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Yarn Textures and Why They Matter

Klara Nilsson | Updated on June 17, 2023

This guide to yarn textures contains everything you need to know about the different types of yarn texture and how they can affect your knitting. You’ll learn about textured yarns, ply count, and why yarn texture matters.
yarn textures

The texture of your knitting yarn will affect the outcome of your project just as much as the fiber type, yarn weight, and color. Texture can change the definition of your stitches and even the knitting methods you’ll need to create your final fabric.

Choosing the right yarn for your knitting project should be exciting, but it can be frustrating to order yarn online when you can’t tell how it actually feels. After all, the texture of your yarn will play a huge role in what the final fabric is actually like to wear.

That’s why we’ve created this article to explain the different types of yarn textures, why they matter, and how to choose them in your knitting projects.

While it is almost always sensible to use the yarn that is suggested in your knitting pattern (knitwear designers select yarns to create specific shapes, structures, and appearances), there are still several factors to consider if you’re considering choosing your own yarn for a textured pattern.

What’s In This Guide?

What is Yarn Texture and Why Does It Matter?

Yarn texture refers to the physical characteristics of the knitting yarn used to create a knitted fabric. It is usually described using subjective qualities like softness, fuzziness, or roughness, as well as more objective attributes like ply count.

Unlike yarn fiber types, yarn texture can be affected by the way a yarn is plied or by stitching objects directly into the yarn itself. Often, certain textures are simply a result of the fiber’s natural characteristics. Mohair wool, for example, is almost always fuzzy to the touch.

When it comes to knitting yarns, various texturing processes can be employed by the fiber producer or later in a textile factory. If the texture has been changed after the fibers have been created, the yarn is referred to as a “producer-textured yarn”.

How Ply Count Affects Yarn Texture

Just like yarn weights, yarn texture can be related to the number of individual strands of fiber in a yarn, or its “ply count”.

Typically, the higher the ply-count and the tighter the ply, the more definition and texture you will see with your knitting stitches. By contrast, fewer or looser plies blend together to create a fuzzy, hairy effect with less visible stitches. This is because the plying process traps yarn fibers together, reducing the number of stray threads floating around.

Tight, high ply-count yarns tend to be harder and durable, while loose, low ply-count yarns tend to be softer.

Yarn Texture vs. Textured Yarns

While ‘yarn texture’ is used to describe how a knitting yarn feels to touch, ‘textured yarn’ can also describe a specific type of processed yarn for certain purposes.

Textured yarns are made from synthetic fibers that have been processed to differ from ordinary textile materials. The texturing process involves the formation of loops, coils, crimps, or crinkles in individual yarn fibers.

Most manufacturers alter textured yarns for structure, tensile strength, crimp, bulk, and stretchability.

Textured yarns were created to increase the number of applications for synthetic fibers. Historically, synthetic fibers were limited by their low water absorption and shiny, smooth surfaces. The process of texturing improves these properties and the long-term hygiene of the final fabric.

This type of yarn is used for a huge number of modern textiles including knitted clothing, shape-retaining fabrics, coats, carpets, blankets, and upholstery.

Why Does Yarn Texture Matter?

Differences in the physical makeup of a yarn will affect its behaviour in your final knitting projects. It can impact how easy it is to work with, the knitting needle types you’ll need, how defined your stitches are, the blocking method you’ll use, and how your knitting project feels to wear.

If you’re pairing yarns for a custom knitting pattern, consider the desired appearance of your final item. If you want a clean texture with clearly-defined stitches, choose a yarn with a high ply count. For a softer effect, choose a single-ply, loose, or low ply-count yarn.

Similarly, consider the way you’d like colour to appear in your knitted item. The fuzzier and softer your yarn texture, the less contrast there will be between the colored sections of your garment.

Yarn textures can also be affected by washing and contact with water. A yarn that feels smooth and fine when balled up may become much fuzzier once it’s washed – losing some stitch definition in the process. As always, knit a test swatch before you start your knitting pattern so you can get familiar with how your fabric will look and feel.

EXPERT TIP: To create more subtle knitting effects, try holding a textured yarn together with a non-textured yarn while knitting.

Types of Yarn Textures

Modern knitting yarns have been developed to offer a huge variety of textures beyond the traditional ply count, material, and weight. In this section, we’ll explain the main yarn texture types and the materials they’re usually made of.

Smooth Yarn

Smooth is the most common and versatile type of yarn texture. The most popular yarn fibers generally fall into this category, including merino wool, linen, cotton, and acrylic. Generally speaking, wool is the smoothest type of yarn.

These yarns are not fuzzy. Instead, they are delicate to the touch and often shiny in appearance. Smooth yarns are excellent for stitch definition and color definition, and they’re usually more durable than hairy yarns.

Wool of the Andes smooth Yarn
Wool of the Andes smooth wool yarn. (Credit: KnitPicks)

The limited texture of smooth yarns will clearly show your stitchwork, but it makes it much harder to hide any mistakes you’ve made. It will also be harder to work with on slippery knitting needle materials. Wool of the Andes Worsted yarn is a classic example of a smooth woolen yarn.

Fuzzy Yarn

Fuzzy yarns are great for soft, warm projects like blankets, scarves, and big winter sweaters. However, they can be difficult to work with and some people find fuzzy textures irritating to their skin.

Mohair wool is the most common example of a super fuzzy yarn. Other fuzzy fleeces include angora, cashmere, alpaca, and llama wool. Fuzzy yarns are super soft and hairy, with lots of tiny loose hairs coming out of each strand.

Super Kid Mohair Fuzzy Yarn
Super Kid Mohair fuzzy yarn. (Credit: KnitPicks)

This yarn texture is the softest and nicest to touch, but the fuzzy threads can obscure your stitches and colorwork when knitted together, making it harder to count your rows and stitches. Materials like mohair are also infamously difficult to knit with because the long loose hairs knot together, preventing you from reversing your mistakes.

For a super fuzzy mohair yarn, check out Super Kid Mohair by Aloft.

Chainette Yarn

Chainette yarn offers excellent stitch definition and stretchiness. The texture is created by machine knitting lots of narrow plies into one single mesh strand, creating a very thin and lightweight yarn that is often combined with other materials.

Debbie Bliss Paloma Chainette Yarn
Paloma chainette yarn by Debbie Bliss. (Credit: LoveCrafts)

Fabric knitted using chainette yarn has a very different appearance and texture than conventional yarn. It adds elasticity to materials like cotton and linen, and is often used to improve stitch definition. A good example of chainette yarn is Paloma by Debbie Bliss.

Single Ply Yarn

The process of plying yarn locks the individual yarn fibers together, reducing fuzziness by limiting the number of loose hairs floating around.

Single ply yarns are made from one strand of yarn twisted in one direction, which means they are hairier and more textured than high ply-count yarns but not as hairy as fuzzy yarns. The Single Ply Merino Wool by Chester Is a good example of single ply yarn.

Single Ply Merino Wool by Chester
Single Ply Merino Wool by Chester. (Credit: WoolWarehouse)

Single ply yarns are soft and delicate, with a small halo. This makes them a common fixture in shawls and scarves, but their delicate nature and limited strength means they are not usually suitable for sock knitting patterns or other heavily-used garments, as they’ll pill very quickly.

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