Over and over, I see the same 3 questions about chunky knitting yarn, so today, I giving you some of the answers that I found. But first, the questions:
- What size is chunky yarn?
- Can I use chunky yarn for arm knitting?
- Can I use chunky yarn for making a blanket?
First, Chunky Yarn Deets
Does Chunky yarn have a weight problem?
Yarn weight has nothing to do with ounces, pounds, grams, or any other measurement of how heavy something is. Instead, it’s a measurement of how thick the strand of yarn is. This has a big impact on gauge and needle choice.
Yarn weight does have something to do with how many yards are in your ball, skein, or hank because a heavier/thicker yarn will have fewer yards and a lighter/thinner yarn will have more yards.
Makes sense, right?
Some time ago, in the interest of making it easier for knitters to substitute yarns and adjust patterns, a standardized system for measuring and labeling yarn weights was developed. When you ask what weight chunky yarn is, this is what you’re referring to.
The Standard Yarn Weight System
According to the Craft Yarn Council, the Standard Yarn Weight System, was developed by yarn users associations and yarn manufacturers. There are 8 recognized yarn weights, or thicknesses, ranging from the finest, #0, lace weight, up to #7, jumbo yarn – the one that’s best for arm knitting.
Every weight is considered a category. There is more than one type of yarn in each category. Other types of yarn that fall into the bulky weight range are craft yarn and rug yarn. You’re less likely to use these yarns for knitting, but it’s useful to know the weight system when you come face to face with this information on a yarn label.
Yarn manufacturers usually choose to only have one or two sizes of yarn ball. For example, they might sell a 50 gram ball and a 100 gram ball. The price of the larger one will be about twice as much as the smaller because you’re getting twice as much yarn fiber by weight – ounces or grams. But the 100 gram ball is more likely to be a heavier weight yarn, bulky weight, for example, and the 50 gram ball will (probably) be a lighter weight like DK. (More on DK in an article to come.) The yardage in each ball will likely be very similar, probably somewhere around 125 yards, because the DK weight yarn strand is about half the size of the bulky weight yarn strand.
If, for example, a lighter weight yarn, such as fingering weight, were offered in a 100 gram ball, there might be something like 500 yards in it. Looking at the strands of yarn, it’s pretty obvious that this is because there’s a lot less fiber/yard in a strand of fingering weight yarn.
So what size is chunky/bulky yarn?
“Chunky” is another word used to describe bulky yarn. The only real difference is that “bulky yarn” is the accepted official term to indicate a yarn that’s slightly thicker than worsted weight in the Standard Yarn Weight System. It’s also known as #5 weight yarn, which you’ll see on yarn labels and in some patterns.
Fiber: I’ve seen #5 yarn made out of every fiber that’s used in the lighter weight yarns. Usually, I think it goes the other way. Some fibers, like the scratchier ones, aren’t used to make lighter weight yarns. Who wants scratchy lace or baby blankets?!
The Technical Stuff: WPI, or wraps per inch is the standard used to determine the “weight” of yarn. There is an official tool used to measure the wraps that you can buy at a variety of yarn suppliers. The tricky part is getting the yarn wrapped at the right tension. Each strand of yarn should touch the one next to it, but if you pull the yarn too tight, you’ll have a deceptively high WPI. I have one of these tools, but it’s mostly just for fun. Theoretically, it would be a great way to figure out the weight of a yarn when the label is missing.
Gauge: I was surprised to see that there is a gauge standard for each weight class. Unlike your personal projects, the gauge range is determined over Stockinette Stitch only. For #5, bulky yarn, in Stockinette st, you should expect to get about 12 to 15 stitches across 4 inches using needle sized between 9 to 11 American, or 5.5 to 8mm.
Crochet & More: Although this is an article about knitting, the Standard Yarn Weight System applies to all fiber arts that use yarn. The Standard Yarn Weight System chart has information on gauge and needle size for crocheters, too. There wasn’t any info for weavers, rug makers, etc, but maybe they don’t need as much info as us knitters and crocheters?
For more info see he Craft Yarn Council’s page on the Standard Yarn Weight System.
Bigger is Better! If you find yourself falling in love with heavy weight yarn, chunky is not the heaviest/thickest yarn available! There are 2 heavier weights: #6 super bulky and #7 jumbo. I don’t think I’ve ever even bought either of those. Of course, you can always knit with more than one strand of yarn and create, in effect, incredibly thick yarns. I’ve even seen knitted stitches that looked like they were 2″ or more wide. Imagine it, a yarn gauge of 2 stitches/4 inches! That would be a very quick project.
Chunky Yarn Projects
- Lace, yes, but it won’t be delicate and the holes will be huge. Then again, holes can be any size in lace, no matter what the weight of the yarn.
- Blankets, of course. When faced with a large sized project, going with a heavy weight yarn will make it much easier to finish it. FOs are always better than UFOs.
- Sweaters. If you’re looking for something form fitting, you probably don’t want a bulky weight yarn, but if warmth is your main goal, a heavy weight yarn will get you there fast.
- Hats and Scarves. I start every winter desperately searching for a hat to keep me warm. Then I quickly knit up an emergency hat. Bulky weight is my go-to for this situation. I can get a hat done in an afternoon. Problem solved.
Now on to the other two Big Questions.
Can I use chunky yarn for arm knitting?
When it comes to knitting, the short answer is almost always “yes” and the long answer is “it depends.” There’s always several factors to consider.
Basically, arm knitting is using your arms as needles to make things like blankets, pillows, scarves, etc. Think of your arms as very large diameter needles. Just like when you knit with needles, you need larger/heavier yarns when you use larger needles – unless you want your project to be more holes than yarn!
Bulky yarn, or chunky yarn, refers to a yarn that is slightly wider than #4, worsted weight yarn. This size is nowhere near big enough for arm knitting!
There is a way around this limitation. You can hold several strands of #5 bulky/chunky yarn together to mimic a much heavier yarn. If you’re looking for a single strand yarn for arm knitting your best bet is #7 Super Jumbo weight yarn. If you don’t see the color/fiber you want in that size, no problem, just get lots of the yarn you like and hold enough strands together to get something close to the gauge you need. In general, because arms come in different sizes, it’s harder to get an exact gauge, or, more likely, you’ll be knitting projects that aren’t that gauge dependent, like blankets & scarves.
For all of these reasons, it can be very tough to figure out how much yarn you need for an arm knitting project. However, looking at a few arm knitted scarf patterns suggests that you’ll need between 100 and 200 yards, with most people going longer. Because of the thickness of the yarn, and the resulting fabric, people seem to go for longer, more dramatic looking scarves when arm knitting. Your mileage will vary! Make sure you have some extra in the same dye lot.
Can I use chunky yarn for a blanket?
Unlike the last question, the answer to this one is an emphatic “YES!” All the advantages of using a heavier weight yarn apply to making a blanket and most of the disadvantages don’t apply.
Thicker yarns produce a thicker fabric, which is perfect for a warm, snuggle-y blanket. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a blanket out of a nice chunky cotton yarn.
First, think about how the blanket will be used and what the pattern recommends. If the blanket will be a baby blanket, or a pet blanket that will need frequent cleaning, go with a yarn that’s easy to wash, like washable wool or cotton. Check the care instructions on your yarn label before you buy it.
If you’re looking for super warm, go with a wool or wool/alpaca blend.
If you’re knitting in summer, stick with cotton. Trying to work with a warm, fluffy yarn during a heat wave could make you feel like you’re sitting on the surface of the sun. Making blankets in smaller pieces, i.e. squares or strips, works well in the summer, too.
Advantages of Chunky/Bulky #5 yarn
- You can knit up these projects faster than you would with lighter weight yarns.
- These yarns are thick and usually very warm.
- They’re great for chunky, boxy, and dramatic fashions.
- You can really see the cables!
Disadvantages of Chunky/Bulky #5 yarn
- It’s over too soon – great if you’re in a hurry, terrible if you’re a process knitter. Also, great for beginners.
- It’s not a subtle yarn.
- Because the strands and resulting fabric are thicker, it’s tougher to do any subtle shaping.
- Knitter’s guilt – ok, that’s probably just me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a production knitter who gets things done. Maybe I’m just jealous of all your FOs.
Chunky yarn is, obviously, perfect just the way it is. It’s up to us the “people who yarn” to figure out how to use it.
There you have it, the Big 3 Chunky Yarn Questions answered. If I missed your burning chunky yarn question, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to find an answer for you.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the Craft Yarn Council site for the handy Standard Yarn Weight System chart. (Also, I got “people who yarn” from their site. I don’t know who came up with it originally.)
Note: If you search for the “Standard Yarn Weights chart” on the Craft Yarn Council site, it will keep referring you to a page called standardyarnweights.com. It doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Here’s the correct url: www.craftyarncouncil.com/standards/yarn-weight-system