Never Throw Away Your Ball Bands!

Vicki Hodge

Posted on June 17 2017

“Never throw the ball band away” is one of the first things I say to beginner knitters.

Yarn bands, also called ball bands, are the paper labels wrapped around, or tied to, yarn balls and skeins. They contain much information to help you choose the right yarn for your project.

There is a wealth of information you can get from the label.  If, like me, your yarn stash at home grows faster than your ability to knit it then it's even more important.  It's really frustrating to go back to your half used odds and ends pile and not remember if it was DK or if it had wool in it etc! Or that awful feeling when you've nearly finished something you've been working on for ages and you run out of yarn!  If you've thrown away the ball band then you may not even remember the brand.

So, what other really useful information can you get from the band?  Here's a list:

1 - Recommended needle size & tension square

Ball band information - needle size and tension square

This is useful to know in tandem with the grid as it explains what the tension will be.  The example above tells us that if you used 4mm needles and cast on 22 stitches and knitted 30 rows of garter stitch, then your square should measure 10 x 10cm. Tension squares are always 10 x 10cm.  If you knitted 22 stitches for 30 rows but your square was a different size then you may need to change the needles to a larger or smaller size to get the square measuring 10 x 10cm.  

The importance of this is so that when you are knitting up a pattern you can make sure it comes out the correct size.  I knit really tightly and so I always need to go up at least one size of needle otherwise my garments would come out way too small!

The other benefit of knowing how many stitches create 10cm is that you can make up your own patterns really easily.  For example, if you wanted a 25cm wide scarf made from a chunky yarn with a tension of 14 stitches per 10cm then you know that you need to cast on 2.5 x 14 = 35 stitches.  Easy!

2 - Care instructions

Care instructions are also included, usually given in the standard international fabric care symbols.  Really useful if your project is a baby cardigan that you are going to wash and wash - then you know that certain yarns can only be hand washed and you can avoid them!

3 - Shade number/name & dye lot

The shade number or name is really useful when you need to order more or recommend that colour to a friend!  

I always check the dye lot number on the band when purchasing multiple balls as the colour can vary from one dye lot to another.  Although with variegated yarn this doesn't matter so much.

4 - Weight & yardage

There are two ways of measuring yarn weight.  The first is the thickness of the yarn which ranges from thin lace yarns to super chunky.  The most common are 4-ply, DK (double knit), Aran and Chunky.  You can also work out what weight it is by the tension square e.g. DK is usually 22 stitches, Aran is usually 18 stitches and Chunky is usually 14 stitches.

Also listed are the number of grams and/or ounces of fiber in the ball, as well as how many yards it contains. The common sizes tend to be 50g and 100g.

Because ball sizes vary, as do their number of yards, when substituting a yarn, it's not enough to buy the same number of skeins the pattern calls for, nor the same number of grams; you must make sure you purchase enough yards of the yarn. Suppose, for example, the suggested amount of yarn is five 100g balls containing 220 yards (or 1100 yards total). To substitute yarn in 50g balls containing 104 yards, you would need 10.6 balls to reach 1100 yards (1100 yds needed divided by 104 yards per ball), so you would need to buy 11 balls to make sure you had enough.  Phew - maths!

5 - Fibre content

Fibre content is usually listed as percentages and tells us how the yarn will feel, knit up like and how it will wash and wear. If you want your project to look and drape like the the one in the pattern you are using, you need to choose a similar fibre. For wool, you can substitute a wool or wool blend, or another animal fibre like alpaca. Plant fibres like cotton will behave differently; for instance, cotton is heavy and can stretch under its own weight and won’t rebound the way wool does


With all this information at your fingertips, you can more confidently choose the perfect yarn for your project.  Happy stitching!


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