Bulky knits are always popular with new knitters and the instant-gratification crowd. In recent years, huge knits have been in fashion among both knitters and on the runway. While knitting with bulky yarn can be a lot of fun, some knitters don't like working with the big, chunky fibers. There are definitely pros and cons, but a bulky yarn can work great for the right project.
What Is Bulky Yarn?
For the purposes of this discussion, bulky yarn is anything that's larger than worsted or medium weight yarn. In the yarn classification system that's actually three categories: the two known as bulky and super bulky yarn, and one of the newer weights, known as jumbo.
Jumbo is a special case that's mostly made for arm knitting. This yarn is so chunky that you're not really supposed to knit it with knitting needles, though you can.
- Bulky yarn (weight classification 5) is generally thought of as yarn that uses size 9 to 11 US knitting needles (5.5 to 8 mm). The gauge typically measures 12 to 15 stitches per 4 inches (10 cm).
- Super bulky yarn (weight classification 6) is worked on needles larger than 11US (8 mm) and gives an average gauge of 6 to 11 stitches per 4 inches.
- Jumbo yarn can be worked on needles size 17 US (11 mm) and up or with your arms. The gauge is 6 or fewer stitches per 4 inches.
Bulky yarn can be made out of all sorts of fibers. It is commonly seen in wool and wool blends as well as acrylics.
There are a lot of reasons a knitter might want to work with bulky yarns:
- Since the yarn is so thick, it's much quicker to knit a project—even large ones—with bulky yarn than it would be to knit the same thing with a finer yarn.
- Some knitters find the yarn easier to work with than lighter weight yarns because of the larger needles and extra thickness to grab onto.
- Projects worked with bulky yarn require less yardage than the same project worked in a lighter yarn. You can get a lot of project for not a lot of yardage, which may save you money. There is a caveat to this below.
- Bulky yarns trap a lot of air, so they're warm pretty much regardless of the fiber content or stitch pattern.
- Bulky yarns are incredibly trendy among knitters of all skill levels and in the wider fashion world. Though it goes up and down over the years, it's always a relatively popular style for super comfy cold weather garments.
There are also disadvantages to a bulky yarn that you will want to consider as well:
- Some bulky yarns are not tightly spun or, in the case of roving-type yarns, not really spun at all. It can be easier to split bulky yarns compared to other fibers. This can make it more difficult to work with your needles.
- For the same reason, these yarns don't always wear well. You may see pilling on projects like sweaters even when they haven't seen a lot of use.
- Bulky yarn is sold in skeins of much smaller yardage—sometimes less than 50 yards per skein. While it takes less yarn to finish a project, you might end up paying more for it. Additionally, skeins of bulky yarn can be higher priced and have fewer budget-friendly options than worsted weight.
- Bulky yarns may not show off stitch patterns as well as lighter weight yarns. They do well for simple stitches like stockinette, garter, and block patterns, but can get lost or be tricky to work in intricate patterns like cables, even seed stitch.
- Some knitters find bulky yarns too difficult to work with or uncomfortable to knit. This is especially true for knitters with arthritis or repetitive strain injuries. The big needles may be uncomfortable to work with and the projects tend to get heavy quickly.
- Bulky yarns make bulky garments, which aren't flattering on everyone.
- It's easy to get overheated when wearing a bulky garment.
- The projects can also literally be heavy. When making something like a scarf, you'll want to cut the length so it doesn't weigh down on your neck and cause strain.
The Bottom Line
As with many things in knitting, some people love bulky yarns, and some people hate them. Some people use them sparingly, if at all, for scarves and other accessories, but would never let a bulky knit cover their body.
Give a bulky yarn a try on an easy project like the beginner's garter stitch scarf and see what you think. Also, there's a great variety of bulky yarns available, so if you don't like one, you may really enjoy another.