Choosing the right weight of yarn for your project is important. However… there’s another variable in this equation! And that variable is called… fiber!
Yarn is made from a myriad of different fibers. These can be broken down into three categories: Animal, plant, and synthetic. These are the sources of your yarn, and each type has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. It is very common for your yarn to be made up of a blend – that is, yarn is made up of two or more different fibers. These fibers and fiber blends compose the characteristics of your yarn: Drape, durability, smoothness, softness, washability, and more.
- Wool – basic wool from a sheep. Baaaaaa! It’s relatively warm, but softness can span a large range from “super soft” to “not very soft at all”
- Lamb’s wool – This wool is specifically from a lamb’s very first shearing. It is suuuuuuuper soft and warm, and is hypoallergenic!
- Merino wool – Wool from the Australian Merino sheep. There’s most common kinds of Merino sheep that we use for Merino wool are Poll, Fonthill, and Boorla; Merino fiber is very very small in diamater. The smaller diameter the softer the resulting yarn! This wool also has great breathability
- Angora wool – Wool made from the angora rabbit! Angora fibers are hollow, which makes them feel lighter than air. It’s super super soft (softer than Merino!).
- Cashmere wool – Cashmere comes from the Kashmir goat. Cashmere fiber is the downy “under-coat” from the goat, and is collected by combing the animal instead of shearing. Only about six ounces of cashmere is collected from a single goat in a year! Cashmere is well-known for being lightweight and breathable
- American Alpaca wool – Alpaca is warmer than regular sheep’s wool because of microscopic air pockets that trap and insulate. Like Lamb’s wool, alpaca wool is hypoallergenic, and alpaca has incredible drape which makes it a great choice for shawls and other flowing garments.
- Silk – Silk is exceptionally strong and very very slippery. It has a beautiful sheen, but most silk yarns consist of blends where the silk is combined with warmer fibers.
- Cotton – You probably already know a ton about cotton! But when it comes to knitting with cotton, it’s less “itchy” than most wool and is a good alternative for people who are allergic to wool. Cotton maintains it’s shape, so it’s not exceptionally well suited to items with a lot of drape. Cotton is not a very stretchable fiber, so keep this in mind.
- Flax/Linen Flax – These fibers are stronger than cotton and are also not stretchable. However, flax and linen are exceptionally breathable and are great for making summerwear garments.
- Hemp – Hemp is an exceptionally stiff fiber. Generally you won’t be working with a hemp-only yarn as it is hard to work with because of it’s exceptional stiffness. Most likely you will find hemp in a blend, lending it’s strength to weaker fibers.
- Acrylic – Acrylic yarns are at least 85% acrylonitrile (plastic). The softness of this yarn can vary from the soft to the very rough. Acrylic is hypoallergenic and machine-washable. It is not uncommon to find acrylic blended with natural fibers.
- Polyester – Polyester has fantastic drape, and is machine washable, resistant to creasing, stretching, and shrinking. Blending polyester with cotton or wool will increase the durability of the finished products.
- Microfiber – Microfiber has exceptional drape and softness. Microfiber insulates well against rain, wind, and cold.
- Nylon – Originally a silk substitute, it shares many of silk’s characteristics – soft, lightweight, and good drape-ability. Using a nylon blend when looking for a yarn that needs to have durability – a nylon blend would be good for the heel & toe sections of a sock, for example.
This is by no means an exhaustive and complete list. However, we’ve covered some of the most common fibers that you’ll come across as you create your own projects. Between weight and fiber, you’ll be well on your way to whipping up new projects in no time!