Bulky knits are always popular with new knitters and the instant-gratification crowd, and in recent years huge knits have been in fashion among knitters and on the runway.
Knitting with bulky yarn can be a lot of fun, but some knitters don't like working with these big fibers. Here's all you need to know about bulky yarn and how to work with it successfully.
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 the newest classification of yarns, known as jumbo.
Jumbo is a special case we won't really get into here because it's mostly made for arm knitting. This yarn is so bulky you're not really supposed to knit it with knitting needles, though of course you can.
Bulky yarn (weight classification 5) is generally thought of as being yarn that uses size 9 to 11 US knitting needles (5.5 to 8 mm) and that measures a gauge of 12 to 15 stitches per 4 inches/10 cm.
Super bulky yarn, classified as number 6, is worked on needles larger than 11 (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 and has 6 or fewer stitches per 4 inches.
Bulky yarn can be made out of all sorts of fibers, but is commonly seen in wool and wool blends as well as acrylics.
What's Good about Knitting with Bulky Yarn?
There are a lot of reasons a knitter might want to work with bulky yarns:
Because the yarn is so thick, it's much quicker to knit even large projects 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.
Projects worked with bulky yarn require less yardage than the same project worked in a lighter yarn, so you can get a lot of project for not a lot of yardage (which may save you money, but see below for a caveat).
Bulky yarns trap a lot of air, so they're warm pretty much regardless of fiber content.
As of this writing, bulky yarns are incredibly trendy among knitters of all skill levels and in the wider fashion world.
What's Not So Good about Bulky Yarns?
On the other hand:
Some bulky yarns are not incredibly tightly spun (or, in the case of roving-type yarns, not really spun at all), which means it can be easier to split bulky yarns compared to other fibers.
For the same reason, these yarns don't always wear well, and you can 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 that 50 yards per skein) so while it takes less yarn to finish a project, you might end up paying more for it.
Some knitters find bulky yarns too difficult to work with or uncomfortable to knit with, particularly those with arthritis or repetitive strain injuries (the big needles in particular can be uncomfortable to work with, and 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 be literally heavy, as is the case with the Bulky Cabled Scarf pictured.
What's 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.