What is fingering weight yarn

A close-up look at fingering weight yarn, recommended needle sizes, and patterns you can knit with it

Your pattern calls for fingering weight yarn and you have no clue what it means? Then this little guide will tell you everything you need to know. Further down below, I will also give you a couple of examples, and even some free patterns here on my blog.

the definition:

Fingering weight yarn is defined as yarn for needle sizes 2.25 – 3 mm (U.S. size 1-3) and about 360 – 480 yards per 100 grams. Typically it’s a 4-ply yarn and is often also called “superfine yarn”, “sock yarn”, or “baby yarn”. When wrapped around a knitting needle, it will have around 14 – 24 wraps per inch (WPI) and counts as a number 1 yarn. The gauge in stockinette stitch ranges between 27 to 32 stitches for 4 inches.

someone knitting a gauge swatch with fingering weight yarn on size 1 knitting needles

It can be used to knit socks, gloves, hats, and baby clothes. Fine scarves and elegant sweaters can also be an option for patient knitters. It’s very important to note that there actually is not ONE clear definition of the term “fingering weight yarn”. In fact, if you surf the internet or look it up in different books, you will find quite a lot of conflicting definitions!

Tip: Typically DK weight yarn is created by spinning two fingering weight threads together to create an 8-ply yarn. And you can actually use this knowledge to substitute yarn in a pattern by knitting with two strands held together.

a couple of hanks and skeins of fingering weight yarn in different colors

Etymology: Why is it called “fingering weight”

The etymology behind the knitting term is hazy at best. Some hold it’s derived from fingram and is a 17th-century misapprehension of Old French “fin grain” (source). While the French influence in the 18th century cannot be denied, it doesn’t make all that much sense upon closer inspection – especially as Old French was only spoken up until the 14th century.

And even then, it can be debated that the correct word order would be grain fin. Sure, someone might have translated it to fine grain and that turned into “fingering” as a result of misapprehension or a transmission error. Maybe. But in Europe – no matter if that’s Germany or France – yarn was (and still is) being sold for needle sizes. Yarn weights do not have any special names or numbers. So, typically it’s a yarn for 2 mm or 3 mm needles. Rarely, will you find fil fin or fil trés fin (fine yarn/very fine yarn) but certainly not fin grain.

Similarly, in the UK, the standard wire gauge – indirectly – defined the needle size and that’s why needle sizes get higher the smaller the diameter. But even there, terms like worsted or Aran never described a yarn weight and always just properties, spinning techniques, a manufacturer, or use-cases. The Oxford Dictionary seems to agree and calls the fingram theory “folk etymology”.

However, it appears that in Scotland, it was a term used indeed. In a book called “How to knit stockings” by E. Ryder from 1865 (Source) the term “Scotch fingering” appears. So far, I could not find any earlier mentions. It must be noted that Miss Ryder was from North Yorkshire and the proximity might explain the usage – especially as most other books of that era don’t use the term at all.

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish National Dictionary has an entry for Fingerin(g) denoting a kind of woolen cloth and adds that “some special operation with the fingers in the spinning, not now understood” may be responsible for the name of that kind of fine fiber (I would suggest some long draw cable spinning technique). From there on, it seems to have been increasingly used for fine 4-ply woolen-spun knitting yarn.

In the Beehive knitting booklet No.9 published in 1915 (source) appears a very interesting entry:

“By arrangement between the principal makers and vendors of Scotch Fingering, an important alteration has during recent years been effected in its make-up. The unit is no longer one of length, but of weight, all such Fingering, whatever the ply, being now put up in uniform skeins of one ounce […] “BEEHIVE”* is the original make of Scotch Fingering to which all others have been matches. […] It is supplied in 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6-ply […].”

*Beehive is a branch of what modern knitters may know today as Patons yarns

So, it appears that around the fin de siècle the need for a standardized Fingering yarn product for hand-knitters measured in weight (so 1 oz or 3 oz skeins) arose in England. In a nutshell: Fingering yarn got standardized. Further research would be needed to determine the exact dates of that change.

This theory would, however, also explain why there are quite a lot of different definitions. Wikipedia says it has 350-450 yards and 14-24 WPI, Ravelry says it has 14wpi and gauge of 28 stitches, and the CraftYarnCouncil only lists a gauge (27-32 st) but no yardage but also says lace yarn can sometimes also fall in the fingering category. But that would support the theory that it simply wasn’t a clear yarn weight, to begin with.

fingering weight yarn and knitting needles - closeup shot

Light fingering yarn

Light fingering yarn is typically a 3-ply yarn with a gauge of around 32 stitches per 4 inches. Skeins will have a yardage of 400 to 450 yards per 100 grams. As such, the difference between fingering and light fingering yarn is very minute.

Fingering weight vs sock weight yarn

The terms sock weight yarn and fingering weight yarn can be used interchangeably to a certain degree. Both will and can be knit to the same gauge and it more or less depends on the manufacturer/spinner how they label that particular product.

It’s very important to note, however, that there is a big difference between sock weight yarn and sock yarn! The latter implies that this is a yarn you can use to knit socks. This means it is durable enough to withstand a lot of wear and tear and won’t fall apart after the first day. Typically this is achieved by blending sheep wool with nylon and/or slightly felting the thread.

How can you find out if your yarn is fingering weight?

wraps per inch method to determine if its fingering weight yarn shown on a knitting needle and a tape in the background

No matter if it’s a mystery yarn without a label, an indie-dyed yarn, or a skein from a different country, sometimes you need to find out if the particular ball in front of you falls within the category “fingering weight yarn”. But the truth is, that it’s almost impossible because, as detailed above, there’s no clear definition.

You can knit a gauge swatch in stockinette stitch and check if you get around the 27-32 stitches. You could also check if you get around 14ish wraps per inch or look at the yardage and if it has around 400ish yards per 100 grams it’s probably fingering weight yarn. This will give you the first inkling.

Ultimately, however, you have to accept that only comparing the gauge of the yarn with the gauge of the pattern will produce reliable results. Think about it: If the yarn is spun a bit tighter or with a different fiber (say cotton instead of wool), the resulting fabric will be drastically different. And achieving 28 stitches per four inches says nothing about the density of the fabric either.

Knitting projects for fingering weight yarns

One important question you might be asking is “what can I knit with fingering weight yarn?”. And the answer is – everything. Truly! Up until the mid-20th century, a 4-ply thread was literally the standard. The super bulky yarns you can find around every corner these days were both not durable enough and too expensive for knitters of the 19th century.

So, from socks to sweaters, anything is possible with a good fingering weight yarn. That being said, most modern knitters will shy away from starting huge projects on such small needles. So here are some very popular options:

1. Socks

a sample knit of my ribbed socks knitting pattern

The probably best thing to knit with fingering weight yarn is socks. New knitters might be tempted to use DK weight because it will be faster to finish. But it will also result in socks that might be a bit too thick for most shoes and too warm on top of that. Check out my socke2 pattern here.

2. Hats & headbands

A free cashmere hat knitting pattern with an inverted hem

A similar thing can be said about other winter garments. Not all places see temperatures way below the freezing point and sometimes you also may want to wear something that looks a bit more refined or a bit more drapey. And these cases, a hat knitted with fingering weight yarn can be a lovely choice.

Here on my blog I have a free hat pattern and a free headband pattern you might want to check out.

3. Home decor & amigurumi

Personally, I love to knit little flowers and cute home decor. So, you will find a lot of patterns for similar little items here on my blog. Almost all of them use fingering weight yarn.

cute knitted pumpkins arranged in a diorama

So, if you like to delve into the magical world of knitting dolls, amigurumi, etc, then this yarn weight will be your new best friend.

Here’s the link to my fly agaric pattern and here you can find my cute little pumpkins.

4. Lace shawls

Even though there is indeed special lace yarn that doesn’t mean that all lace patterns have to be knitted with it. Quite to the contrary. Using sock or fingering yarn and a bit bigger needles can also create stunning projects that are a bit faster to knit and often also a bit warmer and less drapey. It obviously depends on what you want to achieve but a nice winter shawl, it can be an excellent option.

Anyway, that’s everything you need to know about fingering weight yarn. Comment below if you still have any questions.

7 thoughts on “What is fingering weight yarn”

  1. Hello Norman,
    My question is unrelated to this post. I believe I read you started knitting left- handed then changed methods, but haven’t found that page on your blog again.
    I started and have been a left-handed knitter for more than 10 years. I’ve adapted reading most patterns and am satisfied with my final products. I generally avoid the Kitchener stitch and brioche because the translation gets complicated. Do you think it’s worth learning/ switching to another method such as right- handed or continental?
    Thank you very much for sharing your knitting knowledge!

    Reply
    • Hey Audra,
      I didn’t start with another technique. the way I teach knitting here on my blog is the way I learned it. As for making the switch..i can’t tell. All I can tell you that there are special programs available for free that can easily
      mirror the images on a website or a full youtube video. And then, you should be able to follow the instructions quite easily.

      Reply
      • Excellent suggestions, I appreciate the ideas and will give it a try. Thank you for answering.
        Also, this post about fingering weight yarn is both entertaining writing and a technical article. Your thoroughness sets you apart.
        Stay well!

        Reply
    • Hey Audra,
      I didn’t start with another technique. the way I teach knitting here on my blog is the way I learned it. As for making the switch..i can’t tell. All I can tell you that there are special programs available for free that can easily
      mirror the images on a website or a full youtube video. And then, you should be able to follow the instructions quite easily.

      Reply
  2. Hi Norman, another great article. As to your question about starting a Patreon account for more advanced content, I think that is a great idea. You might also look into alternatives to Patreon….I did a little research…and this quote makes a good point: “Patreon is a crowdfunding platform first, which does have its benefits. However, the fanbase that you grow on Patreon will remain the platform. Moving your fans to a different platform can be challenging.” And they take 10%…however, as a researcher, I know you’ll find the best platform to use.

    Reply
  3. Hello Norman,
    I just came across your blog. Where have you been all this while during my learning to knit? Thank you!
    Now, do you have such clear instructions for my cellphone?☺️
    Karla

    Reply
  4. Hi Norman,
    Great article! I love reading about the history of things.
    I’m also using fingering weight yarn now for my first pair of socks (thank you!), and I keep thinking it feels so soft and would be amazing for a jumper, but that would take so long!
    Mind you, I live in the tropics, so a jumper with fingering weight yarn would probably be a lot more bearable than thicker yarns.
    Cheers,
    Sean

    Reply

Leave a Comment