Thinking of taking up knitting? First you will need to get to grips with the different types of knitting yarn available. Some people make the mistake in calling all yarn ‘wool.’ In fact there are many different types of yarn available, each of which have different properties and are therefore suited to different knitting projects. Below we discuss some of the values and purposes of various different yarn materials.
Standard wool comes from sheep, but did you know that different breeds of sheep yield different types of wool? In fact, there are almost as many different types of wool as there are different breeds of sheep! People have been using wool for over twelve thousand years. It varies in price, depending on the type, though popular types can be picked up quite affordably.
Today many people prefer to make clothing items and accessories out of wool as it has a number of beneficial properties e.g. dirt resistant, durable, waterproof, colourfast, wrinkle-resistant and flame retardant. Whereas some types of wool are coarse, others are medium or fine. It also comes in different weights, making some types of wool more suited to certain knitting projects than others.
Two of the most popular wool types are Blue Faced Leicester wool and Merino wool. Blue Faced Leicester sheep have long shaggy coats and produce wool that is soft and strong. It is our most lustrous British breed and can only be rivaled in softness by Merino. Merino sheep produce wool, which is superfine and as soft as cotton. It does however have tendency to pill, creating little balls of fuzz.
Mohair is a fuzzy yarn that is often used to make fashionable jumpers and cardigans. It comes from the fleece of Angora goats and is not to be confused with Angora yarn, which actually comes from Angora rabbits. Whilst Mohair yarn looks great and is soft to touch, many people find it to be a little itchy. This is why we recommend blending it with another type of yarn.
Mohair boasts a number of great qualities:
- Very durable
- Easy to dye
Cashmere is known as being the most luxurious of all yarn, which is why it is the most expensive to purchase. It comes from the Cashmere goat and is usually hand combed from their under-bellies during moulting season. Cashmere is known for being soft, fluffy and extremely warm, making it ideal for scarves, gloves, hats, jumpers, cardigans and tunics.
One of the great things about cashmere fibres is that they can be made into any thickness of yarn. This makes the yarn suitable for a wide range of knitting projects. If you cannot afford to splash out on cashmere, a cheaper alternative comes in the form of a cashmere blend. This yarn usually features cashmere and a cheaper type of yarn like wool.
Alpaca is a type of natural yarn that comes from the Alpaca, a llama-like animal. It is best known for making extremely warm clothing and accessories like gloves, scarves and hats. Most people refrain from using alpaca to make jumpers and cardigans, as it is just too warm – even for the UK! The best Alpaca yarn comes from it’s native Peru where the knowledge of gauging the fleece and producing the softest fibres has been handed down through generations!
It is worth noting that Alpaca yarn lacks lanolin, meaning that whilst it is hypoallergenic, it is not water-resistant. You will also find that it lacks the elasticity of other types of yarn, so careful gauging is a must.
Angora yarn comes from Angora rabbits and is known for being soft, fine and very fluffy. The material is often associated with 1950s fashion, as anyone who was anyone owned an angora sweater! Although angora is soft and fluffy to touch, it is actually prone to shedding. This is why it is recommended that you blend it with wool fibres to create a more durable yarn.
Silk comes from the long fibers of unraveled silkworm cocoons. It is one of the strongest types of yarn and is known for its luxurious and shiny aesthetics. Like cashmere, it is very expensive to buy. Silk is very lightweight, making it ideal for summer clothing knitting projects.
One of the most popular types of yarn is cotton, a lightweight material made from the fibres of the cotton plant. This material is often used to make clothing, as it allows the skin to breath, the same for which cannot be said for some man-made yarns. It is also very durable, making it ideal for cloths and towels.
Whilst cotton has many benefits, if you are new to knitting, it is recommended that you wait a little while until you use it in your projects. Unfortunately cotton is very unforgiving, so if you make a mistake, it will show up more so than if you were using wool.
People have been making cloth from linen for a very long, long time. In fact, the use of linen for cloth is thought to date back to around 8000 B.C. Linen is a very strong, yet lightweight yarn that is spun from the long fibres of the flax plant. On it’s own it is quite stiff and prone to wrinkling, however mixed with cotton it is ideal for making lightweight summer clothing including shirts, trousers and jackets.
Bamboo (sourced viscose)
Bamboo is a relatively new fibre on the market but is used in many products nowadays most notable re-usable nappies as it wonderfully absorbent naturally germ resistant and breathable!. As a yarn it is usually mixed with other fibres such as wool or cotton as on it’s own it would be too heavy. It has a wonderful drape and gives great stitch definition so is great for slinky evening tops, but is also great for children’s wear as it can be dyed to wonderful colours and is has the benefit of being great for babies who may be allergic to wool, but need something warmer and softer than cotton.
Acrylic and Nylon
Acrylic is one of the most popular synthetic fibres. Although it feels a little like wool, it does not offer the same quality in terms of warmth and durability. Synthetic fibres also tend to pill more than natural yarn. One of the great things about acrylic is that it washes really well. This is why many knitters use it for baby and pet projects. It is also less expensive, (although as this is essentially a plastic and is derived from crude oil the price of oil does have a bearing on the price of man made fibres!) making it ideal for beginners and those on a tight budget. Blended with wool it is both easier to work with and more comfortable to wear.
Have a look at our knitting yarn selection – we have a great range of different yarn materials, weights, and colours here at Little Lamb Wool. If you can’t find what you’re looking for r need some advice then check our Q and A, or get in touch and we’ll see if we can help out!