Choosing the right yarn for your project

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Maybe you have an idea for a jumper or a pattern for a scarf but no yarn yet. How do you find the right yarn for your project?

Familiarise yourself with the properties of different fibres before you choose your yarn. Think about how different fibres behave and feel. Are you going to knit or crochet with your yarn? Do you prefer 100% natural fibres? How are you going to use your project? A beautiful and expensive yarn does not guarantee the right kind of outcome if you don't consider the quality of the fibres first.

Structure & flexibility

Do you want to make something that requires a certain amount of structure but is still flexible? Some fibres are more flexible than others. Wool (including Merino), alpaca and acrylics all add flexibility. Cotton and linen tend to be stiffer and less flexible.

Socks are often made with specially designed sock yarns. These usually contain about 75-80% natural fibre and 20-25% nylon. The nylon is there to strengthen the yarn and greatly increase the amount of wear you can get out of your socks. Classic sock yarns are made with wool and nylon, but you can also get other beautiful blends, such as cotton, wool and nylon for summer socks, or soft and elegant fibres such as cashmere, silk or bamboo as part of the blend. You may have bought pure cotton socks before and found they tend to sag after a while and not hold up well. For that reason, most sock yarns will contain a significant proportion of wool to provide structure to ensure a good fit. 

Are you looking for something light and lacy ? Or for a silky sheen? Choose a yarn that contains silk or viscose. Viscose was invented by the French scientist and industrialist Hilaire de Chardonnet as a man-made alternative to silk. Viscose is a yarn made from a variety of plants such as soy, bamboo, sugar cane or other woody fibres. So whenever you see a yarn made from bamboo or soy - that is viscose. 

Variegation & self-patterning

Variegated and self-patterning yarns are hugely popular. You can find sock yarns that create fair isle patterns all by themselves. Or yarn cakes with long colour runs that gradually change from one colour to the next. Then there are yarns which gradually change from lighter to darker shades. Variegated yarns are a great way to add interest and excitement to your work When used effectively, these yarns will create gorgeous pieces with amazing colour variations. However, you need to consider how the variegation will play out to make sure you achieve the outcome you would like to achieve. 

For example, the fair isle pattern in sock yarn will only appear if you work over a number of stitches typical for socks - somewhere around 56 to 68 stitches. If you use this yarn to knit a jumper, you will not get this pattern - unless you divide your front and back up such that your individual pieces measure 60-odd stitches across. Similarly, if you use the same yarn to crochet your socks, the pattern will look very different.

Maybe you like a bit of variety without going for a variegated yarn? Have a look at tweed yarns. These have little specks of colours throughout and are great for a more rustic look.

Warmth, breathability & skin compatibility

Are looking for something really warm and cosy? Choose Alpaca or Alpaca blend yarns for high thermal qualities, or wool and wool blends. Mohair can also be pleasantly warm despite being very light. 

Or do you want to create something to wear for the warmer seasons? Cotton and linen are great fibres for spring and summer. Cotton and linen fibres both have superb breathability and should be your first choice for summer tops, cardigans and summer shawls. However, 100% cotton is a bad choice for socks or anything that requires the flexibility and structure of wool, so for summer socks go for a cotton-wool blend sock yarn. 

Maybe you have sensitive skin and find wool scratchy? Look out for high quality Merino yarns or choose cotton and cotton blend yarns over classic wool. Mohair and Angora is incredibly soft but the fine hairs can irritate very sensitive people, so choose carefully. 

Bulky yarns - wool or acrylics?

You may notice that many bulkier yarns tend to include some percentage of acrylic fibres.

A 100% natural yarn in 12ply or more can be quite heavy. This is great for felting projects but maybe not so great for jumpers or coats. For that reason, yarn manufacturers offer bulkier yarn blends with natural and acrylic fibres - you still get all the benefits of the natural fibre such as wool or Alpaca while the acrylic fibre will provide lightness. 

Ease of care

Are you creating something that should be able to withstand some wear and tear and be washable, for example children's clothes or everyday wear? 

Choose super wash wool yarns which have been treated to prevent felting and shrinking, or pick cotton and linen yarns, which in most cases can also be washed easily. But be aware that some items made with cotton yarns can loose their shape after a wash and need to be carefully stretched back into shape and laid out flat for drying.

Cotton yarns with added acrylic fibres will keep their shape and are great for kids clothes and everyday wear. 

Which yarn for crochet?

Not every yarn is suited to both knitting and crochet. Knitting tends to be more forgiving, and you can easily knit yarns that may split or otherwise be less amenable to crochet. This is not necessarily a judgement on the yarn itself (although obviously there are big quality differences between different yarns), it just means that some things are better suited to one craft rather than the other.

Quality needles can make or break your project

Using high quality needles and hooks makes a huge difference to how the yarn feels when you work with it. 

For example, try knitting bulky felting wool with basic plastic needles and you will find that it is nothing short of painful. The yarn gets stuck and won't glide on the needle properly, and you might think the yarn is dreadful... until you switch to quality wooden or smooth bamboo needles and you realise that the problem was not the yarn, it was the needles!  
 
Here is a quick summary of things to consider when choosing yarn:
 
Desired quality of project Suitable fibres
holds up well, provides structure wool, wool blend, some cotton-linen blends
lacy, with sheen, drapes well viscose (including bamboo), silk
robust, machine washable cotton, linen, super wash wool, acrylics
soft, does not scratch, not itchy Merino, cashmere, cotton, silk, 
warm wool, Alpaca
cool, high breathability cotton, linen

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