Fibre content is one of the most important considerations in
choosing the best yarn for your project. Every yarn listed at the elann.com
website shows fibre content information, and using our
Yarn Search Engine
, you can search for yarns by fibre. A
yarn's fibre content determines not just its care, but its appearance, its
drape, and its feel - commonly referred to by knitters and crocheters as the yarn's 'hand'.
Although all yarns are spun from fibre, the fibre content
alone does not determine how the yarn will look. The methods by which fibres
are spun into yarn and the treatments the fibres receive also affect the final
product. Yarns are available in different thicknesses, commonly referred to as
weights or gauges, from very fine (lace weight) to very thick (polar weight).
For every yarn listed at the elann.com website, there is information about the
yarn's gauge and a brief description of its appearance and feel.
Alpaca, Llama, and Camel
Alpaca, llama, and camel-hair yarns
are all spun from the fleeces of animals which are members of the camel family.
These fibres are luxurious, soft and warm, and also very lightweight -- their
inner cores are actually hollow, which also adds significantly to their
insulating properties. The softness of 100% alpaca is incredible -- you won't
be able to resist putting this yarn next to your cheek!
Angora is an extremely soft,
fluffy, and warm fiber that comes from the Angora rabbit. The highest quality
angora is combed from the rabbit, not shorn. Each rabbit can only provide a
small amount of fibre, so expensive angora is often combined with other fibres.
This process also helps to alleviate some of the shedding that occurs with
angora due to the shortness of its fibres.
While somewhat weaker than wool,
cashmere is luxurious--extraordinarily soft, resilient, and receptive to dyes.
This rare and expensive fibre is combed once a year from the bellies of the cashmere goat.
Mohair, spun from the fleece of the
angora goat, shares wool's insulating properties and
is extremely lightweight. The softest and finest mohair is spun from the fleece
of kid angora goats, creating a luxury yarn beyond compare.
While silk is not spun from animal hair, it is considered an
animal fibre because it has a protein structure. Like animal hair fibres, silk
does not conduct heat, and is therefore also a good insulator, keeping you warm
in winter, and cool in summer. Silk yarn is made from the thread-like filaments
the silkworm spins around itself to form its cocoon. When unwound, a single
filament can be as long as 1,600 yards, which explains silk's beautiful lustre,
drape and strength. There are basically three grades of silk, each a different
end product of the three different stages of silk processing, and each has its
The finest quality silk is the unwound filament, and this
grade is referred to as reeled silk, identifiable by its unrivaled satiny
smoothness and its pure white color. Silk remaining from the reeling process,
as well as the discarded cocoons, will become the raw material for carded or
combed, spun silk yarn. Undyed, this yarn is just slightly honey-colored, and its
finish is slightly more matte than that of reeled silk. Short fibres left
behind after the carding or combing process are used to make silk noil yarn, a
richly textured nubbly silk. None of this precious fibre is wasted!
silk, or wild silk, produced from undomesticated silkworms, resists dyeing and
bleaching, so it is often used in its natural brown or beige color.
Wool, spun from the fleece of
sheep, is versatile, durable and elastic. A single wool fibre can be twisted
and turned 20,000 times without breaking and can be stretched 30 to 50 percent
beyond its original length and rebound without damage, which is why a garment
made of wool retains its original shape and naturally resists wrinkles. Air
spaces between the elastic crimps in wool fibres create an insulating barrier
which shields the body from cold or hot air, regulating the body's natural
temperature. Its ability to absorb up to one-third its weight before it feels
wet to the touch allows wool to absorb perspiration and release it gradually,
preventing chills under a variety of weather conditions, and making it
comfortable to wear year-round -- the desert-dwelling Bedouins weave their
traditional robes from wool! By applying a combination of heat, moisture and
friction to the thin, scaly overlapping cells that form the surface of a wool
fibre, superwarm felt can also be formed, making wool the fibre of choice for
nomadic tribes in Northern Asia as well.
contrary to what some people believe, wool is also easy to wash. It can be
simply soaked in a woolwash, spun, and laid flat to dry, or if it has been
treated with a microfine resin that coats the cells of the fibre's surface (the
'superwash' process), it can even be gently machine washed and, in some cases,
even dried! The finest grade of wool is from the Merino breed of sheep
(pictured at left).
Other Animal Fibres
Specialty yarns are produced from the hair of other animals, and
also from milk protein, spun either alone or in combination with other fibres.
Qiviut, a very warm and delicate wool, is produced
from the hair of Alaskan musk oxen. The vicuna, cousin to the alpaca, is a
nearly extinct animal, and vicuna wool is scarce. Yak, mink, chinchilla,
reindeer, beaver, fox, and even pet dog and cat hair have been spun into yarns.
In order to be called organic, the animals and plants, which
produce the fibres, have to be grown or raised, as well as processed, without
the use of chemicals. Organic wool, alpaca, angora, cashmere, mohair, silk,
cotton, hemp, and others are available, mostly in natural shades or dyed with
plant-based colors. Standards for organic products have been developed by the
Organic Trade Association and the US Department of Agriculture.
Bamboo and Soy
The grass of bamboo plants is harvested,
distilled into cellulose, and then spun into yarn. Bamboo fibre is used alone
or in combination with other fibres in yarns. It is known for having a good
lustre - similar to mercerized cotton - a silky softness and drape, as well as
beautiful colors. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial, non-allergenic, and is a
Soy fibre is spun from a by-product of
Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into
long, continuous fibers that are then cut and processed. Soy yarn has been
described as feeling like a cross between cotton and linen, with a lofty but
cool feel that makes it perfect for warm-weather climates. Soy fibre is used
alone or in combination with other fibres in yarns. It is a renewable resource.
Cotton is a vegetable fibre grown
widely in hot climates the world over. It is non-allergenic, and absorbs
moisture and dries quickly, giving it a cooling effect. Since it is even
stronger wet than dry, it is also very easy to wash. Cottons treated with
caustic soda and then stretched to make them smoother, more polished in
appearance, stronger, and less prone to shrinkage than untreated cotton yarns
are referred to as 'mercerized' or 'fil d'ecosse' (Scottish thread), since the
man who invented the process was John Mercer, a Scotsman. The finest and
smoothest grade of cotton is referred to as Egyptian cotton.
Gassed cotton is mercerized cotton
that has had all or most of the excess lint and/or fuzz burned off to bring the
color to the surface. Gassed cotton often gives the illusion of iridescence.
Linen fibre is derived from the stem of the flax plant and
spun into a lustrous and strong yarn which, like cotton, is both extremely
washable and comfortable to wear in hot weather, as it draws moisture quickly
away from the body. While woven linen wrinkles easily, knitted or crocheted linen has wonderful
Modal is a generic name in its own right for man-made
cellulose fibers. It is manufactured using high quality wooden pulps. It is
strong and stable, and at the same time soft, retaining its softness and
brilliance even after repeated washings. Modal is ideal for clothing, as it can
breathe. It absorbs up to 50% more humidity than cotton, and does so much
faster, keeping skin dry and comfortable.
A linen-like fibre commonly used in Japan and China, ramie is strong, lustrous,
and washes well. It is a little stiff and not particularly resilient, so is
often combined with other fibres in knitting and crochet yarns.
rayon is man-made, it is not a synthetic fibre. It is spun, either as a long filament
or a shorter staple fibre, from cellulose obtained from cotton lint and wood
chips. Two types of rayon are viscose rayon, commonly called viscose, and
cuprammonium rayon, the variety that most closely resembles silk. Rayon has a
higher lustre and softer hand than cotton, and can be dyed to brilliant colors.
Viscose rayon is commonly found combined with other fibres. This lustrous fibre
is known for its good draping qualities, but it requires care in washing in
cool temperatures only.
SeaCell is the result of incorporating powdered seaweed into highly absorbent cellulose-based lycocell fibres. Seaweed has long been known to possess high concentrations of trace elements, vitamins, and seawater minerals. The porous, open structure of SeaCell fibers have natural antifungal and antibacterial properties, promoting a healthy interaction between the fibre and the skin - the fibre absorbs what your skin expels, while your skin absorbs the healthful elements carried in the fibre. Even after numerous washings, the health-promoting, beneficial effects of the fiber remain unaffected.
Sisal, Hemp, Jute, and Raffia
Hemp, jute and sisal are three
vegetable fibres that are heavier and coarser than either linen or ramie. They
are often used to make twines and sacking. Hemp and jute come from the stems of
the hemp and jute plants, while sisal is produced from the leaves of the agave
plant. Hemp is a durable fibre, which might feel hard on your hands initially,
but it softens considerably with each washing. Raffia, which is a type of
straw, has been traditionally used in basket making. However, synthetic raffia,
made from rayon, can be knit or crocheted into decorative items.
Tencel is a brand name for the generic fibre lyocell, and is
man-made from wood pulp. It is a trademark of Courtaulds, the original producer
of rayon, who in the mid-1980s revised the rayon process to produce Tencel. The
manufacture of Tencel is extraordinarily clean - no poisonous chemical waste is
created in its production. It combines the breathability and absorbency of a
natural fibre, the durability and easy-care performance of a man-made fibre,
and a smoothness, resilience and drape that is unique. The fibre's innate
structure produces a sensual, suede-like, peach touch, and as an enhanced
cellulosic fibre, it readily accepts dyes deep down into the fibre, achieving
dramatic color vibrancy. It can be machine washed and dried, and retains its
shape, color and appearance after washing, with minimal shrinkage.
Other Plant Fibres
Spinners of yarn are trying out new fibres all the time. There
are interesting yarns produced from corn, banana fibre, nettle, and even extracted
from the shells of shrimp and crab (called chitin).
Frequently found in combination with natural fibres, acrylics
are synthetics that mimic wool, but without wool's insulating properties.
Acrylics tend to be softer and bulkier than the polyamides, and some brands
have even been compared to cashmere for softness.
Polyamide fibre is now commonly
referred to as nylon, after the original Du Pont brand name for the polyamide
produced by that company. Nylon is very strong, durable, lightweight, easy to
care for (can be machine washed and dried), and elastic, which makes it perfect
for blending with other fibres to produce hard-wearing sock yarns. Tactel is a
brand name for a very soft nylon fibre.
Polyesters are very easy to care for. They are extraordinarily
wrinkle resistant even when wet and hold their shape well. The fibres' strength
is useful when combined with other fibres to add strength and stability to the
yarns are now available which are made from unconventional materials and
processes, such as novelty eyelash and pigtail, paper-like yarns, string,
ribbon, and shoelace-type yarns.
Elastic fibre is sometimes
spun with another yarn to help less resilient yarns keep their shape. Yarns
with elastic content are excellent for making fitted garments. Elite is a brand
name of a polyester elastic fibre. Elastic thread is used as a carry-along with
yarn while knitting or crocheting, or woven into the fabric when the garment is complete,
usually along the edges.
Metallic fibres add a special touch in yarns and are often
blended with other fibres for strength. The type of metallic fibre commonly
used in yarns is a form of polyester treated with vaporized metal and then
bonded on both sides with a film. Another type of metallic fibre is made from
very thin metallic foil, coated with plastic film, and cut into narrow strips
for spinning. Fine metal wire can be used for knitted or crocheted jewelry and
other synthetics, is spun into yarn to resemble the texture of natural fibres.
It is inexpensive to produce, lightweight, and has good insulating properties.
It can easily be spun into yarns that mimic wool.
Vinyl yarn is durable, with a glossy appearance. It is
ideal for accessories.
Sources and Suggested Further Reading:
Vogue Knitting, ed.,
Vogue Knitting :
The Ultimate Knitting Book, �Sixth&Spring
Spring/Summer 2003, and
Foster, Viv, ed., Knitting
Handbook, Thunder Bay