Yarn labels contain all the information you need to identify the type of yarn. But what do you do when you come across a skein or ball of yarn without a label? Perhaps it is leftover yarn that you've tucked away in a closet and forgotten about. Or maybe it is some yarn that someone else tucked away and has given it to you.
Don't let missing labels keep you from finding a use for perfectly good yarn. When faced with a mysterious ball, or balls, of yarn, there are a few things you can do to find out more about it.
Compare it Visually
Take a good look at the mystery yarn. Compare it to other yarns that do have their labels. Do you have another yarn that seems to be of the same thickness? Does its texture seem the same as another yarn? Check the structure of the yarn. Is it one-ply or have multiple plys twisted together?
Compare it by Weight
If you have a small mail or food scale that measures in ounces you can snip a piece of the mystery yarn and a piece of a similar yarn that has its label. Make sure both yarn cuttings are the same length. Weigh each cutting individually. If they are very close, it will let you know if the mystery yarn is a suitable substitution for the yarn that is labeled.
Compare by Gauge
Knit or crochet a small gauge swatch in the mystery yarn. Knit or crochet a matching swatch in a similar known yarn. Be sure to use the same size needles or crochet hook while making both swatches. This will further help you tell if the mystery yarn can be used in the same way as the similar yarn that does have its label.
Find Yarn Content with a Burn Test
Yarns are made from many different fibers and combinations of fibers. The yarn will perform in a slightly different way depending on its content. The yarn content will also determine how the yarn should be washed after it is used in a project.
Different yarn fibers react differently when they are burned. For safety, perform burn tests in a well ventilated area and work over a nonflammable surface such as aluminum foil. Snip a small piece of yarn (3 or 4 inches) and hold it with a pair of tweezers to avoid burning your fingers. Use a lighter or an unscented candle to burn the yarn and pull your hair back to keep it out of the flame.
The following results will help you determine whether the yarn is made of plant, animal, or synthetic fibers:
Plant fibers - (e.g. cotton, hemp, rayon, hemp) Burn without melting and leave a fine gray or white ash. They may smell like paper or wood while burning.
Animal fibers - (e.g. wool, alpaca, mohair, angora, silk) Burn without melting and leave a black, pebbly ask that crushes to powder. They smell like hair or feathers while burning.
Synthetic fibers - (e.g. acrylic, nylon, acetate, polyester) Melt when burning, leaving a hard bead instead of ash. Most smell like chemicals while burning. Depending on the type of synthetic fibers, you may notice other smells: acrylic smells like fish, acetate like vinegar, nylon like celery, and polyester has a sweet smell.
*Note: the hard burnt bead formed on synthetic yarns may stay very hot for some time.
With some simple tests, you may be able to have a better idea about the identity of your mystery yarn. Once you understand more about the yarn, you can put it to good use.