Knitting yarn – Find yourself wondering if you should buy wool instead of acrylic? Keep reading because I want to share my experiences and feelings about knitting with wool yarn.
Before we start….
I am a firm believer in the notion that there is an ideal yarn for each project, and knitting with wool yarn is just one. A lot depends on what you are planning to make, and what you will do with the finished item. For example, a shawl could be made in a super soft merino and silk yarn so it has drape and sheen. A large picnic blanket needs to be more robust and perhaps machine washable and might be better made with a cotton bamboo yarn. However, if you are making something that will need to be washed frequently then knitting with wool yarn may not be the right choice for you.
Choosing a yarn for your project can be quite hard sometimes, especially if you don’t want to use the same yarn as the pattern suggests. Wool yarn from sheep is just one choice for your knitting. There are yarns made from all sorts of mainstream fibres like alpaca and silk to the very exotic Qiviut and possum wool. Wool from sheep makes up the majority of yarns commonly available.
The choice of sheep’s wool yarns is huge and each one has properties which make it special and suitable for particular projects. Wool can be seen as the ultimate sustainable fibre for knitting, especially if it is produced organically with strict welfare standards. However, quality wool yarn comes at a higher price so is it worth it?
5 benefits of knitting with wool
Wool has been used throughout history for textiles, knitting and crochet. Humans have utilised the great benefits from wool all the way back to the stone age. Wool has kept its solid reputation as a knitting yarn with its variability in texture and distinctive advantages. It is warm, breathable and natural. It is a sustainable fibre that (potentially) grows without any resources except grass, water, sunshine and human care. Processing the fleeces into wool yarn takes few chemicals in comparison to other fibres, and if the yarn is undyed or naturally dyed the overall environmental impact is very low.
1. Wool is durable.
Wool has a natural crimp which makes it stretchy and springy. Thanks to this, wool has natural elasticity so it stretches and flexes in use. This makes it much less likely to tear and makes it suitable for things that need to move and stretch like gloves and jumpers. Wool garments are resistant, and don’t really crease. Your favourite jumper should spring back into shape after being folded and stored in a drawer.
2. Wool is breathable.
Wool limits heat transfer from your body, traps air next to your skin and wicks away moisture. This means that in the winter wool keeps you warm, and in the summer it keeps you cool. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture and this moisture evaporates quickly so you stay dry. That’s why socks made from wool are perfect. They keep your feet warm and wick away sweat. Amazing huh? The Bedouin tribes who live in the Sahara use wool clothes as an insulation against the harsh sun whilst staying cool.
3. Wool is water resistant.
The fishermen in coastal villages traditionally had closely knitted jumpers made with wool yarn. They wore these jumpers, or Ganseys, as an outer garment to protect them for the wind, rain and sea swell. Wool has a scaly surface which makes it very resistant to water. The natural oils and lanolin of untreated wool resist water too. Rain would run off the surface of the fisherman’s gansey and he would remain warm and relatively dry. Have a look at this article for more information.
4. Resits soiling, static and dirt
A knitting yarn that resists dirt? Sounds almost too good to be true! Static is a draw for dust and dirt. Wool is anti-static and repels dust and dirt. The scaly surface of wool fibres also resists dirt and dust. Its texture makes it an inhospitable environment for dust mites. This can mean that it is low-allergenic, especially if it is processed without chemicals and/or synthetic dyes.
5. Wool is sustainable.
Wool fleece is renewed every year. The sheep need to be sheared for their health to prevent skin diseases and nasty problems like fly strike. The wool, once processed into knitting yarn, continues to be sustainable because:
As mentioned above, wool takes less water to be farmed, and chemicals in its processing than other fibres.
Wool doesn’t need washing very often so takes less water and laundry detergent than other fibres. This is due to its moisture (sweat) wicking properties and resistance to dirt because of the scaly surface of the wool. Unlike acrylic, it doesn’t shed microplastic fibres when washed.
It lasts for years; can be unravelled and re-used; it can be felted and made into other things; can be darned and repaired; and at the end of its “life” it can be composted because it is biodegradable.
Wool is not produced with petro-chemicals or oil-based synthetics which come with an environmental cost.
I enjoy using wool! The texture and softness of wool when I’m knitting with it and when I’m wearing it is a pleasure for me. I have found that the softer and more luxurious a yarn is, the more expensive it is. However, beautiful wool rewards you with a garment that you will enjoy and wear more often. It will also last really well, perhaps even becoming a heritage hand me down with stories in every darn and repair. It is sustainable, and when I naturally dye it, wool becomes a unique treasure of colour.
I can understand that some people don’t like wool for ethical or allergen reasons, or simply because they don’t like the feel of wool. In the next blog I’ll be looking at the benefits of other knitting yarn choices.