One thing about learning to knit that can be confusing at first (it was for me) is figuring out the various “weights” of yarn. The weight is the size, or thickness, of the strand. Worsted weight is what I consider to be normal weight. You will find lots of worsted weight yarn. Often it is wool, or a wool blend.
There is also sport weight, lace, fingerling, and more. See this Yarn Weight (Thickness) page at Dummies.com for a full explanation.
Worsted wool is great for knitting hats, scarves and mittens. Wool is of course good for keeping warm. Most of the really nice wool is hand-wash only. But there is washable wool also, like Mrs. Crosby’s Steamer Trunk washable wool yarn.
There are too many yarn types to really mention, but basically there is synthetic (man-made) cheap types that can be purchased at Walmart, and the real deal which came from an animal. This is called natural fiber yarn and includes alpaca, sheep, cashmere (goats) and even rabbits (angora yarn). There are also blended yarns which combine various types together. See this page at Knitting 101 for a more inclusive list of yarn fibers and their pros and cons.
Beginners may want to buy cheap synthetics to start with, but honestly I would use something better like cotton. Some great beginner projects are facecloths and dishcloths. They are small and will accommodate mistakes well. They are also perfect for trying out various stitches. My dishcloths don’t follow any pattern. They are made up of whatever stitches I feel like tying. Buy washable yarn such as Purl Soho’s Cotton Pure, which will provide enough yarn for a few projects, or Lily’s Sugar and Cream which is available in many colors, and can be purchased at Amazon.
Things to Remember When Choosing Yarn
It’s not really a good idea to buy a skein of yarn because you love the color. Try to have something in mind to use it for. You may need more than one skein, and when you go back to buy more, it will have a different dye lot and won’t match. Buy as much yarn as you need all at once!
Also, hand-painted or dyed yarn colors may vary from skein to skein even if they have the same color name. It is recommended to use 2 balls of that same color (one ball made from each skein) and to knit 2 rows with one, then 2 rows with the other. That way if the color is off, it will mesh better. You won’t have to do this if you only need one skein for a project.
Size of yarn equals number of stitches. Thin yarn like lace or fingerling will require more knitting to finish a project. Heavy, or bulky yarn will knit up quicker.
Solid colors, or gradients, will show a pattern better than speckled or painted yarns in many colors. *Color-changing yarns will hide mistakes better! My first scarf was knitted using a fingerling yarn in many colors. I made a lot of mistakes, but they were difficult to see. It was one of my favorite scarves.
My Favorite Places to Buy Yarn Online
In New Hampshire I could easily drive to any number of local Yarn Shops and pick out some nice yarn in person. Here in Florida there are no yarn shops nearby. I do not buy synthetics (fake yarn). Now I must shop online and will be listing here my favorite online places to buy. I will only recommend a site if I have actually bought yarn from them.
So far my favorite places are:
Purlsoho.com has free patterns, kits and patterns for sale, pretty yarn, and needles for sale. This site also sells fabric, looms and weaving products, and other crafts. Often they will include a quick tutorial with a free pattern to show a particular stitch.
I have purchased their Worsted Twist, which is Merino wool, and am making a scarf in the Fisherman’s Rib stitch. The yarn is lovely. Purl Soho offers some really unique colors that are tough to find elsewhere. If they are out of stock on a color, you may add your e-mail address to be notified when it’s back in stock.
Another place where I have purchased yarn isWebs / Yarn.com. They also offer patterns (free and for sale) and kits. Sometimes they have the same type of yarn at a cheaper price than Purl Soho. It pays to shop around. And Webs gives a discount when certain amounts are purchased.
I hate to pay for shipping, so I look for deals and discounts or buy lots of yarn at once to get free shipping.