Like all specialty crafts there’s a lot of terminology in knitting.  It can be a bit overwhelming to the beginner, but don’t worry it’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds.  Below we’ve outlined some basic concepts and language that baffle many new knitters.

How do I know what needles and yarn will work together?

Generally, you use thick yarn with thick needles and vice versa - they should “match.”  To “match” your yarn and needles, look at the label on the yarn you want to use.  The label will show a needle or needles on it that has a needle size (or range of sizes) right near it.  This is what the yarn producer thinks is the best size of needles for the yarn.

Needle sizes are given two different ways, in Millimeters and US sizes.  Confusingly these go in opposite directions.  For example a US size 13 needle is a 2.25 mm needle.  A US size 1 needle is a 8mm needle.  Insert photo of needle sizer & link to where to buy one in the notions area.  Usually the yarn label will show both.  Those needle sizes are the best needle sizes to use with the yarn you have.


Smaller needles will give you tighter fabric; larger needles will give you looser fabric.  So you should think about whether you want your knitting to be a bit looser or a bit tighter

I have a pattern that I want to knit - how do I know what yarn/needles to buy?

The pattern will tell you what yarn/needles the designer used to create the pattern.  It will also tell you how much yarn to buy.  You have two options:

  • You can use the yarn/needles specified in the pattern - just pick your color and do your test swatch (see the “gauge” and “tension” discussion below).
  • You can choose a different yarn, so long as that yarn gives you the same “gauge” or “tension.” Check out our ‘yarns by weight’ section in the shop.  It’s often easiest to exchange a yarn called for in the pattern with a yarn of the same ‘weight’ or thickness.

Gauge and tension

“Gauge” or “tension” is how big the stitches are that you knit with a particular yarn/needle combination.  This is measured by how many stitches fit into an inch.  Sometimes the rows are measured as well as the stitches across, sometimes it’s only the stitches across.

There are some standard categories that people typically use to indicate how big or small a yarn is.  Yarns fall into each category based upon the “gauge” or “tension” of the yarn.  Below are the categories of yarn from the Craft Yarn Council.  You’ll see these symbols on each of our yarns at the bottom of the descriptions.  


  • They are (from thick to thin):  Jumbo, Super Bulky, Chunky, Worsted, Aran, DK, Sport, Fingering/Sock, and Lace.

If you look at the label on the yarn, it will tell you how many stitches to the inch the manufacturer expects you to get when you it to knit with it, using the size of the needles indicated on the label.  That is the expected “gauge” or “tension.”

The way to test if you’re getting the right gauge is to knit a test swatch & measure it.  See ‘test swatch’ below.

If you’re close (within a stitch or two) to the “gauge” or “tension” in the pattern you want to knit, it should work fine.  If it’s not within a stitch or two then you’re going to need to adjust your needles to get as close to the intended gauge as possible.  Smaller needles will push your stitches together, giving your more stitches per inch.  Bigger needles will spread your stitches apart giving you fewer stitches per inch.

What’s test swatch?  Do I have to make one?

Test swatches can be really off-putting for new knitters who don’t want to waste the time or the yarn on something that’s really never going to be seen or used.  

A test swatch is used to make sure that you’re getting the correct gauge or tension in your knitting.  And by correct we mean the same as what’s listed in the pattern that you’re using.  But, that’s more important in some patterns than others.  The more precise your final measurements need to be the more important a test swatch is.

For example if you’re doing a scarf and it turns out an extra inch wider and two or three inches shorter than you planned.  Oh well, it’s a scarf & will probably still be enjoyed very much.  A sweater though?  That extra inch around a few inches shorter can make a sweet baby sweater into a toddler one, or even worse, something that can never be properly worn.  

How do I make a test swatch?

If you do determine you need a test swatch, cast on the number of stitches indicated in the “Gauge” or “Tension” section of the pattern.  We often will add 2 stitches so that you can measure the correct number of stitches in between the 2 edge stitches.

Knit for the number of rows indicated.  It’s usually good to add a few extra rows so you can get a better measure. Then, measure the width.  If it matches, you’re good to go.

If it is too wide or narrow, you can shift your needles up or down one or two sizes and try again.  If it’s too wide or too narrow then you need to change your needles.  Too wide?  Then unravel your swatch & try knitting it again with needles one to two sizes smaller.  Too narrow?  Try larger needles.

If I’m using a different yarn than a pattern calls for, how much do I buy?

Look at the yarn that the pattern calls for and figure out how many yards come in each skein.  


How many skeins does the pattern call for?  

Multiply the number of yards in each skein by the number of skeins


That is the total number of yards needed for that pattern.

Now - find the yarn you want to use with the right “gauge” or “tension”

How many yards does it have per skein?  


Divide the total number of yards needed for the pattern by the number of yards per skein


That number is the number of skeins that you need to knit the pattern.