I get asked this question often. For many of use knitting stores are closer to home than a needlepoint shop and the prices and large size of skeins of knitting yarn make them very attractive to stitchers. Today I’ll show you some examples, both good and bad of knitting yarns and explain why they work or don’t work for needlepoint.
Many needlepoint threads are actually relabeled and dyed yarns used for knitting or crochet.
In terms of packaging and marketing there are a couple of differences to keep in mind. Yarns for knitting come in much larger packages than the exact same yarn when it’s packaged for needlepoint, so when you use them you’ll end up with lots, so they tend to work better for backgrounds.
Second, knitting is a fashion industry, needlepoint is an heirloom craft. This means that color selection in knitting yarns is smaller and changes with fashion. If orange is out, it will be hard to find orange knitting yarn, but it will still be easy to find orange needlepoint yarn where the color range is bigger and doesn’t change much.
This color chart of Lana Grosso’s Baby Alpaca shows how small a single yarn’s color range can be. But even 30 colors is a big range for a knitting yarn. It’s extremely small for needlepoint.
Having said this you CAN use knitting and crochet yarns for needlepoint. You need to look for certain things that will make the yarns easy to use:
1. The yarn should be even in width. Yarns with big slubs, tons of fringe or large variations in width won’t go through canvas. A yarn such as this recycled silk yarn (picture from Yarndex) has too many variations in width to work for needlepoint, even though it’s great for knitting.
2. The yarn should be about the width of a thread you would use for needlepoint on that mesh of canvas or easily split into threads that width. If it can’t be split and is too thick, it’s likely to be too fragile to go through the canvas without shredding.
Happily knitting yarns come in standard sizes that can be a great help to stitchers. Baby weight, sock weight, or fingering are all names for a yarn that works well on 18 mesh. Lace weight usually is thin and would need to be plied up. DK is heavier and would work on 13 or 14 mesh unless plied down. Sport weight or light worsted would most likely work on12 mesh. Worsted is a bit thicker than tapestry wool and would work best on 10 mesh. Any yarn heavier than worsted would need to be plied down to use for needlepoint.
The picture shows size comparisons of several weights of yarn with a penny for size. It’s from this article, which explains weight really well. Fingering weight is at the top, the others are increasingly fine lace weights.
3. It shouldn’t be too stretchy. This is a characteristic of some knitting yarns. It’s a good thing in a garment. but a bad thing in needlepoint where there is more tension when you stitch, and that both stretches and weakens the yarn.
4. It should have a clear twist. Many knitting yarns are very loosely spun and have little twist. Because of the sizing in needlepoint canvas, all yarns gets abrasion as it is stitched, loosely spun yarns just shred.
You can see clearly in this roving yarn from Ming Sheng how the three strands are loosely twisted. This yarn will not work for needlepoint unless it was couched on the front of the canvas.