Winter is almost here! It’s time to start making those scarves, sweaters, blankets, and socks. Even if we get these things by the dozen in shops, both offline and online we all love our hand-knitted winter clothes. And one of the most important elements in how your hand-knitted project turns out has got to be (other than your skill in knitting), the yarn you use.
Imagine hours and hours of your knitting labor disappointing you just because you choose the wrong yarn. I would be very sad, to say the least.
Yarn used in knitting can be animal-based, plant-based, or synthetic or a blend of all of them. And all of them have their advantages and disadvantages. So choosing a suitable yarn from the wide varieties of yarns in shops can be a little challenging – so many different colours, different fibres and different gauges – especially if you are a beginner at knitting and you do not know anything about the yarns.
The experts have their own favorites ; they have the experience of using most of the yarns on this list and have zeroed in on their best choice. It shows in their works.
In this article I will cover:
- A list of the most popular yarns used for knitting
- Choosing the yarn according to the gauge/weight
- Choosing the yarn according to the Ply of the yarn
- Choosing the yarn according to the source of fibers
- Sheep Wool yarns
- Merino wool yarn
- Alpaca yarn
- Acrylic yarns
- Camel wool yarn
- Cotton and Linen yarns
- Silk yarns
- Exclusive Expensive yarns
- Blended yarns
- Choosing yarn according to the color
- Tshirt yarn
A list of the most popular yarns used for knitting
Choosing the yarn according to the gauge/weight
Yarns of all kinds are available in different thicknesses. The thickness of yarn is a very important element for all knitters as it affects the way the fabric drapes, the way the fabric looks, feels etc.
You can choose between worsted weight, lace weight, sport weight, sock weight and fingering-weight yarns. Fingering-weight and lace weight are fine yarns meant to make thin and fine fabrics which can be made into baby clothes and lacework shawls. They are not meant for rough wear. Sock yarn is a superfine yarn that is used for knitting socks.
The kind of terms that you will find when shopping for knitting yarns are these – superfine, fine, light, medium, bulky, and super bulky. Very self-explanatory. For babies obviously, you would want the softest superfine or fine yarns. Chunky yarns are used to make oversized sweaters and cowls.
Gauge is another element you should look out for – this refers to the number of stitches you can make with the yarn. If you want a bulky knit fabric choose a lighter gauge yarn; if you want fine soft knit fabric, choose one with a high gauge number.
Choosing the yarn according to the Ply of the yarn
Fingering-weight yarn is a 2 to 4 ply yarn. Worsted weight yarn is a 10 ply yarn.(Ply refers to how many fibers are twisted to form the yarn). Ply of the yarn is important – because this will determine how long the fabric that you make will last. Ofcourse higher ply is better. Atleast 4 ply yarn is preferred for making clothes that will last.
Another quality that it affects is the way the fabric will pill.
Some of the things like colorfastness, durability, etc will depend a lot on the manufacturer you have chosen for your knitting yarn. But there is a way to know if your yarn will pill or not – pilling is a major issue in knitted products – ensure that the yarn is of more than one Ply and that it is tightly twisted. If it has more plies and the fibers are tightly twisted the chances of the yarn pilling is low
Choosing the yarn according to the source of fibers
Sheep Wool yarns
The wool yarn is obtained from the fleece of the sheep. There are many different breeds of sheep in the world and there are as many varieties of wool yarn. The wool yarn is usually categorized according to its thickness. Another category is the age of the sheep, breed of the sheep, where the sheep is located, when is the shearing done, etc.
Wool has a lot of advantages.
It is very durable. It is very easy to knit with wool yarns. The wool of sheep adjusts to your body’s temperature. In fact breathability and this quality are the best advantages of wool yarn. Wool yarn is a durable yarn that can withstand a lot of the strains and tensions inevitable in knitting. Moderately stretchy and available in a wide range of colors, wool is oftentimes mixed with artificial threads to look more appealing and to make it lightweight and also inexpensive. Because it traps heat and diminishes the difference between air and body temperature, it remains one of the most favored choices to date.
Wool yarns are of two types – Woolen and Worsted Yarns. Woolen yarns are fuzzier and bulky. It is made of short uneven and soft fibers so there will be short hair sticking out which makes it very warm but it may not be very suitable for making clothes that touch the body. It is a great yarn for making scarves, outer garments, blankets etc.
Worsted yarn is softer and flatter – it is made of long fibers which are Loosely twisted to form sturdy yarns. Shetland wool is a fine worsted yarn with a slight twist. It is made of wool of Shetland sheep.
The wool of Icelandic sheep is called ice wool; it is very fine and soft. Wool from Baby lambs is softer and finer than that of adult sheep. And the first shearing wool is considered better than the subsequent shearing.
As a very insulating fiber and a natural fiber, you may think that wool is the number one choice for all of us for making winter clothes – but that is not strictly true. For one, wool will pill in time – most horribly. And wool in its pure form can be itchy. It may cause irritation and itchiness to sensitive skin.
To bypass the problem of the prickly wool fibers, you can look out for wool that is labeled hypoallergenic – this means that it has been tested to cause fewer allergic reactions. Otherwise, the more expensive Marino wool yarn is the solution.
Merino wool yarn
Merino wool has all of the advantages of wool and then some. Merino sheep is a very fine breed of sheep and the fibers on its body are very fine and softer than that of ordinary sheep. German wool is a merino wool variety
If you want a very warm option, (more than the sheep wool – it is said to be several times more warmth giving than sheep wool) , combined with an attractive fuzzy look and want a natural fiber, alpaca is the yarn for you. Alpaca wool is made from fibers obtained from llama, a type of camel. It is a lot softer than sheep wool and feels luxurious. As it is hypoallergenic, you can use it to make anything for small babies and children.
But on the flipside, knitting with alpaca is comparatively harder and requires good practice. So, if you are a beginner, wool or other fibers are recommended. And it is costly but for babies, you may not consider it an unecessary expense.
If I am allergic to wool and I cannot afford merino wool or alpaca wool I would choose an acrylic yarn. Acrylic yarn is one of the most sold yarns – most of us start our knitting journey with acrylic yarn. It is a Synthetics yarn and is very easily available and very inexpensive.
All good things has a flip side. Acrylic yarns lack breathability and aren’t that great on the skin. It is not suitable for making things for small kids. Your kid might feel warm but a little uncomfortable.
But for these problems, you can go with these yarns as they are incredibly affordable, shiny, and somewhat durable. It is also very lightweight but very insulating
Ensure that you have a good quality acrylic yarn – this is very important as bad quality cheap acrylic yarn looks alright at first glance, but once you have made your project or once you have washed your project you will start experiencing the problems – it may start to pill.
Camel wool yarn
If you have access to camel wool, you will definitely be able to afford it because it is comparatively less expensive than the wool yarns listed above. It is incredibly warm and at the same time lightweight. But the problem is that it may not be available in a lot of bright colors. Another problem is that the shorthairs of the camel may cause itching.
If you like shades of brown and you want cheap yarn which is also very warm yarn you can try camel wool yarn.
Cotton and Linen yarns
These are good choices of yarn if you are making hand knitted clothes for the summer – Cotton and Linen are available in a variety of colors and they both are very breathable fibers.
When it comes to the quality of fiber, cotton is primarily divided into ordinary thread, shiny, melange, and silky.
Best for yarning intricate patterns and clear stitches, cotton is considerably a cost-effective option. Furthermore, cotton would make an excellent choice if you are looking for alkaline resistance and hygiene properties. The fact that it is easy to wash helps in its popularity.
Pure cotton shrinks after washing, albeit a little. To avoid your cotton yarns splitting, you have to pay attention to the threads. Plant fiber yarns also do not have the stretch of wool or acrylic yarns. Another point to be noted is that the process of knitting with cotton is generally more time-consuming than with wool.
Linen yarn can look crisp at first and may feel difficult to use but the fabric softens upon washing, just like woven linen fabric.
One advantage of the plant fibers over wool yarns or acrylic yarns are that these do not pill. This creates a smoother appearance. If you can get hold of cotton yarn which is labeled Mercerised it will be the best – these yarns are smoother and devoid of the short fibers which can look messy.
Cotton-linen blend yarns are great for making lightweight blouses and summer ready tees – the fabric will hold its shape because of the stability of both the fibers.
If you are concerned about the ecological impact of the plant fiber yarn you are using you can go for organic cotton yarns.
Cultivated from the cocoon of mulberry silkworm larvae, silk is a strong fiber and very lustrous and luxurious. Silk is a lightweight, breathable fiber and has good stability. It is relatively absorbent and keeps your thermal balance intact. It makes a thin fine soft fabric that is delicate on the skin but at the same time acts as a good insulator (Unlike wool which can be bulky). This shiny fabric also has fast-drying properties.
But the problem is that silk yarn is expensive. So silk yarn is usually available as a blend – silk-cotton blend yarn, silk-wool yarn. Worsted silk yarns are the best and softest.
Exclusive Expensive yarns
If you are looking for making expensive projects you can choose one of these yarns – Number one on my list is the most expensive yarn in this world – Vicuna wool yarn. Others are Quivet, Alpaca, cashmere, and merino wool
Alpaca is an expensive and high-quality wool. The yarn is obtained from llama, belonging to the camel family. The yarn is soft, long and thin and has a silky sheen.It is lighter in weight than wool yarn.
Mohair wool is grown from Angara goats. It is another very expensive wool yarn – For one it is not available everywhere. And another it is very very soft and very very warm at the same time very lightweight because of which it is a very coveted wool. Mohair is usually available as a blend but even that is very expensive.
Angora wool is obtained from Angora rabbits. This is usually available as a blend. It is blended with acrylic or regular wool fibers. High-quality angora wool is very costly; you also have to be careful in washing it and caring for it to maintain its fine appearance; it is not as durable as mohair.
Cashmere yarn is yet another exclusive yarn obtained from the goats in the mountanious Kashmir. It is the softest of all wool yarns and very very costly. If it is not costly, you can be sure it is not cashmere. But the way cashmere fabric feels on the body is something else. Cashmere fibers are usually combined with sheep/goat fibers to make them more affordable and more strong.
Most of the luxurious wool fibers are combined with each other to get the best of each of the qualities – merino is blended with cashmere, mohair is blended with alpaca. Wool is also blended with plant fibers – mohair and silk blend yarn is a thing of beauty.
Wool is combined with acrylic to mix their advantageous properties, making the yarn lightweight and breathable. It tends to be full, soft with lovely volume. Plus, the yarn is easy to knit with, and the stitches tend to lie beautifully side by side. It feels pleasant against your skin and is safe to use on both adults and children.
Acrylic yarn is combined with viscose to make lustrous and shiny yarns. Angola yarn is a mixture of cotton and wool. Plant fibers are blended with wool fibers to reduce the problem of pilling.
Linen-silk blended yarns make very elegant projects – lightweight and drapey. Linen-silk-wool blend is another favourite – great drape, great texture.
Choosing yarn according to the color
Some yarns are not available in all colors. For eg camel hair yarn is beautifull and very good for hand knitting soft projects but is usually available in earthly colors. Acrylic is available in all the colors of the world.
Ombre yarn is a yarn with one colour fading into another (gradient colours). There are many varieties of yarn with variegated colors. If you are an experienced knitter you can make beautiful patterns on your project with the help of these yarns – depending on the colors on the yarn as well as the length of the colors in a stretch.
Grandrelle yarn is a mixed color yarn made of two fibers of different colors that are spun together. Tweed yarn has flecks of more than one color giving it an interesting depth and variation. Other colored yarns like striped yarn, eyelash yarn, ribbon yarn, all have interesting color effects that will bring variety to your knitting projects
Novelty, textured yarns
Boucle yarn is a textured yarn with small loops on the surface. Chenille yarns have a fuzzy feel and look. Both these yarns create great warm fluffy knit fabrics.
This is made from a cotton acrylic blend knit fabric – when you buy it online. It can be knitted as any knitting yarn but you will need thicker knitting needle. You can cut up your old tshirts and make this yarn easily. Checkout this tutorial for making t-shirt yarn.