Updated: Jul 1, 2022
Let's talk a bit about some common phrases that we use to talk about yarn or fabric properties. These terms are critical for making a great yarn substitution or envisioning how a project will feel or wear. So let's dig into some terms that are twisting you up!
"Lofty" is the one I hear the most questions about. As @SJWitchling puts it "'lofty' always sounded to me like you're putting the yarn on a pedestal - it has "lofty aspirations". But picturing what that means in a yarn? 🤷🏻 Maybe I am getting it right, maybe not."
Pictured to the left is the yarn that most quickly comes to mind when I think loft - Brooklyn Tweed's woolen-spun, bulky Quarry.
(typically describes a yarn) This means that a yarn holds a lot of air – it’s the opposite of ‘dense.’ A lofty yarn is a good choice when you want something light and warm. At one end of the scale is a linen yarn, with essentially no loft, and the other a chunky, single-ply or woolen-spun yarn. Also very lofty? Blown yarns (see Go Further).
(typically describes a fabric) I think of this as a measure of how ‘liquid’ a fabric is – it’s the opposite of ‘stiff.’ If you hold one end of it and it flows from your hand straight down, that is a high-drape fabric. A talk top in a loose gauge in a silk blend probably has great drape. A densely knit worsted weight colorwork sweater probably has low drape.
(typically describes a yarn) This is a measure of a yarn’s ability to bounce back, and is a function of the crimp in the fiber. Wool has a crimp to it – little zig-zags in each fiber- and a wool with wide, high-frequency crimps is going to have lots of bounce. Bouncy yarns have great memory, and return easily to shape once stretched. A Targhee blend has lots of bounce, cotton yarn has practically none. If you want to dig mega deep, there's a fascinating article down in the Go Further!
(typically describes how a yarn performs in fabric)
These yarns have a well-defined shape that clearly shows your stitch pattern, cables, or lace. They tend to have a little bit of gloss or luster (light bouncing off stitches contributes to stitch definition), multiple plies (more plies = more round yarn = more distinct yarn shape), and low halo. Mohair has poor stitch definition, merino has good stitch definition.
Pick up and knit
Here's a bonus – it’s not a term that defines a yarn or fabric characteristic, but I know it confused me at one time.
The confusion here is that it might not be clear whether drawing the loop up through the fabric is the ‘pick up’ or the ‘and knit.’ When you stick your needle through the fabric, that’s the ‘pick up’ – it’s the same as having a stitch on the left-hand needle. When you wrap the yarn around the needle and pull through the loop, that’s the ‘and knit.’ Tip - if it makes it easier to remember, it’s also possible to JUST pick up, and to pick up and purl!
Have you heard of 'blown yarns?' I hadn't until this weekend (probably because they tend to be larger gauge yarns and I'm a fingering/sport/DK kind of gal. They're treated by blowing fiber into a mesh tube. Learn more on Yarn Sub, here.
Want to experiment with a high-drape yarn and fabric? Peep Elizabeth Margaret's Renard Dress. It's knit in wool-free Seasilk from Sweet Georgia, and is absolutely dreamy. A friend recently called it the perfect 'nap dress' and that alone is enough to make me wish I liked napping!
I wrote more about properties last year for Lauren Rad's blog - read in depth here!
Go reallllll deep into crimp and other fiber properties in this article from Modern Daily Knitting.