw, or something similar. What I’ve found is this number varies greatly from person to person, so take this metric lightly.
Microns – A micron is the measurement of the diameter of raw fiber. We pay very close attention to this in the alpaca industry, because micron count will heavily influence the fiber quality and softness. In the United States, alpaca fiber generally ranges from 15 microns to 25 microns. The fiber mill we use takes this into consideration and helps guide us into converting the right microns of alpaca fiber into the various types of alpaca yarn. Since some of our alpacas are babies and some older mothers, the microns vary a lot. The mill helps us match up the microns to yarn from lace all the way to roving bumps. Note that “baby alpaca” does not mean it comes from a cria (baby alpaca by age). This term is used to illustrate the micron level.
Skein – Yarn is typically sold in a ball, hank, or skein. A skein is similar to a ball but it is formed into an oblong shape. It’s the shape most people think of when they think of yarn because it is the most common shape found in craft stores.
Hardy Yarn Comparison Charts
I’m a data person and I like charts. Due to this, I created some handy cheatsheet charts to help keep me and you on track.
Huacaya Alpaca Fiber Grades
This chart will help you evaluate the quality of the yarn you purchase. Some of our yarn will be labeled “grade 1” or “royal alpaca” to help buyers know the quality of the yarn. Micron count alone is not enough to warrant quality. Characteristics like fiber uniformity, staple length, and comfort factor are also important. We have our fiber professionally tested and use histogram results to document the fiber’s grade and guide us on usage.
|Huacaya Fiber Grade||Classification||Micron Count|
|Grade A||Ultra Royal||10-17.9 Microns|
|Grade 1||Royal Alpaca||18-20 Microns|
|Grade 2||Baby Alpaca||20.1-22 Microns|
|Grade 3||Fine or Superfine||22.1-24 Microns|
|Grade 4||24.1-26 Microns|
|Grade 5||26.1-30 Microns|
Basic Yarn Metrics by Weight Class
This chart will help you keep the official yarn weight class IDs straight, while comparing them to standard yarn terminology and alpaca fiber microns.
|Weight Class ID||Name||Types of Yarn||Ply Count||Needle Size||Wraps Per Inch||Alpaca Microns|
|0||Lace||Cobweb, Light Fingering||2-3 Ply||000-1||36-40 WPI||15-20 Microns|
|1||Super Fine||Sock, Baby, Fingering||3-4 Ply||1-3||24-30 WPI||15-20 Microns|
|2||Fine||Sport, Baby||4 Ply||3-5||12-24 WPI||15-20 Microns|
|3||Light||DK, Light Worsted||8 Ply||5-7||12-18 WPI||20-23 Microns|
|4||Medium||Worsted, Afgan, Aran||10 Ply||7-9||10-12 WPI||23-26 Microns|
|5||Bulky||Chunky, Craft, Rug||12 Ply||9-11||9-10 WPI||26-29 Microns|
|6||Super Bulky||Super Bukly, Roving||14 Ply||11-17||8 or Less||26-29 Microns|
|7||Jumbo||Jumbo||15 Ply||17+||1-4 WPI||30+ Microns|
Yarn Usage by Weight Class
This chart will take the official year weight class and compare it to the finished product. This will help make sure you are ordering the right yarn weight class for your specific product.
|Weight Class ID||Weight Class Name||Types of Yarn||Yarn Usage by Class|
|0||Lace||Cobweb, Light Fingering||Lace|
|1||Super Fine||Sock, Baby, Fingering||Shawls, Scarves, Socks|
|2||Fine||Sport, Baby||Sweaters, Baby Clothes|
|3||Light||DK, Light Worsted||Sweaters, Lightweight Scarves|
|4||Medium||Worsted, Afgan, Aran||Sweaters, Blankets, Hats, Mittens|
|5||Bulky||Chunky, Craft, Rug||Rugs, Jackets, Blankets|
|6||Super Bulky||Super Bukly, Roving||Sweaters, Rugs, Heavy Blankets|
|7||Jumbo||Jumbo||Heavy Blankets, Rugs|
Yards of Yarn Needed Per Finished Product
This last chart will help you determine how much yarn you need to purchase for your finished product. Keep in mind that most skeins of alpaca yarn sold in the United States are about 200-350 yards. I have noticed some alpaca farms selling this at 100 yards, but this is rare.
|Weight Class||Name of Yarn||Hat||Scarf||Sock||Sweater||Baby Blanket||Regular Blanket|
|1 - Super Fine||Fingering||250-325||525-825||350-500||3375||1500-1625||3750-4125|
|2 - Fine||Sport||250-325||450-625||300-450||1750-2625||1250-1500||350-3750|
|3 - Light||DK||200-250||375-500||275-400||1500-2250||1125-1250||3000-3500|
|4 - Medium||Worsted||200-225||375-500||275-375||1125-1625||1000-1125||2250-3125|
|5 - Bulky||Chunky||125-200||250-375||250-350||950-1125||875-1000||2000-2250|
|6 - Super Bulky||Roving||125-150||250-375||200-250||825-1125||750-875||1625-2000|
|7 - Jumbo||Jumbo||30-60||125-200||175-200||825-1125||625-750||1375-1625|
Warning Message for Buying Alpaca Yarn
One thing I’ve noticed is a large inconsistency in the labeling of alpaca yarn. While the United States government does have specific acts to help guard against mislabeling, issues still exist. I doubt most alpaca farms even know such legislation exists, which makes it difficult to expect them to follow it. This means the product descriptions and labels you find will be inconsistent and sometimes incomplete.
Before buying any alpaca yarn, make sure your label and product description clearly list:
- Percentage of alpaca fiber to non-alpaca fiber – 100% alpaca or 90% alpaca and 10% bamboo
- Level of alpaca quality – regular alpaca fiber, baby alpaca, royal alpaca, or superfine alpaca
- Weight class – sport, DK, worsted, roving, etc.
- Ply count
- Yards per skein
Now that I’m well integrated into the alpaca industry I find yarn and alpaca products without the correct labeling and descriptions.
The bottom line is if alpaca yarn looks too cheap or inexpensive for the quality, it probably is not what you think it is and you need to buy alternate alpaca yarn. This is because you’re probably purchasing something that is 20% alpaca and 80% something else, instead of the 100% alpaca you assume.
Keep an Eye on Our Online Store
We’ve sent all of our 2019 fiber to the mill and Adel, Anastasia, Arianna, Faith, Kalista, Sienna, and Stormy’s yarn was available for purchase online. Much of this yarn sold out because we process small batches and have limited qualities of each alpaca’s yarn. A portion of our 2020 fiber is processed, but I’m still waiting for my spot in line to process the rest. Needless to say, I’m already on a waitlist for 2021’s fiber shearing in May, so I won’t have to wait to have the 2021 fiber processed once it is available.
Cottage mills that process alpaca fiber are always full, so we do have delays in processing. It is the downside of running small batches by individual alpaca. But in my mind, it is worth it. I love looking at a skein of DK, sport, fingering, and worsted yarn and knowing it came from a specific alpaca. It amplifies the beauty of the yarn and my love for farming.