Yarn is made from twisted fibers. It is an important part of fiber arts such as crochet, knitting, crewel embroidering and various weaving processes. It would be difficult to practice many handcrafts without good yarn. Modern yarn skeins can be made from many different fibers. The most common ones are acrylic, polyester, cotton, and wool. Some yarns are made from a combination of fibers, some have metallic threads added to them, and all of them come in a variety of quality grades.
Most Common Fibers
An all-natural fiber made from animal fur or hair. Closely woven, it can be made nearly waterproof and is one of the few fabrics that are warm even when wet. On the negative side, it tends to be scratchy, many people are allergic to it, and it is a “dry clean only” fiber – unless you have made it too big deliberately and plan to make it shrink. It will almost always shrink when washed in water.
Another natural fiber. Usually does not cause allergic reactions, but will sometimes shrink. However, it the yarn has been preshrunk, it can usually be relied upon to stay the same size. It is often heavy and lacks some of the elastic properties of wool.
Acrylic and Polyester
Man-made fibers that have some of the characteristics of wool. These synthetic fibers usually do well when machine washed on “gentle” and tumble dried. If dried without a dryer, they need to be spread on a net and blocked, rather than line dried. Line drying tends to allow the products to stretch out of shape.
Yarn with Metallic Threads
Usually incorporated into Acrylic or Polyester yarns, this can be very pretty. However, it tends to be itchy. It works well for decorative projects or for sweaters that will be worn over something else. Not good for baby clothes or for people with sensitive skin.
While it is tempting to say, “you get what you pay for,” that isn’t perfectly true – although there is a close correlation. Department store yarns, such as Redheart, are often coarse and have varying thickness. The variations will affect your stitch count and throw off patterns that need consistency – such as afghans made using afghan stitch or sweaters. These lower grade yarns are perfectly fine for beginner projects such as potholders or granny square afghans.
For baby clothes, fine soft yarns labeled as “baby yarn,” such as Baby Wintuk, do very well. However, these yarns are not sufficiently fine enough for socks or gloves. Those garments really need sock yarn, which you will usually find in specialty shops or can order online. Baby yarn also makes nice sweaters and leg warmers for older children and adults.
Cotton yarn or cotton thread is excellent for crocheting or macramé but is less often used in knitting. It tends to lack stretch, but it is usually soft and comfortable next to the skin.
Good yarn contributes heavily toward the success of your project. Happy crafting!