There’s a dazzling cornucopia of yarns available to us knitters today. We are quite literally sometimes spoiled for choice which is why so many so many of us have accumulated such huge stash piles. We live in a modern age, not only being able to visit our local yarn shops like our mothers and grandmothers would, but we also live in the golden age of the internet. With a click of a button we are able to purchase yarn from an independent designer on the other side of the world and have it with us within a couple of days. Yarn production techniques have progressed over the years which means that more exotic natural fibres are available to us; not to mention all of the synthetic blends and embelished yarns we can now buy – beaded, sequined, fur-like, speciality scarf yarns……. The list is endless.
These must be daunting times for a newcomer to knitting. There are so many different variables you need to Old fashiond grocery & haberdashery shopconsider when buying a yarn for your project – even the most experienced of us can walk into a yarn shop intending to buy some aran weight yarn for a sweater only to come out with a headache from all of the choice and one skein of fancy hand-dyed lace-weight silk to add to your stash pile. My grandmother used to tell me of her post-war yarn buying experiences. She had to buy her yarn from the chemists in her small town and there was one weight, roughly equivalent to 4-ply, in a handful of colours and you had to use it for everything. Would we prefer to go back to these simpler times? In a word, No.
When I took up knitting in the 80s it was the age of acrylic and, like most people, my first knitting experiences were with 100% acrylic yarn. I’m not a yarn snob. I like some synthetic yarn and *gasp* still use it now and again. I think for newcomers to knitting it is the perfect yarn to use and here’s why. It’s cheap, hardwearing, easy to knit with, easy to wash and probably even available in your local supermarket. There’s absolutely no point in shelling out a huge amount of money on yarn for your very first knitting project. As with any hobby, once you get better and know you’re going to stick with it, then, budget allowing, you can move on to some better quality yarns which will do your hard work more justice.
When you’re ready, the natural next step up the yarn-quality ladder would be to go for a synthetic/natural fibre blend. As the name suggests you have a percentage of synthetic and a percentage of natural fibre (cotton, wool, alpaca etc) blended together in one yarn. There are plenty of benefits to these yans. They are a little more expensive than 100% synthetic yarns but not ridiculously so. They still have a lot of the qualities of synthetic – being easy to knit with and easy to wash. One of my favourite acrylic/wool blend yarn is the Stylecraft Life range which has 25% wool to 75% Acryllic. It comes in 4-ply, DK, aran and chunky weights and a gorgeous range of colours. It’s also very very good value for money. That 25% of wool will keep your finished garment looking better for longer, helps your garment to keep its shape and makes it slightly more breathable than a garment made from 100% synthetic fibres.
Talking of wool, there’s a common misconception that wool is scratchy and smelly and difficult to care for which puts a lot of newcomers off it. Let me de-bunk this myth. There’s no need to be scared of using 100% wool yarns. Modern finishing techniques used on wool have meant there’s never been a better time to knit with wool. You can buy 100% Merino wool which is so super soft you’ll never want to knit with anything else again. Wool has also become easier to care for with some of it even being machine washable. And it’s not all as expensive as you’d think. You’d be surprised at some of the prices you can buy it for, you just have to shop around. The good thing about a market with so many suppliers, such as the knitting yarn industry, is that you can only survive if your products are good. We’re a vocal cummunity. We all talk and post reviews on sites like Etsy and Ravelry so if your yarns aren’t up to scratch (pun intended) you simply won’t sell. The Yarns section on Ravelry is a great resource and if you don’t currently use it you should take a look next time you’re on there. You can have a peek at projects other users have completed in a particular yarn, read their comments and see their star rating of it, it’s very useful and well worth a browse.
In my opinion, the benefits of using wool or another 100% natural fibre outweigh the ever-shrinking list of negatives but this doesn’t mean to say that I only ever use yarns with 100% natural fibres for my knitting. There’s a place for blended yarns and there’s a place for 100% synthetic yarns and everything in between, it’s up to you to decide which is best for the project you’re working on. Make the most of living in an age with so much choice at our fingertips!