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Choosing yarn for super bulky knitting projects

How do you know what weight yarn to use for chunky, oversized knitting patterns?  (You might think the answer is self-evident, but not to those who aren’t very familiar with yarn weights!)

When I first learned how to knit, I really didn’t understand all the available weights of yarn: lace, fingering, dk, aren, sport, worsted, chunky, bulky, super bulky.  Even when I was a much more experienced knitter, I often struggled with what weight to use with which needle size, and didn’t always understand how to adjust a pattern for yarn weight changes.

Many of my knitting patterns call for super bulky yarn.  That’s the heaviest weight of yarn, meaning the thickest yarn (the widest circumference).  Super bulky yarn is approximately the same width as my ring finger.  You really need to use size 17 or 19 (US) knitting needles with super bulky weight yarns.

Bulky weight (not super) is significantly lighter than super bulky.  Bulky yarns are about as wide as my pinky fingernail.  If I want to substitute bulky yarn for super bulky, my best bet is to use two strands with size 17 or 19 needles.  If I don’t want to use two strands, I’ll need to use a smaller needle (likely size 13-15), cast on additional stitch repeats and knit additional rows.

Chunky weight is the next lighter size and is a wee bit skinnier than bulky.  I would likely use three strands of chunky yarn instead of one strand of super bulky weight yarn.  If you only want to use one strand, you’re now significantly altering the look of a pattern – it loses some proportion and texture – but like bulky, you’d need to cast on additional stitch pattern repeats and knit additional rows (likely size 11-15).

If you’re trying to use worsted or lighter weights in place of super bulky weight yarns, I’d first recommend … not to.  You’ll spend so much money and time adding additional strands of yarn, detangling strands as you knit, recalculating how many stitches to cast on, how many rows to knit, etc.  And then you run the high risk of not being happy with your finished knit. It won’t look the same, won’t feel the same, and may not fit correctly.

Les Bon Temps Scarf

However!  Here’s a trick I’ve used successfully many, many times.  You can achieve a whole new (and often unique) yarn by doing this:  combining different types of fiber.  How about one strand of chunky yarn plus two or three strands of fuzzy mohair blends?  Instant super bulky yarn.  I love using Rowan Kidsilk Aura or Haze for just this purpose (see above!).

Tomorrow, I’ll share some tips about how to use size 17 and 19 knitting needles without hand pain!

But first, what questions do you have about knitting with super bulky yarns?  Or … which are your favorites to knit with?

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Vickie Boyle September 15, 2012, 10:13 PM

    I saw a picture on Pinterest of a woman holding a knitted blanket of the chunkiest(bulkiest)yarn I have ever seen. I would like to find where I can purchase this yarn and a pattern for the blanket. Granddaughter’s birthday is coming up and wants very badly to have this blanket. Thank you, Vickie

  • Victoria December 14, 2014, 4:00 PM

    I have a project that call for 4 strands of bulky yarn. Can I use one strand of bulky instead?

  • Sandra December 29, 2014, 12:27 PM

    I’ve been knitting since I was 8 yrs old and was wondering if a pattern calls for chunky yarn on size 6mm needles but I’m using super chunky yarn and number 8mm if it would turn out right? It’s for a blanket.

  • Ann February 18, 2015, 4:57 AM

    Hi. I am a beginner. I knit my first baby blanket in a worsted wool (4 ply) with a size 9 needle …96 stitches on a circular needle; ribbed border and plain knitting rows. I’d like to use the same pattern (if I can) using a wool I have (from another project) and love – it’s a bulky 100% wool 6 ply. Can I do this? If so, might you tell me how? How many stitches? What size needle? I am hooked! Can’t wait to get started. It is the light at the end of a tunnel of a long busy day …with kids! LOL! Thank you so much, in advance.
    Destressing while Knitting,
    Ann
    🙂
    Ann

  • Diane April 23, 2015, 10:17 AM

    Can socks be knit out of super bulky (polyester) yarn?

    • Brenda April 23, 2015, 4:04 PM

      Hi Diane!

      Probably not socks, unless your shoes are at least one size bigger than your feet. 🙂 But definitely slippers or house socks (not worn with shoes)!!!

  • KnitterWeich July 24, 2015, 9:32 AM

    I want to knit a blanket I saw. It’s a baby blanket and uses DK yarn and finishes at about 25″ by 25″. What I want to do with this baby blanket, though, is make the blanket on a larger scale using bigger needles and super bulky yarn. It’s a blanket, so it doesn’t need to “fit” a certain way. Is this doable? Do you have any recommendations on how to do this most effectively? Should I just select larger needles and use the pattern exactly the same?

    • Brenda July 27, 2015, 9:51 PM

      Hi there! I would knit a swatch using your super bulky yarn and larger needles to see how many stitches/inch you get, so you can figure out how big your blanket will end up using the yarn that you have (or how much yarn you’ll need to get the size you’d like). You can definitely knit the blanket in heavier weight yarn – a swatch will make your life much easier and happier. 🙂

  • Margaret Young November 13, 2016, 3:16 PM

    I am knitting a chunky sweater with super chunky wool, what size needles should I be using. How do I figure out how many stitches to cast on.?

    • brenda November 14, 2016, 8:11 PM

      Hi Margaret!

      If you’re following a knitting pattern, are you using the same yarn that the pattern calls for? If so, I would recommend knitting a swatch using the needles suggested, block, then see if you’re getting the right gauge. If not, increase or decrease your needle size (if your gauge is too small, use bigger needles and if it’s too large, use smaller needles).

      If you’re using different yarn than the pattern calls for, you’ll still need to knit a swatch, but first compare your yarn’s weight and gauge (per manufacturer) to the yarn called for (per manufacturer). If your yarn is much heavier, you may need to do some sweater math to convert for your yarn. If your yarn is much lighter, same thing. If it’s close, knit up a swatch so that you can see how your personal gauge compares to the manufacturer and adjust needles accordingly.

      I’m NOT a sweater math expert, but I recommend the following resources:

      1. Amy Herzog: Custom Fit > https://customfit.makewearlove.com/about/
      2. Ysolda Teague: Lots of posts about sizing, shaping, etc. > http://blog.ysolda.com/

      Hope this helps?

  • Anya Thibodeaux January 9, 2017, 12:08 PM

    Hi, I’m fairly new to knitting and have a question of sorts……I bought sone Bernat Blanket yarn 6 super bulky. I have size 17 circular needles. I was thinking of making a blanket for myself but I can’t find any patterns with these specifics to know how many stitches to cast on. I’m hoping for a 4ft wide blanket……could you help?!

  • Andrea June 21, 2017, 11:06 AM

    I have a pattern for an afghan calling for two strands of bulky yarn on size 17 needles. Can I substitute one skein of super bulky yarn instead of two bulkys?

    • brenda June 23, 2017, 11:22 AM

      Hi Andrea! You might be able to do that – try knitting up a swatch holding two strands of the bulky weight, then measure it to see if you get the right gauge for your project (the same # of stitches and rows per inch). Ideally, knit a 4 inch by 4 inch swatch, then measure it in the center. 🙂 Let me know the results! Brenda

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