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Which yarns give good stitch definition?

October 22, 2021 4 min read 2 Comments

Have you ever excitedly cast on a project with your new yarn and a good few inches into it you realise the stitch pattern just isn't showing up the way you would like and aren't sure why. It's because this particular yarn doesn't have good stitch definition.

A yarn with good stitch definition will allow the stitch pattern in your project to be seen clearly. It will often create neat, crisp stitches that allow the stitch pattern to shine, so if you have a very textured stitch pattern full of knits and purls, or intricate cables that you want to jump off the fabric, using a yarn with stitch definition is key. If that is the look you want for your new project it's really helpful to have an idea of what types of yarn will typically give you this look before you invest in a sweater's quantity of yarn that won't give you the look you want.

Which yarns give good stitch definition?

Woollen v Worsted spun yarns

It's often said that worsted spun yarns give the best stitch definition, and there's a good reason for that. The fibres of worsted spun yarns are combed so they lay parallel to each other before spinning, creating a smooth yarn that gives even, crisp stitches. That being said though, don't discount a woollen spun yarn straight away if you want stitch definition. Though these yarns aren't as smooth due to the haphazard direction of the fibres before spinning, they are usually very round and lofty, which can add an almost three-dimensional look to the fabric as cables and textured stitches will often sit quite high on top of the fabric. Take the examples below. On the left, we have Watershed knit in the beautiful Fibre Company Luma, a worsted spun yarn containing linen, silk, cotton and merino wool. It creates beautifully smooth cables that flow across the garter background. On the right, we have the same pattern but this time using De Rerum Natura Gilliat, a woollen spun yarn containing french and Portuguese merino. Though the edges of the cables are not as smooth as with the Luma, they are almost jumping off the garter stitch, creating a beautifully plump fabric.

Watershed in the Fibre Co. Luma
Watershed in De Rerum Natura Gilliat

Twist it!

Twist is added when a yarn is spun. After sorting or combing the fibres will be twisted either clockwise or anti-clockwise to create a single-ply yarn and then twisted together again if the yarn producer is wanting a plied yarn. So for example, a two-ply yarn will consist of two of those single strands of yarn that are twisted together to create the finished yarn, and for three-ply, you would twist three strands and so on. All yarns will have twist to some extent (except for unspun yarn), but how much depends on what the qualities the yarn producers wants. For example, twist adds strength to yarn, so the higher the twist the tighter and stronger that yarn will be. This is why you will often see sock yarns described as having a high twist as they have been created to withstand a lot of wear. A high twist can mean that you lose some of the softness of the yarn through, so if that is important for the finished yarn, less twist may be added so the fibres are a little looser and have some air between them to move.

When it comes to stitch definition, using a plied yarn with a good amount of twist will really help. Single plied yarns or ones with a particularly loose twist will hide the stitches and make them less defined.

Check the halo

If you are using a particularly soft yarn, one with lots of short fibres or something fuzzy like mohair, you will find you get a 'halo' to your fabric. A lovely hazy layer of fluff that sits just above the surface of your knitting. While having a halo can be stunning for some projects, it can hinder ones where you want to have crisp, defined stitches. Think of it as condensation on a window; The more misted up it gets the harder it is to see the view!

Choose colours carefully

Some colours will show up the stitch definition of your work better than others, for example, a true black yarn can make it tricky to see the details in the stitch pattern, and varigated, self-striping and heavily speckled yarns can do the same. The stitch pattern can get lost in all those colour changes and create an overly busy fabric. If you want your stitch pattern to stand out, stick to solid, tonal or heathered colourways. Unless of course, you're looking to create something really busy, so then go for it!

I hope you have found this post on stitch definition helpful! I'd love to hear about your approach to stitch definition and if it's something you consider when choosing yarn for a project! Let us know in the comments below.

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2 Responses


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Leanna Stoufer
Leanna Stoufer

August 24, 2022

Thank you for this article, and the article on substituting yarn! I’ve been mulling over which yarn to use for a project that calls for a yarn I can’t easily get. Your expertise has come in handy!

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