This section is dedicated to information all about yarn. I researched on the net and compiled as much relevant information that I could, especially where it concerned knitting machines and yarns with the simplistic explanation, "I SWEAR"!!!. While my site is more about machine knitting rather than hand knitting, hand knitters might find this area helpful. Visit "YARN STORES" page for a list of great yarn shops with excellent pricing.
Yarn information is a really tough subject and can be very confusing because certain terms such as the term "Worsted" can mean different things to different people or different cultures. Certain terms can only be used with certain fibers, other terms can be interchangeable and yarn counts as far as plies (how many yarns are twisted together) can be different numbers in different countries and also with different yarn fibers. Sheesh! Is your head spinning yet? I will try to explain what I know with my limited knowledge and experience. This area, textiles, people go to school for in order to major in the subject and there is volumes of information on this subject.
I do not talk in-depth about the types of yarn out there, as far as what it is made of and how it is made and dyed, as there are volumes of information and and it can get very technical. If you need more information I suggest taking a class in textiles or doing some research yourself, but this page should give you a basic understanding of yarn and what types are in the market. Also, do not get confused when the term fabric is used, because that is what you are doing, is making fabric, which is the combination of yarn and stitch design. I also have a page that helps you decide how much yarn you will need for any project such as a sweater, mittens, a scarf, blankets etc.. on "Yarn Needed for Projects". Finally, there is a page for charts to download and more in "Downloadable Charts".
Now, on to the About Yarn Info....
Basically, there are dozens of types of yarn, but yarn fiber can be broken down into two basic categories: natural and synthetic. Natural fiber includes yarn that is made from cotton, wool, silk and alpaca fibers. There are also yarns that are made from a mix of say, silk and bamboo yarn fibers which are composite yarns, or yarn blends. There are even natural yarns made from Llama hair and dog hair! Not that I would want something made out of dog hair, seems a little creepy to me. LOL You can read about Animal Fiber on it's page and Plant Fibers on it's own page.
On the other hand, there are yarns made from synthetic materials such as rayon, nylon and acrylic. Yarns made with natural fibers are usually more expensive than yarns made with synthetic fibers, with the exception of novelty yarns which can be very expensive. This is especially true for natural yarn if the fibers are produced in an organic fashion, really - really expensive then.
There are still many variations within the kinds of yarn fiber. One of the key variations is the way in which the yarn is colored. In some cases, yarn is given no color at all and is used in its natural state. In other cases, yarn fiber is tinted with one of a number of kinds of dyes. Some people who prefer to use all-natural products will chose yarn that is made of yarn fiber that has been dyed with natural vegetable dyes. Other people are fine with using yarn fiber that has been colored with synthetic or chemical dyes.
SIDE NOTE: One of the most polluting industries in the world is the fashion industry, which includes the manufacturing of yarn and cloth. For the most part they do not care about how much pollution they do cause in the making and especially the dyeing of yarn and fabric. BUT, some of the more famous individual fashion houses are now trying to be as green as possible. If you are an environmentalist or just someone who would like to use yarn that is less polluting to the environment, try looking for yarn that is in its natural state or dyed with vegetable dyes.
FIBERS: Fibers are spun to make yarn. There are two classifications, "Filament" or "Staple", depending on length. Filaments are very long and will be cut into lengths required for making the yarn, while staple is much shorter. All staple yarn is categorized by the it's natural length, how long it naturally grows, and varies from about 1.5" (wool, hair) to 6.5" or more (bamboo, banana silk). All synthetic yarn is filament yarn, except for silk which is the only natural filament yarn. Filaments must be cut into staple lengths to be spun into yarn. Yarn that is spun from long filaments have a smoother and shinier finish to them.
YARN TWIST: The twist of yarn is another consideration as it impacts what the yarn will do after washed or dry cleaned. The longer the filament or staple, the less twist is needed to create a stable yarn, unless you need yarn twisted loosely or tightly for a specific reason. Loosely spun yarn pill and stretch more.
For example; wool yarns that have long staples are called "Worsted" yarns and this type of wool yarn will withstand pilling, wear and tear and they are called "Worsted Spun Yarns". By the way, pills are the little round balls that you get on the sweater from normal wear and tear. Wool yarn made from shorter fibers are called "Woolen Spun Yarns" are best left for those items you do not wear much as they pill easily. The yarn can also be fuzzy.
PLIES: Plies can mean a few different things, which I also talk about later in this section, but it actually means how many yarns are twisted around each other, or together. It can effect the yarn's strength and how the garment made from it wears. The yarn can be thick or really thin, it just depends on how thick the individual yarns are that are "plied" together. The more yarns and the tighter the twist, the better the wear no matter what yarn you use. One (1) strand is called 1 - ply, 2 is 2 - ply and three yarns twisted together is 3 - ply, etc... Depending on how thick the circumference of each yarn dictates how thick the yarn is after it is plied. In this instance, the looser the twist, the less stable is the yarn.
You can actually make your own yarn by doing this at home if you want to make something different, say for embellishments, by plying 3 different types of yarn together. I have not found a yarn twister that will twist tight enough to use home made plied yarn for large projects, but it works nicely for smaller projects such as, to add some pizazz to a sleeve cuff, or to weave it in somehow. HAGUE and KrisKrafter make yarn twisters, HAGUE has an electric one and KrisKrafter has a hand crank. I own both the HAGUE electric ball winder (not twister) and I love it, and the hand crank yarn twister from KrisKrafter, which I use occasionally.
SIDE NOTE: One reason why I love the yarn store in the UK called "ColourMart" is that you can order yarns to be plied for a small fee. It is much better than trying to do this at home. Also, thier prices include shipping and VAT.
.A WORD ON NOVELTY YARN:
Novelty yarns are easy to recognize because their appearance is so different from traditional yarns and can be natural fibers, man made and/or synthetic fibers. Below is a brief summary of just a few, as there are endless types of novelty yarn which is only restricted by your imagination. Some novelty yarns can be tricky to work with, others can be downright difficult and most you cannot use on a knitting machine. Identifying individual stitches in highly textured yarns is difficult, if not impossible, making it hard to fix mistakes or rip out stitches which means you usually have to start over, which is a real bummer. Also, you usually want the yarn to show it's decorative texture so a larger open stitch usually works best, usually on a 9mm machine or a 6.5mm machine. I have not found a decorative yarn that I would knit on a standard 4.5mm gauge machine.
Ribbon: A knitted ribbon in rayon or a rayon blend but can actually be made from just about anything. It looks just like ribbon and for me works better with hand knitting versus machine knitting due to the flatness and width. Knitting this in a machine I think makes the item knitted with too tight of a stitch and you loose the look of the ribbon, especially if it is also curly. There is another type of ribbon yarn that is like a ladder, I have used this yarn on the machine successfully in garments and shawls, on a looser stitch and it mimics a lacy type look.
Bouclé: This highly bumpy, textured yarn is composed of loops. It makes really cool looking garments but you need to take care when using it on the knitting machine. It is really, really difficult to use on a knitting machines as it will catch and I would recommend you use use a 6.5mm mid or 9mm bulky gauge machine and not the standard 4.5mm. Make sure to use the right guage and tension, the tension usually a very loose one, as that makes all the difference in the world. Keep making tension swatches until you feel comfortable with the result or if you want to use it at all.
Chenille: Although tricky to knit with as it rips easily, this yarn has an attractive appearance and velvety texture. It is tricky as it will break when knitted on a knitting machine, so make sure that the chenille you use is strong rather than a softer chenille for hand knitting. As you can see below, it has a velvet like feel and look to it. Never machine knit with a tight stitch, it just will keep breaking.
Thick-thin: Alternates between very thick and thin sections, which lends a bumpy look to knitted fabric. Makes a very interesting stitch pattern but it can be very difficult to work with on a knitting machine as it will jam the carriage. It is the more difficult yarn when deciding on gauge and tension since it is thick and thin, but with a little patience you can make a really pretty and different looking garment. You must have patience with this yarn.
Railroad Ribbon: Has tiny “tracks” of fiber strung between two parallel strands of thread. Makes nice evening attire and shawls. Has a lacy type effect and this yarn can work well on a knitting machine in the larger gauge category, like the 6.5mm or 9mm, and a loose stitch.
Faux Fur: Fluffy fiber strands on a strong base thread of nylon resembling fur when knitted. Great for accents and embellishments but take care when knitting this yarn because if you make a mistake you will need to rip out the whole area since seeing the mistake is impossible. I have made entire sweaters out of this yarn, but prefer it as accents such as a fur collar and cuffs, otherwise looks a little costumey, but one of my favorite accent yarns to use on jackets.
I also added a subcategory of Specialty Yarns and these types of yarns create a certain look when knitted due to the way the yarn is colored. These for the most part can be knitted on a knitting machine a the decorative stitch is usually naturally colour blocked, striped or spot like and is created by each row that you knit.
Tweed: Has a background color flecked with bits of fiber in different colors so when it is knitted you have a tweed look to you garment. A very nice effect for fitted garments and with accents in faux fur, such as a "CHANEL" jacket style.
Heather: Blended from a number of different-colored or dyed fleeces, and then spun. I think best in wool yarns and for sweaters, nice effect.
Marled (rag): A plied yarn in which the plies are different colors. This is the type of yarn you can make at home by winding (plying) different yarns together to make one yarn, which can be a lot of fun. You can also purchase this yarn in all sorts of colors and some manufactures have dyed the yarn to even make a certain looking striped design. You should try it and see if you like it, I do but mainly for child's clothing or socks for bright colors and great when the colors are muted for sweaters.
A WORD ON MAN MADE FIBERS:
ACRYLIC: Man made and usually less inexpensive and easily washable, this can be a beautiful yarn if bought from a trusted manufacturer such as TAMM Yarns, some are not very warm or absorbent, while other knit up beautifully and are excellent for children's clothing. Acrylic can be blended with other yarn fibers to make some interesting composite yarns and is almost always an ingredient in novelty or specialty yarns. It is helpful to buy acrylic yarn with a little bit of wool blended in to make it nicer to work with and wear. Most of the fuzzy, furry, sparkly novelty yarns are made using acrylic so you will definitely want to check it out at least for those. This yarn is dismissed a lot but I have found this that if you can find good quality or a blended type, it is worth getting. Keep in mind, that you will pay for quality no matter what the yarn is.
RAYON: Rayon is like cotton but softer. It also has a lot of stretch, so be careful what you make out of it. There are two types, but they are basically the same. Rayon also scorches with heat. It is made from the cellulose of wood chips or cotton lint. I actually really like rayon but it is a difficult yarn to work with as it is usually slippery and almost impossible to rewind from a skein into a ball, it just unravels, but I use it anyaway.
SYNTHETICS: These are made from coal and petroleum products and I am not a fan of them, they include Nylon and Polyester. They are hot to wear, hold a static charge, pill and do not hold moisture well at all. I never use them unless it is used in novelty yarn, and then only in very limited amounts.
THE FUTURE OF YARN
Finally, you need to keep in mind that the market is continuously using new technology to create other types of yarn, to name a few recent ones that have popped out on the market is Soy Bean Yarn, Bamboo Yarn, Stainless Steel Yarn, Banana Silk Yarn and re-usable yarn such as Recycled Sari Silk Yarn made from Sari remnants and Mink Yarn that is an actual mink fiber (hair) and cashmere blend. Also, Hemp yarn which is actually been around for centuries is finding it's popularity again. It is a very versatile and strong fiber and it is not the same kind of Hemp that you smoke (LOL), it is a different plant but of the same species.
So, every year there are new types of yarn being made and then you can also make your own novelty yarn by plying two or more different yarns together on your own. In fact, a place where you can actually order yarn to your liking is YARNIA, a place in Portland Oregon where you can design your very own custom yarn blend, and buy it by the pound. You choose the fiber, color, thickness, and amount, and they will create your custom yarn for you right on their premises. Great for one of a kind items and experimentation.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: There used to be a "Yarn Spray" by Lori-Lyn for sale but it has been discontinued. This was a fantastic spray that you would use on your yarn BEFORE you started knitting. It was colourless, odorless and coated the yarn so it would move easily between the needles and the carriage. You would put the cone in a paper bag, spray it, close the bag and wait about a minute, then remove it to use. Unfortunately it is no longer made. What I do know is that it was silicone based, but you should not go our and just buy a silicone spray, you need to buy something that will not damage the machine or stain the yarn. There is a spray on the market currently that you can buy from any knitting machine vendor, but it comes in a spray bottle and for me does not work as well as it is a wet spray and Lori-Lin spray was in a can, hence dried instantly. It really makes a difference and saves wear and tear on your knitting carriage. If I find one I like I will add it to my "Best of the Best" page.
NOVELTY YARNS, MAN MADE, CUSTOM YARNS
About Yarn Types & Construction
A Place for Knitting Machine Enthusiasts