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Types of Yarn Fibers

All types of yarn for knitting or crocheting are made from natural or synthetic fibers. Different types of yarn fibers have specific qualities — some good, some not so good. Often, manufacturers blend different types of yarn fiber to offset an undesirable characteristic.

When choosing a yarn type for your knitting project, consider the following:

  • Wool: Wool (made from the fleece of sheep) is the queen of yarns, and it remains a popular choice for knitters. Here are some of your wool yarn options:

    • Lamb’s wool: Comes from a young lamb’s first shearing.

    • Merino wool: Considered the finest of the fine breeds.

    • Pure new wool/virgin wool: Wool that’s made directly from animal fleece and not recycled from existing wool garments.

    • Shetland wool: Made from the small and hardy native sheep of Scotland’s Shetland Islands.

    • Icelandic wool: A rustic, soft yarn.

    • Washable wool: Treated chemically or electronically to destroy the outer fuzzy layer of fibers.

  • Fleece: Examples include mohair and cashmere, which come from Angora and Kashmir goats, respectively. Angora comes from the hair of Angora rabbits.

  • Silk, cotton, linen, and rayon: The slippery, smooth, and often shiny yarns.

  • Synthetic: Including nylon, acrylic, and polyester. Straddling the border between natural and synthetic are soy, bamboo, corn, and other unusual yarns made by using plant-based materials.

  • Novelty: Novelty yarns are easy to recognize because their appearance is so different from traditional yarns:

    • Ribbon: A knitted ribbon in rayon or a rayon blend.

    • Bouclé: This highly bumpy, textured yarn is composed of loops.

    • Chenille: Although tricky to knit with, this yarn has an attractive appearance and velvety texture.

    • Thick-thin: Alternates between very thick and thin sections, which lends a bumpy look to knitted fabric.

    • Railroad ribbon: Has tiny “tracks” of fiber strung between two parallel strands of thread.

    • Faux fur: Fluffy fiber strands on a strong base thread of nylon resemble faux fur when knitted.

    Some novelty yarns can be tricky to work with. Others can be downright difficult. Identifying individual stitches in highly textured yarns is difficult, if not impossible, making it hard to fix mistakes or rip out stitches.

  • Specialty: These traditional types of yarn create special looks in knitted items:

    • Tweed: Has a background color flecked with bits of fiber in different colors.

    • Heather: Blended from a number of different-colored or dyed fleeces, and then spun.

    • Marled (ragg): A plied yarn in which the plies are different colors.

    • Variegated: Dyed in several different colors or shades of a single color.

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