There are all sorts of novelty yarns available on the market today. From flashy eyelash yarns to nubby, fluffy, and just about any other kind of textured yarn you could possibly want, it's available. Yet, the one that started it all was ribbon yarn. It's a fun one to play with and works well for the right project, though it can also be a little frustrating for some knitters.
What we often call ribbon yarn today, came onto the scene in the early 2000s. Ribbon yarn can be made out of various materials, from cotton and rayon to nylon, though it all looks and feels like craft ribbon. It's generally flat, just like a ribbon and relatively lightweight until it's knit up.
Ribbon yarn is often sold in relatively small quantities of around 100 yards per ball. It can be found in solids and variegated colors from numerous manufacturers.
Ribbon yarn is different from newer novelty yarns that might have ribbon in their name or description. These include boa yarn or lace fabric yarn in which you work the stitches into the side of the yarn itself rather than the more conventional way.
Knitting with ribbon yarn can be a challenge at times. This is especially true if you're a perfectionist and like all of your stitches to look pristine. Ribbon yarn loves to spin and twist while you are working with it. Nothing short of constant vigilance on the part of the knitter will keep the yarn from twisting.
The finished look of a ribbon yarn project tends to be twisty. It makes the finished stitches look uneven which, depending on the pattern, isn't necessarily a bad thing. If your pattern is meant to show off delicate stitch work, ribbon yarn is probably not the best choice.
Ribbon yarn can also be kind of heavy in a garment. You probably don't want to knit a sweater out of it.
If you're working with wooden needles, make sure the tips are smooth. Unlike other yarns, which are forgiving, ribbon yarn can easily snag on any splinters.
Ribbon yarn is great for accessories like belts, headbands, and scarves. It's also a fun yarn for flashy bags, though you will need to be careful because it's not a heavy-duty yarn and it can stretch or snag easily.
While sweaters are not your best choice, ribbon yarn is a good weight for a summer top. It can be combined with other yarns for a slightly more durable look as well, but it's really cute on its own.
Ribbon yarn is a great addition to a woven wall hanging—it can add texture and pop of color when combined with traditional macrame.
Projects to Try
There are a wide variety of free knitting patterns available using ribbon yarn. Many patterns that don't call for it specifically will also work, just look for simple stitch patterns.
This yarn works well with dropped stitch patterns like the ribbon yarn drop stitch scarf from Diane L. Augustin. Another fun one is the wavy ribbon scarf from Tess' Designer Yarns, which uses a particular method of drop stitching that is sometimes called the seafoam stitch.
The ribbon rib from YIYO Designs is another interesting openwork pattern that uses ribbon yarn to great effect. This one's very lacy and perfect for formal wear or a funky, light spring scarf.
The ribbon yarn hat from Mandyz Moons is another great little project that uses a single skein. It's sized for kids, but you can easily adjust it for adults.
For a pretty summer top, you'll want to check out the ribbon xback from Knitty. It's one of the few garments that work really well with ribbon yarn and it knits up rather quick on size 11 needles.