The Big Picture: Part 1


Welcome to Week 1 of our ongoing blog series, Mastering Yarn: 6 Weeks of Unraveling the Mysteries of Weight, Fiber, Structure, and More! Let me begin by making a confession:

This post got away from me.

I knew we’d have a lot to cover this week, but as I wrote I was surprised just how much the topic expanded. So we’ve decided to extend this week’s topic into next week, rather than give you a dissertation to read before next Wednesday.

Fair warning: this week’s topic might seem like a slow start – but it’s important! We’re going to prepare for studying yarns by considering the different qualities that a yarn may possess. Each of properties of yarn which we’ll discuss in the upcoming weeks – weight, fiber content, structure, and color – affects the qualities we’ll talk about today.

If it seems backwards to talk about a yarn’s qualities before we talk about the factors that determine them, look at it this way: these qualities are the “big picture” that we look at when we’re selecting our yarns. Before worrying about things like weight, fiber content, structure, or color, we envision a certain overall effect for our project that meets our needs or desires. Do we want something fancy or casual? Durable or delicate? Summery or wintery? Understanding these qualities allows you to choose yarns with the big picture (the finished project) in mind.

And even though today’s topic might seem a little technical at first, I know it’s one that many of you will be interested in. We’ve received many questions like, “What do you mean by luster?”, “What’s all this I keep hearing about drape?”, or “What’s the difference between elasticity and stretch?” These are just a few of the terms we often use to describe the qualities of a yarn, and we’re going to use them a lot in the upcoming weeks to discuss different aspects of yarns. So let’s get started!


For us yarn lovers, the first qualities which usually draw us to a yarn are its aesthetic qualities – those that affect the way a yarn looks or feels. They’re what please us about a yarn and what we call beautiful..or not. For example, color, luster, hand, and drape are just a few of the aesthetic qualities which we consider important in a yarn.



Obviously, the first and most important quality we normally notice about a yarn is its color. This is self-explanatory, really- we all know the feeling of being pulled towards a richly colored skein. We’ll discuss color in much more detail during Week 5- for now, just look at the gorgeous examples above and enjoy how color makes us feel!


Closely related to color is luster- the degree to which a yarn reflects light and appears to shine. High luster yarns lend a luxurious, glamorous effect to a project, while low luster yarns appear more natural and cozy. Luster starts with fiber content- for example, imagine the way a pure silk shimmers. However, it’s also affected by the structure of the yarn- smoother surfaced yarns tend to be more lustrous than very fuzzy ones because they reflect the light better. Below, compare the luster of the three yarns on the left with the three matte (non-lustrous) yarns on the right.


It’s difficult to convey the quality of hand in a picture, because hand is simply the way a yarn feels. The most obvious example is softness, but other feelings such as stiffness, slickness, scratchiness, or smoothness are parts of a yarn’s hand. Again, hand is very closely related to fiber content- natural fibers like wool or cotton have a very distinctive feeling. Structure (the way  a yarn is spun) can also have a major impact on hand. Examine below from left to right a very soft, pliable yarn; a coarse, sturdy yarn; and a smooth, springy yarn.


Drape describes the way a yarn hangs and moves when worn. If a yarn yields high drape, the fabric will bend and flex easily like the very drapey shawl pictured below on the left- notice its many loose, gentle folds. If a yarn yields less drape, the result will be a more structured, less pliable fabric like the vest in the picture below on the right, which holds it shape firmly and does not move much. Drape has a tremendous impact on the way a garment fits; more drape creates a graceful, feminine look, while less drape offers structure and strength.



That’s all for now- but I’m sure it was plenty! Come back next week and we’ll briefly discuss a few more qualities of yarn. Then we’ll get into the good stuff- I promise!

Thanks for reading!


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. carol kuropatwinski
    Aug 17, 2016 @ 15:01:55

    Thanks so much. Look forward to next week. I’ll share this with my knitting friends.



  2. Gail
    Aug 17, 2016 @ 15:36:34

    Awesome job on Week One!



  3. suze
    Aug 17, 2016 @ 19:56:00

    WOW the more I read and learn the more I want to learn. I’m all about color and hand. Never thought much about luster and drape. So thankful you guys are there to guide me.



  4. vetmask
    Aug 17, 2016 @ 20:18:24

    Great start to a huge subject. Looking forward to more! Photos very helpful.



  5. Gloria
    Aug 18, 2016 @ 05:18:27

    Fascinating! Until now I never thought about “color” affecting how I feel about it. For instance, the predominately black yarn makes me think of bold, strong, shadow, and night. The caramel/light aqua makes me think of calm, quiet, peaceful, and the sea. The hot pink immediately made me think of fun, circus, cotton candy, and childhood memories. Yet, when I am drawn to colors I have never stopped to think about why. Amazing! Hats off to you for teaching something to me that maybe others knew, but you have given me an entirely new way to look at color. Thank you for splitting this week’s topics up as it gives me more time to really maul all of this over in my mind. Again thanks for taking the time to share all of this, I know we all appreciate it very much.



    • yarnpatch
      Aug 18, 2016 @ 09:02:23

      Thanks, Gloria! I’m so glad you really got something out of it. Color has always been a source of fascination for me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it!



  6. Nancy
    Aug 18, 2016 @ 10:10:10

    Great information. Thanks for sharing!
    I feel like I’m in yarn school!



  7. Susan
    Aug 18, 2016 @ 20:14:27

    I just got this in my mail today! Looks really good….enjoyed reading it & Loved the pictures, as I referred to them when you were comparing.



  8. Karen
    Aug 19, 2016 @ 19:31:29

    Interesting. Enjoyed reading. And glad I found the blog!



  9. Trackback: Yarn Weight: It’s Not Just a Number! | The Yarn Patch

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