Thursday, January 1, 2009

Guide to Buying Yarn

So you're about to buy some yarn--eh?

Let me give you a few tips from my personal experience.  I am no expert, but well, I know quite a lot about fibers.

What are fibers?  They are the little hair like strands that are spun to create yarns.

Put simply, fibers come in two categories:

Natural -- cotton, linen, wool (merino, alpaca), cashmere, silk, bamboo, hemp, basically any fiber that is derived from a naturally occurring entity (and there are more and more of these that have been made into fibers lately)

Synthetic -- polyester, acrylic, spandex, nylon, rayon, acetate, etc. (those are the most popular and well known though)  These are fibers that are spun from chemical compounds made entirely by humans

Now to the yarn.  Yarn comes in three categories:

100% Natural
100% Synthetic
and blends which are any combination of the two

What does this matter to you? well, only because the first rule of any craft is:

your project is only as good as the materials you use!!

Please promise me, before we go on, that you will purchase the best yarn that your little wallet can afford (assuming of course that it is also appropriate for your project), because knitting your project will take time and effort, and no matter how you did, you will look at that piece as though it were knitted in gold, and wouldn't it be sad if it were actually knitted in something icky and you never wanted to wear it??

Ok, so back to the yarn.  You may already know that Natural fibers will be the best quality, but that is really only the tip of the iceberg.  Anything made from 100% synthetic fibers, however, turn and run from.  Fast. (unless of course you are knitting a doormat or a sports bra [haha])  

Let's break it down:

Natural fibers

they look absolutely beautiful
they are strong
they are durable

they are generally difficult to care for (silk must be hand washed, wool shrinks easily, cotton wrinkles etc.)
they are expensive

Synthetic fibers:

they can basically do anything you want (repel water, repel stains, repel wrinkles, stretch, etc. depending on the fiber)
they are extremely inexpensive
more warmth for the weight
They can be made very very soft

They are absolutely almost always hideous on their own
They have a cheap and usually shiny sheen to them

So I warned you against 100% synthetic fibers (although again, they do have their place, just not on your body), but what about 100% natural?  I personally think that the best you can do is to get a blend with a higher natural content than synthetic.  This is because blends offer the best of both worlds.  Ever heard of a cotton-poly blend?  This will be a soft fiber that can stand relatively high heat, resist wrinkling, and will look nice.

but having said that, certainly you can and will use 100% natural fibers in your knitting, the trick is knowing when to use what.

Personally, when I am knitting something that will be directly on my skin, I need a soft fiber that won't irritate or itch, so I'll go for Merino wool or some Alpacas, or cashmere, and unless I want to pay $$$, I'll do some sort of blend.  Also, a synthetic will make the fiber a little softer ( you know those psychotically soft baby things made from micro-fibers?  --Synthetic.)

Cotton yarn is generally reserved for lightweight things and summer sweaters and utilitarian purposes like knitted washcloths.

100% wool, is almost always reserved for felting (washing your project in hot water to purposefully shrink it--we'll get into that later) because it is EXTREMELY itchy on it's own, and not too many people like wearing it.  Also, it doesn't absorb water, so if you sweat, you will be wet and clammy.  ick.

*sigh*  I'm sorry, I could go on and on.  Really.  But before I lose you, the thing that you need to do is go to a yarn store, any store that sells yarn (preferably a couple) and read the labels and familiarize yourself with what they look and feel like.  You will begin to notice which fibers would look good for a scarf, and which would fare better for a pair of socks, or baby clothes.

And now I will lightly touch on Yarn stores:

--you will not find quality yarn from a "craft store" for 3$ a skein, but you will find some "ok" yarn that will work for some projects if you are selective.

--Specialty yarn stores carry quality yarns, but they are not as prevalent as craft stores.
If you happen to live in Utah county, Utah, sadly there aren't many options, but occasionally you can find decent yarn at Heindselman's in Provo, and if you are willing to make the trek up to the Salt Lake area, here are a few great choices (let me know if you know of any others):

and in Ogden, UT, my Mom's favorite is:

Or just do a search on Dex knows for your area--type in "yarn retail" 

--luckily, you have the whole world of quality yarn at your fingertips on the web.
Here are a few of my favorites:

Or go directly to the manufacturer's website to find where they are sold.

Have I exhausted you yet???

Sorry ;)


Erin said...

Nice overview Ali. I am convinced that lots of people give up knitting because they are working with horrid yarn.

ali said...

I agree. Ugly yarn will always look ugly, no matter how well you knit it up!