Glossary of terms


A fine weight of yarn, tends to be used for lace garments. Tensions are generally given for use on 2.5mm needles at 32 stitches per 10cm but often larger needles are used to give an open, lacy look to the garment. This is a UK term, see our conversion table for the equivalents in other nationalities.


A much less common weight of yarn it is often used for baby items such as bootees. Unsurprisingly it sits between 2ply and 4ply. This is a UK term, see our conversion table for the equivalents in other nationalities.


A finer weight of yarn suitable for baby items and socks and finely knit garments. Lighter than DK it is usually knitted on 2.75-3.25mm needles with a tension of 28 stitches per 10cm. This is a UK term, see our conversion table for the equivalents in other nationalities.


A heavier weight of yarn. Originally used for fishermens’ sweaters Aran weight yarn is now used for a variety of different applications. Heavier (thicker) than DK, used with 4.5mm – 6mm needles at a tension of around 18 stitches per 10cm. This is a UK term, see our conversion table for the equivalents in other nationalities.

Cable Needles

Cable needles are short needles with points at both ends that come in a limited range of thicknesses and are used for twisting stitches as required in cable patterns. A few stitches are slipped on to the cable needle. The next stitches on the knitting needle are then knitted, then the stitches kept on the cable needle are knitted.

Circular Needles

Circular needles have two short straight lengths of wood, plastic or metal connected by a flexible length of cord. Circular needles are great for knitting large garments in the round or larger items knitted flat such as blankets, where there are too many stitches to fit comfortably on a single straight needle. They also allow the bulk of the knitting to sit in the lap making them easier on the wrists than straight needles. Tubes of smaller circumference than the length of the cord are achieved by the Magic Loop technique. There are several videos on YouTube of this method. Circular needles are also good for knitting in confined spaces, such as on trains, as you don’t have two long straight bits of metal poking into your neighbour.


A thick weight of yarn. The standards tend to be a bit looser once you get to chunky and above. There is a standard chunky of about 14 stitches per 10cm on 8mm needles or above, any thicker than that tends to be refered to as ‘Super Chunky’ or 'Mega Chunky'. This is a UK term, see our conversion table for the equivalents in other nationalities.

DK - Double Knit

The most commonly used weight of yarn, suitable for all applications. DK yarn is usually knitted on 4mm needles with a tension of 22 stitches per 10cm. This is a UK term, see our conversion table for the equivalents in other nationalities.

DPNs - Double Pointed Needles

DPNs are short straight needles with points at both ends that are used in sets of 4 or 5 to make a tube of knitting rather than a flat piece, known as knitting ‘in the round’. Essential for socks, also useful for fair isle knitting, hats, sleeves, toys etc.


Yarns come in many different shades which tend to have both a name and a number (e.g. 6125:Apple Green). Each ball of yarn will carry this shade number (usually just the number, rarely the name as well) and also a lot number. A batch of yarn will be dyed at the same time and dispatched to the retailers. Another batch of yarn will then be dyed and there may be slight differences in the colour. It is therefore important to knit a garment using balls of yarn from the same dyelot otherwise differences in colour may show. It is difficult to achieve this in practice, often you may find you didn’t buy sufficient yarn at the initial purchase and have to buy another ball at a later date. We will always try and track down a specific dyelot for you but the manufacturers we buy from don’t keep balls back from previous dyelots so once they are gone that is that. We are always willing to keep a ball aside in case you need it but don’t want to buy it at the same time in case you don’t. Alternatively we will accept returns on complete unused balls that you found you didn’t need. It is, however, possible to complete a garment with balls from different dyelots. In many cases, with the larger manufacturers, there is no discernible difference between the dyelots. If there is a difference (make sure you check in natural light as differences tend to show up more then) then knitting the collar or hems in one dyelot and the body in another will minimise the effect. Alternatively you can knit with two balls at once and do one row in one dyelot and another row in another. This is the method recommended for variegated yarns to prevent colours ‘pooling’.


Intarsia is another colour work method where individual blocks of colour are knitted with separate lengths of yarn, often held on wool bobbins. Only one colour is held at one time and the two colours are twisted together at the colour changes to avoid holes appearing.

Knitting in the round

This is where a tube of knitted fabric is achieved instead of a flat square. The stitches are worked in turn so you are working a spiral up the tube instead of backwards and forwards in rows. Knitting in the round can be done on DPNs or circular needles. As you are always working on the same side of the fabric stocking stitch is achieved by knitting every stitch, garter stitch is achieved by knitting and purling alternate rounds. A stitch marker is useful to keep track of where round begin and end.

Light DK

A catch-all weight for anything thicker than a 4ply but finer than a DK yarn.

Super Chunky

Any yarn that is thicker than a chunky and knits to a tension below about 14 stitches per 10cm.

MC/CC - Main Colour/Contrast Colour

When a multi-coloured garment is being knitted the pattern will refer to the predominent colour as the MC and the other colours as the CC, if there are more than 1 CC it will list them either with CC1, CC2 or give them letters, A, B, C etc.

Sock Yarn

A yarn that is specifically designed for knitting socks. Often sock yarns have a high wool content with nylon or other synthetic yarns added for durability. 'Sock weight' would tend to be slightly finer than a standard 4ply, but often sock yarns are interchangeable with 4ply yarns. Sock yarns can be used for many other projects. When used for socks they may be knitted on smaller needles than normal or would be used for 4ply.

Straight Single Pointed Needles

The traditional knitting needles, they come in varying lengths according to the size of garment you want to knit and personal preference.

Swatches (or tension squares)

These are small squares (at least 4 inches by 4 inches or 10cmx10cm) of knitting or crochet done before the main garment is started to check that the stated tension in the pattern is achieved. It is recommended that you wash and block the tension square just the same as you plan to do with the final garment to take account of any shrinking of the fabric. It is particularly important to do a tension square if you are not using the same yarn as stated in the pattern. There is some debate about tension squares. For some projects, such as scarves, the tension doesn’t really matter. Some people feel that knitting a few inches of the project is sufficient to measure the tension and it doesn’t take much to rip it back if you’ve got it wrong. Other like to sew all those little knitted squares into a big, colourful blanket.

Tension (aka Gauge)

Tension (or gauge in the US) refers to the number of stitches per unit of measurement (usually 10cm or 4 inches) over a given piece of knitted or crocheted fabric. The tension will determine how big the item will be if you cast on a set number of stitches. Patterns will always give a tension that the designer worked to. It is important to check that you are knitting to the same tension as the pattern has stated otherwise your item will come out a different size. Tension depends on the thickness (weight) of the yarn, the size of the needle or hook, and the nature of the individual knitter or crocheter. Changing any one of these three factors will change the tension. If you are using a different yarn to that directed by the pattern it is very important to check your tension before you start. See ‘Swatches’ for more details.

Tunisian Crochet

Tunisian crochet is done with a Tunisian crochet hook. This is a long hook about the length of a knitting needle. Instead of having just one stitch on the hook at any one time you work in rows, with all the stitches in the row on the hook at the start and working through each one in turn until just one stitch is left, then you pick all the stitches up for working the next row. The resulting fabric is a cross between knitting and crochet. It is said to have the speed of crochet with the versatility of knitting.

Fair Isle knitting

Originally a term for the intricate colour patterns created by the knitting communities on the Fair Isle off the north of Scotland it has come to refer to the technique of knitting with multiple colours in a single row and carrying both (or all 3 in some cases) threads of yarn across the knitting at back of the work. Traditionally fair isle knitting is done in the round so that you are always working on the right side of the fabric, and no more than 5 stitches are done in any one colour in a row so you don’t have long ‘floats’ of the non-working yarn at the back. It is possible to ‘weave’ the non-working yarn in so that you can work longer sections in a single colour if necessary. It is important when knitting fair isle patterns to keep the tension loose to avoid puckering the fabric.

Yarn weight

A slightly confusing term, the weight of a yarn refers to its thickness. Most yarns tend to be one of a number of standard weights such as DK or chunky. Thickness is technically measured in WPI – wraps per inch, but this information is rarely used in patterns or on ball bands, the tension (see entry for tension in the glossary) being more commonly stated. Different nationalities have different terms for some of the standard weights. See our conversion table for some common terms for standard weights.