This article describes the types of knitting yarn including the many fibers, materials, and applications. We will discuss the differences between natural and synthetic yarns, as well as the pros and cons of each, and how to choose the best yarn for your next knitting or crocheting project.
Types of Knitting Yarn
Yarns can be made of a great number of different fibers, blends, and materials that can be hard to tell apart. This can make it hard to shop for the right types of knitting yarn if you're a beginner.
This article will help you tell the difference between an animal, plant, and synthetic fibers. What's more, it will help you judge what kind of fabric your yarn will knit up into. We also talk about the different kinds of knitting yarn and how they can affect your knitting.
Types of Knitting Yarn vs. Weights
It is essential to make a distinction between the various types of yarn and the weights of the yarn.
The term "yarn weight" relates to the thickness of the yarn that you are working with, and it is commonly categorized using WPI.
WPI stands for wraps per inch and is intended to provide a rough estimate of yarn weight - not physical weight but category, such as lace, fingering, bulky, and so on. The textile, fiber, or material that the yarn is formed of is known as the "yarn type."
Learning How to Knit
If you are new to knitting, read my knitting tutorial for beginners. It will teach you about cast on and cast off knitting as well as the most basic stitches which are knit stitch and purl stitch knitting.
Tools Needed for Different Types of Knitting Yarn
Obviously, the most important tool is the actual yarn itself. This is where you need to differentiate between the different weights and fibers of yarn available. We will be going into this aspect in detail later.
You will also need knitting needles. The size of the knitting needle you will need is dependent on the weight of your yarn. Generally, the ball band on your yarn will give a recommended size of the needle.
Here, again, there is a huge number of choices! You can choose between various materials for your needles, such as metal, bamboo, wood, plastic, metal encased in plastic, and carbon. You can get needles with interchangeable tips.
If you are a beginner to knitting, start off with a pair of size 8 or 9 (5mm) bamboo needles.
There are also many different styles and sizes of knitting needles - single-pointed, double-pointed, and circular needles. The straight needles come in different lengths, and the circular needles have different lengths of cord between the actual needles. This is to accommodate various widths of knitting.
- Metal needles: These can be made of nickel, stainless steel, or aluminum. They are perfect for knitting with fine yarns or designing intricate stitch patterns since they have sharp, pointed ends. While the slick surface makes knitting swiftly easier, it might be challenging when using cotton or other slippery yarns. Metal needles might be uncomfortable for some knitters during marathon sessions.
- Plastic needles are perfect if you need extra-large needles because they are very lightweight. They're cost-effective and practical for getting started. However, they may not endure as long as other materials over time since they might distort.
- Bamboo needles: These eco-friendly, lightweight needles are a good option. They work well with slippery yarns, but fuzzier yarn, such as mohair, may find that they adhere to them a little. They can snap, so be careful when storing them.
- Wooden needles: Similar to bamboo, these are an excellent option if you find that your stitches often slide off your standard metal needle tips while knitting with more slippery or silky yarn.
You will also need scissors, a yarn needle, a tape measure, and stitch markers for knitting projects in general.
Natural Types Of Knitting Yarn
Natural yarns are made from materials that come from plants and animals and are found in nature. Animal yarn fibers are great for making warm winter knitwear because they are very insulating. However, vegans can't use them, and some people find them itchy.
Although organic plant-based yarns such as cotton and silk are not as warm as animal-based alternatives, they are generally more breathable, absorbent, and non-allergenic.
Cotton Types of Knitting Yarn
Cotton is the best example of light and absorbent fiber. However, it offers minimal elasticity compared to wool. It is usually blended with other fibers, such as nylon, to offset this problem. There are three fiber types of cotton in the market:
- The Egyptian has the longest fiber and is smoother and softer compared to the others.
- The Pima is a cross between Egyptian and American cotton.
- American cotton is the most popular for it has the widest color variety.
Bamboo Knitting Yarn
Bamboo fiber, also known as "green" yarn, is a sustainable and biodegradable resource. The coolness and breathability of the material make it the most comfortable for knitted clothes for hot weather. Another great attribute of bamboo is that it is non-allergenic. It is also extremely absorbent.
Linen Knitting Yarn
Of all plant fibers, linen is the most heat resistant. It is an excellent material for warm-weather products. This type of yarn is ideal for making loose summer tops. This cloth, however, wrinkles easily.
Silk Knitting Yarn
Silk types of knitting yarn are one of the most adaptable fibers. It provides warm insulation in cold weather and cool breathability in hot weather. Silk is gentle on the skin. It's the yarn of choice for knitting children's clothing and blankets. It is often used in combination with other yarns.
Hemp Knitting Yarn
Another natural yarn fiber that has only recently gained popularity in the knitting community is hemp. It is not as hard to find as you might think it would be, and it is really strong.
Wool Types of Knitting Yarn
Wool is the most common yarn fiber for knitting. Woolen yarns are made from the wool of sheep and come in many different types. They are often used to make sweaters, scarves, heavy blankets, and more. Wool is warm, breathable, and a good insulator, but it can be itchy and cause allergies.
This type of fiber usually needs less washing than other types, and when stretched and blocked, it keeps the shape it dries into. Wool-knitted clothes can be cared for by hand washing them in warm water.
Wool is often mixed with other fibers to make them last longer. It's easy to dye different colors into it, and it's usually pretty resistant to water. But it can pill and felt easily if you wash it in the washing machine.
The most common types of knitting wool fiber are:
- Merino Wool is a type of wool that is very fine and comes from Merino sheep. It is one of the softest types of wool, and people like it because of how it feels, how well it breathes, and how useful it is. People say that merino wool is less itchy than regular wool, but it can still pill over time.
- Shetland wool comes from sheep that live on the Shetland Islands, which are part of Scotland. It is soft, shiny, and thicker than merino wool, which makes it a great choice for big, fluffy sweaters. But when worn close to bare skin, it can be itchy.
- Organic: Wool that hasn't been chemically treated, processed, or changed is called "organic wool." This is true for both the yarn and the sheep that make it. The sheep are usually healthy and are not dipped or given antibiotics. Organic wool is good for the environment and the well-being of animals, but it can be expensive and fragile.
- Wool Blends: Pure sheep's wool is often mixed with other types of yarn, like alpaca, silk, or acrylic. This is usually done to make a yarn with qualities that go well together, like being strong and soft. Most of the time, wool is mixed with cotton.
- Other: Even though these are the most common types of wool yarn, there are many other kinds of sheep's wool that can be used to knit. For example, lamb's wool comes from the first time a young sheep is sheared. Icelandic wool is soft and comes from Icelandic sheep. Pure wool, also called "virgin" wool, comes straight from an animal's fleece (it is not recycled).
- Lastly, "superwash" wool is treated to keep it from getting fuzzy on the outside.
Cashmere Knitting Yarn
This silky, smooth fiber is combed from Kashmir goats' backs and shoulders. It is a luxury wool that was previously only available to royalty. Knitters currently prefer this fiber for a soft and cozy knitting experience. Mohair is an animal hair fiber made from the long and silky hair of Angora goats. Mohair fleece is a great moisture absorber and is highly valued for its resilience and longevity.
Alpaca Fleece Yarn
Alpaca fiber can be lightweight or heavy depending on how it is spun. It is a very soft and fine fabric derived from the same-named animals. This type of fleece does not contain lanolin, making it a hypoallergenic knitting material when compared to sheep's wool.
Llama Fleece Yarn:
Llamas, which are related to alpacas, are also grown for their fiber. A llama's fleece is two layers thick. Its soft inner coat is used to make garments, while its outer coat is frequently used to make rugs and ropes. The lightweight knitting yarn is comprised entirely of baby llamas' soft undercoats.
Angora Knitting Yarn
Another type of animal fiber is Angora wool, which is a fine yarn made from the hair of Angora rabbits. It has the softness of cashmere and is equally (if not more) expensive, yet it is considered up to seven times warmer than regular sheep's wool.
Angora yarns, like mohair, are fluffy and glossy, which can be tough for beginners or knitters wanting to construct delicate stitches with high definition. Because it might be slippery to work with, it is recommended to use textured needles to get a solid hold on the yarn strands.
Angora is one of the most costly yarns on the market due to its softness and exquisite feel. Due to its lack of elasticity, it is typically combined with other fibers, such as sheep's wool or acrylic, to improve stretchiness and weight. It stains easily but does not absorb odors as well as other animal fibers.
Synthetic Types Of Knitting Wool
Synthetic types of knitting wool or yarn are made from chemicals rather than naturally occurring materials. They are normally much cheaper than animal or plant-based yarns, and they are also usually easier to maintain.
Rayon fibers that have been chemically treated fall between synthetic and plant-based. A mixture of reconstituted wood pulp and chemicals such as sodium hydroxide is used to create and prepare the material.
The majority of rayon yarns are glossy and silky to the touch. Some yarn makers employ rayon or nylon to mimic the properties of natural fibers such as silk.
In contrast to wool, rayon is a cool and airy textile that conducts heat away from the body rather than keeping it in, making it ideal for summer knitwear. It lacks flexibility, though, and hence does not keep its shape well over time.
Nylon is another synthetic yarn that is intended to be a low-cost alternative to silk. It is glossy, easy to launder, and extremely strong, similar to rayon.
This fiber is frequently mixed with weaker fibers like merino or alpaca wool. Nylon yarns offer strength and durability to otherwise delicate clothes. Nylon is also extensively used in the production of carpets and rugs.
Polyester is a synthetic yarn created from a combination of plant extract, petroleum, and coal, making it unsuitable for the environment. It is a long-lasting alternative to wool and is frequently used in place of animal fibers for persons who are allergic to them.
Polyester is often combined with other fibers such as wool and cotton for further strength and shrink resistance. It's strong, easy to maintain, and machine-washable. Pure polyester, on the other hand, can feel rough on some people's skin.
Acrylic Types of Knitting Yarn
Acrylic is a common man-made fiber that, due to its heat-retention capabilities, is frequently referred to as "imitation wool." It is far less expensive than natural fibers, making it an excellent choice for beginners wishing to practice their first knitting projects.
Acrylic, while warm and durable, is not as absorbent or breathable as sheep's wool. However, because of its robustness, it is machine-washable, making it a popular choice for goods that may need to be washed repeatedly.
Many producers use acrylic yarns to make low-cost faux fleeces and furs. Similarly, many knitters begin with acrylic yarn and progress to natural fibers as they gain experience.
Clothes knitted with acrylic yarn are significantly more durable than goods created with animal-based fibers. Also, acrylic yarns are avoided by moths, which is really convenient!
As mentioned previously, many of these man-made yarns are blended with natural fibers to try and ensure a happy medium between the two. Fiber blending is used to make yarns that have the best properties of diverse fibers while avoiding their flaws.
The majority of yarn sold in stores or on the internet is blended. That is, the yarn ball is made up of multiple types of fiber in varying amounts. For instance, it could be 60% sheep's wool and 40% acrylic.
How to Choose the Best Types of Knitting Yarn
After reading all about the various types of knitting yarns available, you may have formed some opinions on your preferences. However, when choosing yarn, every knitter should consider the following factors:
1. Yarn Weight: When selecting the proper yarn for your project, weight is a crucial thing to consider. The weight of the yarn you chose must be appropriate for your project. You won't need heavy, bulky yarn to make a light shawl. In contrast, if you're making a winter blanket, you should avoid choosing a thin, lacy yarn. The thickness of your yarn will influence the appearance of the end product.
2. Yarn Ply: Certain knitting designs appear better with certain types of yarn. A yarn with more plies (individual strands twisted together to form the yarn) produces more textured and distinct stitches. Most novices should go for worsted-weight yarn, which is a medium-thickness yarn with visible individual stitches. If you want your clothing or item to have a softer appearance, single-ply yarn is a preferable alternative.
3. Your Budget: You may wish to knit your own extravagant, large cashmere blanket, but you should evaluate how much yarn you'll need to complete the full project because high-quality skeins can be expensive. Keep your budget in mind while selecting yarn.
4. Availability: Choose a yarn that isn't too difficult to find or has been discontinued. It will be difficult to refill your supply if you run out of a difficult-to-find yarn in the middle of a large knitting project.
Types of Knitting Yarn FAQs
What type of yarn is best for beginners?
A medium worsted weight yarn (DK yarn) is recommended for beginners. Light colors are preferable because they make it easier to see where you've stitched. Wool is also easier for novices because it is super flexible and smooth.
Because fine cotton yarn and natural fiber yarns are not as elastic and can be difficult to knit with at first, they are better for advanced knitters. On the other hand, wool is more expensive than acrylic, so you may want to experiment with acrylic first, before laying out a lot of money.
Which is better - Acrylic or wool yarn?
Wool is the best natural fiber. Acrylic is better for vegans. Both acrylic and wool yarns come in every weight, from lace to bulky. Acrylic yarn is cheaper than wool yarn since it's easier to create synthetic yarn than to raise sheep.
Wool is more absorbent than acrylic, so it feels better against the skin.
They can both keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Due to their absorbency, wool fibers felt more easily when wet.
Acrylic yarn is more durable than wool since it doesn't pill or shed, although wool is preferable for socks. Wool yarn sheds because the fibers aren't as firmly bonded.
The best yarns are blends like acrylic and wool, nylon wool, acrylic/cotton, etc. Blended yarns combine the greatest qualities of both yarns. In the end, it comes down to personal preference!
Types of Knitting Yarn - In Conclusion
Now that you have read all the details about the different knitting yarns, which one are you going to choose?
Those knitters who love the convenience and price of acrylic yarn rave about it and consider those who only use pure wool ‘yarn snobs’. Those knitters who dislike anything artificial consider the ones who choose synthetic yarns crazy!
It all comes down to your personal preference, as each type of knitting yarn has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you can’t make up your mind, try making small items in a variety of types of yarns and see which suits you best! Then you can go out and splurge on whatever you like best for that wonderful sweater or blanket you really want to make!