Today’s discussion is all about yarn cones. Like we learned in our yarn hanks post, yarn comes in all shapes, sizes, and has a variety of names. Today, we’ll take that discussion one step further.
You’ll learn what yarn cones are and why they’re made. I’ll explain how they’re used and by whom, and what to expect from a cone of yarn. By the end of this knitting post, you’ll feel confident enough to shop for and knit or crochet with one.
Let’s begin by explaining what a cone of yarn is.
What is a Yarn Cone?
Before we get into the definition, I want to suggest one thing. Try not to get hung up on the geometry of the word “cone”. This might cause more confusion.
Now, here’s the simplest way to define it. Coned yarn is any type of yarn that’s wrapped onto a hard center core. The image below shows you a variety of yarn on cones.
As you can see, the center cores have one of two shapes. They’re either tapered yarn trees or circular tubes. Their center composition is usually plastic or paper (cardboard tube). Occasionally, you’ll find spools of yarn with wood cores. These are less common though. Some sizes are used for weaving shuttles, while others may be antique yarn holders.
You’ll also find that yarn cone cores have various diameters. Some are narrow and thin, some are wide and hollow, while others are funnel shaped. They’re also considered yarn cones if the wound yarn resembles a cone shape.
Now that we’ve established what it is, let’s talk about other names it's known by.
Yarn Bobbins and Yarn Spools
It may not seem like these two names would be associated with yarn cones, but they are. All three names have one thing in common. They all serve as cores for yarn, thread, or other material that’s coiled or wrapped.
They may be large or small amounts of yarn and used for a variety of purposes. For example, bobbin lace makers need to hand wind yarn onto yarn bobbins as shown in the image below.
Intarsia knitting uses a similar method (think argyle socks). This colorwork technique also requires small bobbins for intarsia knitting patterns. Yarn bobbins are also used in corner to corner (c2c) crochet, with embroidery (floss) in cross stitch, and other fiber arts.
A yarn spool similarly suggests an inner core onto which one winds yarn or fiber. Whether done by hand or by machine, just be aware that this may be another name used for cones.
Without going too far outside of knitting and crochet, weavers also use similar tools. Some weaving shuttles, like the boat shuttle, use a weaving bobbin in their core. If you'd like to learn more, here’s a link which details the variety of shuttle types for weaving.
Now, let’s talk about why they cone the yarn.
Why Yarn Cones Are Made
In the early stages of yarn manufacturing, the processed yarn consists of long lengths of twisted fibers. To make these lengths more manageable, and to serve a multitude of purposes, the manufacturer creates smaller spools of yarn. These spools are much larger than your typical store bought cone yarn (see above).
From here, one of two things occurs. Either the undyed yarn cones are sold to distributors to sell to indie dyers, or the yarn is dyed and sold.
As the following video shows, the hanks of yarn are first dyed. Then they rewind the yarn into smaller spools or yarn skeins with less yardage. Now these spools of yarn are ready to sell to knitters, crocheters, or for other fiber crafts.
Speaking of crafts, let’s talk about the uses of yarn cones.
Using Yarn Cones
There are a lot of applications that use yarn cones. Machine knitting and weaving are two that immediately come to mind. Being able to buy yarn in bulk means more seamless knitting and fewer yarn tails to weave in. I’ll talk more about additional benefits later on in this post.
Another application for spooled yarn involves indie dyers who hand dye yarn. Some indie dyers like to make their own unique yarn hank sizes. So, being able to buy yarn cones wholesale, in their favorite natural yarn fibers, gives them a lot of freedom. Not to mention that manufacturers can sell them in their raw form, which makes cones more efficient to create and sell.
Learn the difference between hand dyers and indie dyers here.
Other fiber arts that use this form are commercial embroidery, industrial sewing, and with overlock and interlock sewing machines. The cone shape fits easily over a yarn spool holder so it can spin freely from a fixed location.
However, yarn cones aren't limited to the machine-made crafts. You can absolutely crochet or hand knit with a cone of yarn. It would certainly help to have a yarn cone holder to keep your yarn in place, but it’s not required.
If you want to knit or crochet with coned yarn, here’s what you should expect.
The Pros of Spooled Yarn
Some of these I’ve mentioned already but most are worth mentioning again. Let’s begin with the pros of knitting with coned yarn.
- The yarn is more likely to be one continuous thread, though some yarn breaks may occur. So, you can expect fewer (or no) knots, fewer yarn joins, and less need for weaving in ends. Who doesn’t love a seamless knitting experience?
- The cone's design allows it to hold great lengths of yarn. Just imagine turning a baby blanket pattern into a one skein knitting project.
- Buying yarn cones for wholesale prices is not only more economical, but it’s also easier to match a dye lot if more than one cone is needed. They're also more evenly dyed since they’re done in large batches.
- If using a yarn butler or yarn cone holder, the yarn will stay balanced as you unspool it, unlike a yarn ball. Also, due to its center core, it won’t tangle or collapse like a yarn cake as you near the end. When you reach the end of your yarn, you can also recycle or re-use the center cores.
- You can find a good variety of yarn spools in most local yarn shops as well as arts and crafts stores.
Don't know if you'd like working with cotton cone yarn? You can always purchase a small yarn skein to try it out. This Premier Home Cotton yarn skein has 96 yards of yarn. That's enough to knit a gauge swatch or to knit a washcloth or two. Try our Happy Accident washcloth knitting pattern.
The Cons of Spooled Yarn
Now, let’s discuss the cons of using a cone of yarn.
- Knitting machine yarn cones are often treated with an oil or wax. This is to facilitate feeding into a knitting machine, for example. It’s this wax that can make the yarn feel scratchy or rough. It will come off when it’s washed though, and will much improve the feel of the yarn.
- Yarn cones are not as common as yarn skeins so there’s often fewer fiber varieties at shops. More often than not, you’ll find solid colors, though multi-color yarns are available.
- Whether it’s a cone shape or a circular shape, both hold vast amounts of yarn which, in some cases, can take up a lot of space. This can make them more difficult to organize and store in your yarn stash..
- The cone shape may be a deterrent to some knitters. For others, it’s the idea of working from the outside of the cone inward. However, using a cone stand to facilitate the unspooling will benefit you tremendously.
- Some yarn is spooled tightly which can make the yarn appear lifeless and limp. Before you knit with it, wind the yarn into a hank with a niddy noddy or an Amish swift and wash it first. Don’t forget to check the yarn label for care instructions.
All things considered, these “cons” are mostly remediable. All you might need is a little patience, an extra step, or an additional tool. In other words, don’t let these attributes keep you from using a cone of yarn.
Check out these recommended yarn tools:
Now, let’s talk about the bulk yarn quantities.
How Much Yarn on a Cone
I mentioned earlier that purchasing a cone is like buying yarn in bulk. It’s true. When you purchase yarn cones wholesale, you’ll find some can hold thousands of yards of yarn.
For example, one particular yarn spool I saw included 14,800 yards of silk yarn. That’s way more than any knitter or crocheter could ever need. If you were a weaver or machine knitter, it’d be a different matter.
Obviously, you’re more likely to find huge quantities in thinner weights like cobweb yarn or lace weight yarn than in bulkier yarns. For example, this spool of 100% Cashmere yarn includes 1200 yards of thin yarn. It’d certainly be difficult to knit with on its own, but it’d be great for blending yarn or using yarn held double.
These cotton yarn cones (shown above) include more reasonable amounts of yarn. The Premier Home Cotton Yarn has 700 yards of a cotton polyester blend. Lily’s Sugar N’ Cream cone yarn includes 674 yards of 100% cotton fiber. Both have the perfect amount for knitting a baby blanket.
Try these popular cotton cone yarn brands:
Aside from the types of yarn fibers I mentioned above, you can also find a variety of fibers. Linen, acrylic, wool and wool blends, and many others are available in yarn cone shapes. There’s really no limit to the wide spectrum of lengths and yarn weights you can find.
What Yarn Cone Numbers Mean
In an earlier post we talked about reading a yarn label and why it’s important. Here's yet another reason why they're useful.
Some yarn cone labels will include a number that looks like a fraction. For example, 20/2 (silk) or 26/2 for the earlier cashmere yarn. Here’s the short version of what you need to know.
These numbers are part of an early count system where yarn size and composition were written as a ratio. The top number tells you how thick or thin the yarn is. The larger the number, the finer the yarn is. The bottom number indicates the number of plies the yarn has.
These numbers are more useful in machine knitting or weaving, not so much for knitters. So, if you crochet or knit, don’t worry about it. But if you’re interested in learning more, here’s a useful post with a deeper explanation.
So let’s sum up. Today you learned all about yarn cones. You should now have a better understanding of why they’re made, why they’re used, what to look for, and what to expect from a cone of yarn.
I hope you now feel more confident about shopping for and using a cone of yarn.
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