How Much Yarn Do You Need for Arm Knitting Projects?

A knitwear designer shares her tricks for buying the right yardage.

Knitting sweater
Photo: Shanna Sullivan

If you love to knit, then you likely know that creating anything from blankets to sweaters usually comes down to two techniques: arm knitting or traditional knitting. These approaches actually have a lot in common. Whichever method you use, the yarn makes the stitches the same way.

The defining difference between the two techniques involves your tools, says Anne Weil, the designer behind Flax & Twine and author of Knitting Without Needles: A Stylish Introduction to Finger and Arm Knitting. "[For arm knitting], you use your arms as the knitting needles to hold the stitches, and your hands as a way to make new stitches," she says. "With some creativity, you can make almost all the same variety of stitches, as well. [You can also] make cables, lace, and complex stitch patterns."

Of course, since you are using your arms, the results tend to be larger in scale, and that's a good thing: Chunky blankets and sweaters are popular both for their warmth and aesthetic. With that said, you'll need more yarn to complete these bigger projects.

How to Identify the Amount of Yarn You'll Need

When it comes to figuring out how much yarn you will need, consider two things: what you are making and what yarn you intend to use. "The amount of yarn you need really depends on your project and how thick your yarn is. For example, a good size blanket takes about 225 yards of yarn," says Weil. "If you are making that with four strands of super bulky yarn, you would need 900 yards total. If you are using two strands of a jumbo yarn, you would need about 450, and so on."

If you are using something really large, like T-shirt tube yarn, you might require even less than that, since the stitches you make are bigger, she adds.

Make a Swatch

Still, it can be hard to guess that final number. If you're stuck, consider creating a small swatch of fabric in the shape of the item that you want to make. "Measure the dimensions, and how many yards of your yarn were required for that swatch, and expand the dimensions to the size desired. Multiply required yarn accordingly," she says. "For example, if your swatch was 10 x 10 inches and it required 5 yards (100 square inches) and you want a blanket that is 80 x 60 inches (4,800 square inches), you would need 48 times 5 yards, which equals 240 yards for the blanket."

Follow Pattern Guidelines

The good news is that many patterns for knitting projects will include a guide or estimation of how much yardage you would need for a project. For instance, this arm-knit blanket pattern estimates that a small blanket will use 6 pounds of yarn; a large blanket will use about 9 pounds. Weil's patterns, like this one, include a clear materials list to eliminate the guesswork entirely.

Test Out Patterns

It's also good to experiment. Developing your own patterns can be a great way to learn what works and what doesn't. The final results, after trial and error, can be quite beautiful, and it will be worth it to see what you can make.

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