Once you’ve mastered the basics of knitting and can confidently follow instructions like K1, P1, K2tog, most knitters want to move onto bigger and better things. It used to be a case of popping down to the local knitting shop and browsing through the patterns and yarn, but these sorts of shops are rapidly disappearing and more of us are shopping online for our supplies. It’s when you start browsing websites that you start to run into difficulties as many of the sites online are run primarily for an American audience, and lots of the terminology is different. Understand the differences and you won’t get caught out.


Here in the UK, knitting went metric sometime in the 1970s. All needles are now measured in millimetres. When you look on the ball band of a yarn like Debbie Bliss Cashmerino, which is double knitting weight, there will be a picture of knitting needles and 4.5 or 5. This tells you the size of needles recommended for the job. American needle sizes are completely different. A 4.5mm needle is an American size 7. To add to the confusion, there are still many vintage patterns out there using the pre-metric system for knitting needles, so the key point is knowing what numbering system the pattern or website is using, and looking on a conversion chart to make sure you use the correct needles.

Sport weight and worsted?

As well as needles being different, American yarns are graded in a completely different way from UK yarns. We’re familiar with terms like 4 ply, double knitting, aran or chunky, but look on an American website and you’ll see terms like fingering, worsted or sport. Unlike needle sizing, there is no exact conversion for the yarn, but as a general guide worsted is equivalent to aran, light worsted to DK, and bulky is the same as chunky. Be guided by the needle sizes suggested by the yarn manufacturer, remembering to convert into British sizes. Other countries use the “ply” measurement as a gauge, and this is often stated on American yarns too. DK is 8 ply, aran is 10 ply and chunky is 12 ply.

In the Round

The standard way of making a sweater in the UK is to knit the front, the back and the sleeves as separate pieces and then sew them up together at the end. In America, the concept of “knitting in the round” is much more popular. This technique involves using a circular needle, which is two small knitting needles joined by a cord of plastic. Once the knitting is cast on, it is joined to make a tube, and the benefit of this technique is that there are no seams at the sides of the finished piece. It can be a tricky technique to master though, and the trick is not to allow the cast on stitches to twist as you start to knot rounds rather than rows. There are plenty of tutorials on websites to help you with projects if you get stuck.

  • Photograph of American Flag & Union Jack by Jinx! Via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  •  License: Creative Commons image source

Morag Peers is a guest blogger and keen crafter, she knits regularly and was inspired to write this article after shopping online at Pack Lane Wool for some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino.

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