- On June 24, 2013
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- alpaca yarn, knitting, types of yarn, yarn
Which yarn do you reach for when you get ready to cast on? It seems like there are so many different types of yarn, and each one has its pros and cons. Before you take on your next knitting project, get familiar with your fiber options and make the best possible selection for your creation.
1. Natural, animal-derived yarn. Yarns derived from animals include wool, alpaca, mohair, cashmere, angora, and silk. Wool comes from sheep and is loved by knitters across the world. Wool is great for projects in which the desired result is a fluffy, warm article of clothing, blanket or accessory. The finished fabric is springy and holds its shape.
For much softer but more expensive material, try cashmere or angora. Cashmere comes from combing the soft undercoat of a particular type of goat, and angora is sheared or plucked from gorgeous bunnies. These yarns can be used to create luxurious articles of clothing, but may need gentler handling, due to their more delicate nature.
Mohair is a very strong fiber, soft when the goat is young, and coarser when it is sheared from an older goat. Mohair is shiny, and dramatic when dyed.
Our personal favorite type of animal fiber, alpaca, is often shinier, smoother and warmer than wool, and comes in a huge range of natural colors. It drapes without much elasticity, and has very little memory–best for shawls, blankets, and other projects that can hang loosely. Alpaca yarn produces clothing that is both warm and yummy-soft.
Silk is undeniably the smoothest of fibers, and comes from the cocoons of silkworms. A light, strong and lustrous material, silk will produce garments that are beautiful to both the eyes and the skin.
All the natural fibers have the advantage of “breathing” when worn. Most animal fibers need special care when washing to keep the fibers from felting and ruining the project. They are also vulnerable to damage by moths and abrasion, so make sure you or your gift recipient know how to care for the finished item.
2. Natural, plant-derived yarn. This category includes fibers such as cotton, hemp, bamboo, and linen. These fibers, lacking the crimp and elasticity found in animal fibers, are put to best use in projects that don’t depend on spring and bounce. For instance, cotton sweaters should be constructed carefully so that they do not sag and “grow.” On the plus side, cotton is cool and comfortable to wear in warm weather, breathing, and releasing moisture. Cotton has been important to the economy here in the southern regions, covering thousands of acres of the bush-like plants.
Linen is produced by flax plants, offering a strong, stiff and glossy fiber, also appreciated by those who live in warm climates. To reduce some of the stiffness characteristic of linen, you can simply machine dry the garment.
I personally love cotton because I can whip up a much appreciated washcloth or pot holder in no time with just a little inexpensive cotton yarn. Win!
3. Synthetic yarn. Synthetic, man-made fibers include nylon, polyester, microfiber, and acrylic yarn. Back in our grandmothers’ days, these fibers gained great popularity because of their ease of care (no danger when throwing them into the washing machine and dryer) and because they were really affordable. They weren’t very soft or comfortable to wear, so a whole generation of us grew up not very interested in knitting at all!
Fortunately, yarn companies have made great strides in improving the look and feel of synthetic yarns, and they once again have returned to the mainstream. Because of their easy-care nature, synthetic yarns may be a great choice for baby and kid clothes, which need lots of repeated washings by busy mothers.
4. Novelty yarn. These yarns are notably fuzzy or textured in some other distinct way, like ribbon, chenille, ruffles and faux fur. They range from dead-simple to quite tricky to work with, so make sure that you’re comfortable with the knitting basics before you take on any projects that utilize these materials. Novelty yarns, with all that crazy texture, can be great at hiding mistakes!
5. Specialty yarn. Color is all the rage now, and specialty yarns use color in some lovely, appealing ways as tweeds, heathers, ombres, self-patterning, and yarns with long and short color repeats. They create a variety of different looks by blending colors and fibers to produce a unique aesthetic. Tweed consists of a background color with bits of other color throughout. Heathers blend two or more colors into one yarn. Ombre yarns slowly change a single color from light to dark. Self-patterning yarns give the effect of complicated color-work without the fancy techniques. Color repeat yarns can produce stripes or blocks of color with no effort on the knitter’s part – a real bonus for knitters like me who need to be entertained as they go!
I believe there’s no such thing as a bad yarn. Every yarn has at least one perfect application. Try lots of yarns to learn what you like and don’t like, and what might suit your next project. And if you’re looking to try alpaca yarn, make sure to check out Jacob’s Reward Farm!