Who You Callin’ Chunky? And What Is Chunky Yarn, Anyway?
As summer winds down and we knitters and crocheters start thinking in earnest about fall, many of us find that our tastes in yarn start to run more towards the chunky side (in direct correlation with my waistline . . . is that just me?) Chunky yarn has only become more popular in recent years as the super-sized jumbo yarn trend has taken off, as in our new curated pattern collection with Tahki Yarns. But just how thick and juicy does a yarn have to be in order to be called chunky? And is there such a thing as too thick to be chunky? The answer is not as transparent as you might think.
Why Are Yarn Weights So Tricky?
I’m a long-time knitter, but yarn weights still occasionally trip me up. And I know I’m not alone!
Yarn weights are confusing for several reasons. It’s partially the nature of the beast: yarn thickness inhabits a continuous spectrum that we have arbitrarily divided up into standard weights and categories. There will always be border cases and yarns that live on the edges.
In addition, people from all around the world knit, crochet, and spin yarn, adding still more variance in the ways people describe different yarn types.
Finally, many of the words used to refer to yarn weights are also just plain old adjectives.
So What Does “Chunky” Mean?
“Chunky” may be the least-regulated term used to describe yarn. It is generally understood to refer to a yarn lying somewhere in that gray range between Aran and super bulky, but it is often used simply as an adjective rather than as the name of a specific yarn weight.
Example: “Oooh, look how squishy and chunky this yarn is! I wonder what size needles you need.”
Some yarn companies call any yarn thicker than Aran or worsted “chunky” and confuse the heck out of me and other stitchers who have to look up a yarn weight chart every time we’re trying to make a successful yarn substitution for a project.
Example: “We offer a wide variety of chunky yarn weights for you to play with!”
However, the Craft Yarn Council does specifically define “chunky” yarn: they give it a yarn weight of 5, with a gauge of 12—15 knitted stitches (U.S. 9—11 needles) or 8—11 crochet stitches (U.S. K—M hooks) per 4″.
Example: “This shawl uses a size 5 chunky-weight yarn. Be sure to check gauge!”
Things get even more confusing when we look across the pond! What Americans call “bulky,” yarnies in the U.K. will call “chunky.”
Ok, You’re Gonna Have to Show Me the Difference
The Tahki Yarns Terra Collection is absolutely packed with big gauge projects, so it’s a great way to visually show you what these “chunky” yarn weights actually look like.
On the far left, Tahki Vermont is a worsted-weight yarn that neither the CYC nor anyone speaking colloquially would call “chunky.”
Next up is Tahki Arctic, a wool and alpaca boucle yarn that meets the CYC definition of “chunky,” aka “bulky. It’s has a recommended gauge of 13 stitches per 4” on size 10 needles, so it’s right in the middle of that yarn weight 5 range. Visually, though, this yarn doesn’t look as “chunky” as some people might expect based on the name.
Tahki Montana, Tahki Big Montana, and Tahki Nevada are all technically larger than “chunky,” but I’ve heard a lot of people around the Interweave office refer to them as “chunky.”
Montana is right in the range between Bulky and Super Bulky, while Big Montana is a classic Super Bulky yarn. Both are wool roving singles yarns that make surprisingly pliable fabric, even in big gauges.
The bulkiest of the bunch is Tahki Nevada, a yarn that flirts with the edge of Jumbo yarn weight 7. It comprises two bulky rovings plied together for a truly springy, robust yarn perfect for mega-gauge projects.
Seriously, Though, What Should I Call “Chunky” Yarn?
Ultimately, if you’re talking about a yarn thicker than Aran or worsted, it’s up to you, as long as you clarify what you mean! “Fat,” “chunky,” and “bulky” are all on the table.
If you live in the U.K., you have the most clear-cut definition and might want to stick to that Craft Yarn Council-approved definition to avoid confusion. For the rest of us…go crazy! Use it as an adjective, use it to refer to yarn weight 5, or use it to refer to Aran yarn or larger. Just don’t be surprised if someone asks you to clarify!
Let me know in the comments: How do you use the term “chunky” as it applies to yarn? Did I leave anything out in this discussion of stitchery semantics? Would love to hear from you!
Yours in Stitches,
P.S. Don’t forget, size isn’t everything when it comes to yarn! Here are 15 things you really ought to know about yarn!
Get Up Close and Personal with Your Chunky Yarn