Merino wool is renowned for its fine, fibre quality and soft lustrous texture. It is not itchy, and is smooth and silky to wear, whether knitted, crocheted or woven into fabrics.
It is an ideal yarn where a hand knitted garment needs ‘’drape’’ and needs to be soft and fluid, such as a shawl or wrap, or anything near the neck. Longer, heavier garments may go out of shape as a result so Merino is often mixed with other natural fibres such as a small percentage of wool or silk to give the knitting yarn ‘’body’’ to hold stitches in shape. Merino can be used for lace patterns but it does not give good stitch definition so is better for larger lace patterns rather than intricate ones where the beauty is in the stitches.
Washing must be done carefully to limit the amount of stretch put on the garment by the weight of the washing water and handling. It should only be hand washed, and dried flat.
Blue Faced Leicester Sheep wool. (BFL)
The yarn spun form the Blue Face Leicester breed of sheep is becoming very popular with hand knitters. It is very light, with a demi-lustre which is thought to be the best of any native coloured sheep. It knits well, garments are comfortable to wear, with good stitch definition, and with gentle washing will last years. It is very suitable for indoor garments, and is sometimes blended with other yarns such as silk or cashmere for added softness and luxury.
It is often treated to be ‘’superwash’’ so can be washed in a machine though Gorgeous Yarns does not recommend this for any yarn.
Most fibre from alpacas comes from Suri alpacas because the fleece is softer and silkier than those from Huacaya alpacas whose fleece is more wool like, however, both are softer than wool.
Alpaca has no ‘’memory’’, this means it doesn’t hold stitches well and is slippery to knit with. It also doesn’t crinkle when you knit with it and remains smooth and soft. It is ideal for garments where drape and softness are essential, such as wraps, cowls and snoods, it is very soft next to the skin and unlikely to cause irritation as it’s not itchy like wools can be.
Like merino wool, washing must be done carefully to limit the amount of stretch put on the garment by the weight of the washing water and handling. It should only be hand washed, and dried flat.
Bamboo knitting yarn is a relatively new entry in the knitting world, but it has become quite popular very quickly, and with good reason. Bamboo is a beautiful natural fibre that wears well and is from a quickly renewable resource which makes it an environmentally friendly choice.
Bamboo yarn, when not mixed with unnatural fibres, is biodegradable and is naturally antibacterial, it has ultra-violet protective properties.
Bamboo has a good lustre, shine and drapes well and is strong, flexible, and can be softer than silk when spun into yarn.
Bamboo yarn loses strength when it is wet and swells considerably in water.
The yarn may not be very cohesive and some brands split when knitting with them.
If the antibacterial property is something you are looking for, stick with a 100 percent bamboo yarn or choose one that has at least 70 percent bamboo for best results.
Use blunt-ended needles to cut down on the splitting (perhaps bamboo needles?) and knit slowly at first to avoid splitting.
If you’re looking for strength in the fabric but are using a fine bamboo yarn, try knitting with two strands held together.
Bamboo needs to be hand-washed, so it isn’t a great choice for things that need to be washed frequently.
Cashmere wool, usually simply known as cashmere, is a fibre obtained from Cashmere goats and other types of goat. Common usage defines the fibre as a wool but in fact it is a hair, and this is what gives it its unique characteristics as compared to sheep’s wool. The word cashmere derives from an old spelling of Kashmir. Cashmere is fine in texture, strong, light, and soft. Garments made from it provide excellent insulation.
Cashmere demands a high price and so is often mixed with another fibre to give a luxury feel, such as merino wool. The higher the percentage of cashmere, the less hard wearing the item will be.
It is beautifully soft, and needs to be used for items that are worn occasionally, or fine garments such as bed socks!
Cashmere should always be hand washed, dried flat and treated carefully, but it will reward you with luxury each time you wear a garment knitted with it. It is beautiful for very special baby items such as Christening Shawls.
Silk is a protein fibre from the cocoons of specific moths, usually the Mulberry Silk Moth.
The fibres have a triangular structure which refracts light, making silk lustrous and glistening. When used in hand knitting silk yarn is usually smooth and cool to knit with and wear. It has no ‘’stretch’ and so can be hard to knit with as the tension of the knitted work may vary, but a garment knitted with silk is very beautiful and rewards the knitter with lovely feel, drape and colour quality.
Knitting with silk yarn can also feel dry and a bit squeaky, not great if you can’t bear pulling cotton wool apart! (it’s the same sort of feeling!)
Silk can be mixed with other luxury fibres such as alpaca, mohair and merino which makes it easier to use, and gives more structure to the yarn, whilst keeping its lustrous qualities.
Gorgeous Yarns recommends that silk garments are only hand washed, if possible gently smoothed into shape without pulling or stretching, and dried flat.
Mohair was very popular in the 1980’s when it was fashionable to wear fluffy jumpers, however, the mohair yarns now are smoother and less fluffy, though still soft and warm.
Mohair is silk-like yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat. It is durable and resilient, and mohair is known for its high lustre and sheen, and is often used in fibre blends to add these qualities to a yarn. Mohair takes dye exceptionally well. Mohair is warm in winter as it has great insulating properties, while remaining cool in summer due to its moisture wicking properties. It is durable, naturally elastic, flame resistant and crease resistant. Mohair has scales like wool, but the scales are not fully developed so mohair does not felt as wool does.
Mohair fine hair from younger animals is used for finer applications such as yarn, and is often used in fibre blends such as silk.
Mohair should not be confused with the fur from the Angora rabbit, which is also softly fluffy and is called angora wool.