Yarn weight is always a tricky subject that can confuse most knitters and crocheters – even experienced ones. Confusingly, the language of yarn weight varies from country to country and even from brand to brand. That can make finding the right yarn weight for your project can sometimes feel like learning a new language.
When it comes to heavier yarn weight, like bulky or chunky yarn, there is even more confusion.
What’s the difference between bulky and chunky yarn? ‘Bulky’ and ‘chunky’ yarn are most often used for the same yarn of about size 5 (on the thicker end of yarn varieties). Bulky is most often used in the U.S. while chunky is most often used in the UK, but this is not always the case.
If you are frustrated, know that you’re not alone! In this article, we will help you learn more about yarn weight, yarn ply, and how to tell the difference between bulky and chunky yarn.
‘Bulky’ Vs ‘Chunky’ Yarn, What’s the Difference?
‘Bulky’ and ‘chunky’ are imprecise terms that refer to the relative yarn weight (thickness) of a yarn.
The difference between “bulky” and “chunky” yarn is primarily just be a difference in terminology. Yarn size 5 is most often referred to as “bulky” in the U.S. and “chunky” in the UK.
You can refer to the following chart to understand what types of yarn these terms normally refer to:
|Yarn weight||U.S. Naming||UK Naming||AUS/NZ Term||Needle Sizes||Hook Sizes|
|5||Bulky||Chunky||12 ply||5 – 8 mm||7 – 9 mm|
|6||Super Bulky||Super Chunky||14 ply||8 mm or bigger||10/12 mm|
However, some brands in the US refer to size 5 yarn as “chunky” and size 6 yarn as “bulky”. So if you are buying from an American brand, “chunky” likely refers to size 5 yarn (needle sizes 5 to 8 mm). Meanwhile “bulky” could refer to size 6 yarn (needle size 8 mm or bigger) in this brand.
Bulky and chunky are not as standard as other yarn weight names like DK, sport, or sock yarns – which already have some room for variation.
Still, it’s safe to say that any yarn referred to as “chunky” or “bulky” will be on the thicker side, most likely a size 5 or 6. It is also more likely to have a higher ply count.
Whatever yarn weight you decide to use, make sure to check the gauge. Gauge will ultimately determine how your project will look. But if you’re a beginner, what does all this mean?
The rest of this article will explain the common terms “yarn weight,” “yarn ply,” and “gauge” to help you navigate the wonderful world of yarns.
Understanding Yarn Weight
Yarn weight doesn’t refer to how heavy the yarn is – it refers to how thick the strand is.
If you are using a lighter yarn weight, it means the yarn is very thin, like lace or fingering weight. This type of yarn is often used to make socks.
If you are using a heavier yarn weight, often referred to as bulky or chunky yarn, you will often find very thick yarn that requires bigger knitting needles. The result is very big and defined stitches, often seen in items like blankets or baskets.
The most common weight, in the middle of the two, is double knitting (DK) weight yarn.
When you are using several different yarns for your project, for example when you are creating a pattern with different colored yarn, it is important to use the same yarn weight for all of the colors that you are using. Maintaining a consistent yarn weight throughout the project will create a uniform look for your pattern (unless you are purposely creating collars, cuffs, borders, etc. with a distinct look).
If you are not sure about the weight of your yarn, don’t despair. Every skein of yarn comes with a label that tells you that yarn’s weight and the recommended needle/hook sizes.
If you are following a knitting pattern, you can also refer to the standard yarn weight and recommended needle size to find the best yarn for your project.
Understanding and following size guides will help you find the right yarn for your project . In turn, that ensures you achieve the best results.
Understanding Yarn Ply – What is It?
If yarn weight tells you the thickness of the yarn, then yarn ply tells you about how the strand is constructed. Specifically, ply tells you how many individual fiber strands are twisted together to create a strand of yarn.
For example, 2-ply yarn means that two strands are twisted together to make one strand of yarn. 4-ply means there are four strands, and so on.
Yarn ply used to correlate with the yarn weight; the more ply that the yarn had, the heavier the yarn weight used to be. In some countries like Australia or New Zealand, yarn ply is still used to indicate the yarn weight. For example, 12-ply yarn in these areas means bulky or extra bulky yarn.
However, yarn ply is not necessarily a good indicator of yarn weight if the definition of yarn ply is to be understood literally.
Depending on the thickness of the individual strand, the yarn weight may not correlate with the yarn ply. For example, single-ply yarn can now be extra bulky, while a 10-ply can be a medium-weight yarn. You can even have 4-ply sock weight yarn.
Using the correct yarn weight and needle size is extremely important if you want to achieve the correct gauge for your project. Gauge refers to how many stitches and rows you need to knit/crochet to create a 10 x 10″ square.
Most patterns tell you what the correct gauge is and how to achieve it. But if you cannot get the correct gauge with the recommended yarn and needle size, you can make adjustments to make the pattern work as it should.
If your gauge swatch is too big – when you have the right number of stitches and rows, but your swatch is too big – you can use a thinner yarn (lighter yarn weight) and/or smaller needles to help you achieve the right look.
If your gauge swatch is too small, you can use a heavier yarn weight and/or slightly bigger needles to enlarge the swatch.
Getting the right gauge is quite important, especially if you are following a pattern because it will help you achieve the intended size for your project. If your gauge is too big or small, your final project may not have the desired size. This matters especially when making fitted garments.
Over time, you can learn where your “natural” gauge lies – whether you tend to work smaller and tighter or larger and looser – and begin to adjust accordingly. If you know your work runs toward smaller gauges, you may automatically try one needle size up, for example.
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