Which Yarn can I use with a Knitting Machine?
Updated: Sep 4, 2022
Many people wonder which yarn can I use with a knitting machine. The diameter of the strand of yarn will be the primary factor in determining whether it will work on a given knitting machine. It doesn’t matter whether the yarn is sold as a “hand knitting” yarn or a yarn on a cone. The knitting machine doesn’t care if it was sold in a hank, wound as a skein, in a center pull ball or as a tangled mess.
What Gauge is your Knitting Machine and What Size is your Yarn?
There are many different “sizes” of knitting machines and that will determine which yarn you can use. Gauge, for knitting machines, refers to the distance between the needles. Smaller distance means you can only use a finer yarn and larger distances means you can use a fatter yarn. Here are the most common gauges for home knitting machines and size of yarn they work well with: GaugeDistance between needlesYarn Description is (WPI)*Craft Yarn Council ScaleFine3.6mmLace (>30wpi)0 or lessStandard4.5mm or 5mmLace (>30wpi) Fingering (14 wpi)0-1Mid-Gauge6.5mm or 7mmSport (12 wpi), DK (11 wpi), Worsted (9 wpi)2-4Bulky9.0mmWorsted (9 wpi), Bulky (6 wpi)4-5
Note: There are no commercially made knitting machines that will knit the Craft Yarn Council Scale 6-7, Super Bulky or Jumbo.
WPI means “wraps per inch” and is a generally used scale to “measure” the diameter of a piece of yarn. The number of wraps per inch for each “size” of yarn may vary from website to website and WPI gauge to WPI gauge. The Craft Yarn Council is trying to standardize these definitions. Also note, most charts will provide a range and sometimes that range can overlap between one category or another. Is it confusing? Yes. Is precision required here? Clearly not. WPI is a general, rough measurement and each knitting machine is more or less tolerant of variation. If the yarn is too big, your carriage will refuse to move. That is a clear indication that either the yarn is too big or there’s some other issue. More often than not, it’s because the yarn is too big. When the yarn is too small, you’ll get large stitches that form a “sheer” fabric. Some designers do this on purpose. However, if you wanted a knitted piece that is not sheer and you’ve used the smallest setting on your carriage and still have a sheer piece, that means your yarn is too small!
What about the Put-Up of the Yarn?
The “Put-Up” of the yarn is how it is “packaged”. It doesn’t matter what put-up you buy it in because 5-10 mins with a ball winder will make your yarn into a usable cake. Let’s look at a few examples of common put-ups:
Several common put-ups of yarn
Cone – commonly used for machine knitting, but you can hand knit with a cone too! You can usually knit straight off of the cone. However, some yarns for commercial use may require washing before you use it.
Hank – Hanks must be wound into a ball or a “cake” before knitting by hand or machine. If you attempt to knit straight from the hank, the yarn will tangle.
Cake – this is a common term for this “ball” that results from winding the hank or a hand wound ball on a ball winder. It’s named a “cake” for it’s straight sides and flat top and bottom.
Commercially wound ball – You can usually knit straight from this ball and if I were going to hand knit, I might knit it off of the ball. But for machine knitting, I’d prefer to wind it into a cake to avoid tangles.
Hand wound ball – ok for hand knitting but potentially disasterous for machine knitting. You might be able to control the ball by putting it in a bowl and letting it roll around. However, if you’re machine knitting quickly (many rows of stockinette stitch), the ball will jump around too much and will likely fall off of the table and cause a mess.
If in doubt, you can always wind a cake of yarn using a ball winder and that will likely be your best option, unless you bought the yarn already wound on a cone.
Are there any other yarn considerations for machine knitting?
Machine knitting works much better with smooth yarns or slightly textured yarns. However you can use some yarns with occasional lumps and bumps if you use an intarsia carriage and carefully place the bumps below the needles so that they don’t get stuck in the needle or the carriage.
Where can I buy yarn for Machine Knitting?
It’s getting hard to find yarn that is for machine knitting. So people ask “Where can I buy yarn for machine knitting?” The two best sources are stores that sell yarn for hand knitting and for weaving.
For mid-gauge or bulky machines, you can buy your yarn from stores that sell yarn for hand knitting. Also consider taking thinner yarns and plying them together to make a unique combination that no one else could buy.
For standard gauge machines, you may be able to find some lace weight or fingering/sock weight yarn that will work well. For fine gauge, you may need to buy yarn on cones or be limited to lace weight yarns.
One trick for finding finer yarns is to shop the weaving stores! The weaving stores have wool and cotton in many thicknesses. These yarns are great for plying together to get just the look you’re wanting.
There are some specific stores and yarns for machine knitting, but they tend to be harder to find, particularly if you want to look at the yarn in person vs buying online. We prefer to use hand knitting yarn or weaving yarn instead of buying yarn made just for machine knitting.
Can I use hand spun yarn in a knitting machine?
You can use hand spun yarn in a knitting machine, but you must consider whether the diameter (or wpi) is appropriate for your machine and whether the yarn is fairly smooth.