When we think of wool knitting yarn, we usually invision a flock of sheep, grazing lazily on a hillside and you would be absolutely correct to assume our wool knitting yarn comes from sheep. But did you know that yarn is created from the natural fibers of many different types of animals?
It's not unusual to locate a wide range of natural fibers from animals. Consider lambswool sweaters, Tweed wool jackets, mohair, alpaca and cashmere garments. Then there is also merino wool that is vastly popular these days and even silk.
Technically, if a product says it is wool, then it comes from one of the many different breeds of sheep and yes, there are many.
If you are passionate about crocheting or knitting, at some point you will want to dabble into natural fibers many of them made from animals, but even plant based fibers are very popular for a wide assortment of projects.
According to Wikipedia, some of the rarer sources of animal fibers include: camel, yak, possum, musk ox, vicuña, cat, dog, wolf, rabbit, or bison hair, and even chinchilla as well as turkey or ostrich feathers. Yarns made by some of these rare sources will like be created by combining more than one source. You will also likely pay more for these exotic sources.
What are the more common natural wool knitting yarns you will encounter?
You will find many of these more expensive yarns in local yarn shops or online. Consider carefully, as some of these beautiful fibers come with a hefty price tag and beginners should shy away from them until they feel confident in their abilities
Probably the least expensive of the natural fibers made from animals, sheep's wool is warm and breathable, an obvious fiber for winter clothing. It's temperature regulated which helps keep you from overheating. Wools are often used in baby layettes.
Wool, as versatile as it is, won't be perfect for everyone. It includes a substance, lanolin, which makes the wool (and the sheep) water repellent and dirt free. Some people are allergic to lanolin.
This yarn is made of 100% long-staple wool fibers and the label will likely tell you where it originated. It's very fine and tightly spun and is great for both crochet and knit projects.
This type of wool is very soft , light and garments made with this wool aver warm and even elastic. It is good for both crocheting and knitting and can be used to make lovely garments and baby clothes. It's also a great choice for blankets because it is lightweight and breathable.
This wool comes from Scotland or Ireland and is made from the black faced Hebridean sheep. It's strong and often comes in the natural colors, borrowed from plants from that region. Some are heavier and need larger needles but others require very small crochet hooks, less than 4.5 mm.
This is one of the softest yarns and is produced from the first shearing of lambs when they reach 6 to 7 months old. This fiber can also be mixed with others such as cashmere or alpaca. Baby wool is perfect for baby clothes and other items made for infant layettes.
Mohair comes from the mohair goat originally from Turkey. So, it's technically not wool. Fibers are very long and look a lot like sheep's wool. The term, "Kid mohair" means that the fiber was obtained from the first sheering of young goats.
Naturally, Alpaca comes from the alpaca, a cousin of the camel and is native to South America. The fiber is soft, fine, smooth and a little elastic. You will find that some yarns contain both alpaca and sheep fibers. It's expensive because it is rare, so save this yarn for a special occasion. If it is 100% Alpaca or Baby Alpaca, it should be labeled as such and you should not see the word, "wool" on the label.
The cashmere goat provides this fiber for us and it originated in the high valleys of the Himalayas. The fiber is made up of long, fine hair and a soft downy undercoat. Only the undercoat is used for cashmere yarn which is why it is so soft. Cashmere goats are not sheared because it does not secrete lanolin. Rather, the goats are combed once a year which creates about 3 to 5 ounces of fiber per animal.
You won't likely see 100% cashmere on the market but rather, it is combined with other fibers.
While not exactly a wool, silk is another fiber that comes from a natural animal source, the mulberry silk moth.
I've been surrounded by all kinds of fibers since before I can remember. Mum knitted professionally for custom clients, making all kinds of beautiful garments on her Passap knitting machine.
The majority of her projects were made with wool, or some kind of blended yarn with the highest percentage of it being wool.
Often, she would purchase just enough for the project, wrapped in bundles and packaged in a cellophane bag. Each ball was wound in a ball with a paper band on it, which would give the contents, the percentage of the yarns fiber make up, and washing instructions, among other things.
Since those early days, Mum experimented with lots of other fibers; silk, alpaca, cashmere, and even dog hair. As a spinner and weaver, a lot of her experiments ended up being made into incredible garments and sold at craft fairs and to private customers.
Now, she usually sticks to knitting socks, out of wool, on another knitting machine - the old pink Passap is long gone, but she insists on using several in her collection to knit socks for everyone.
Socks are only one project that is possible with wool. Other garments are hats, gloves, scarves and a multitude of sweaters. The beauty of wool is that it's warm even when it's wet, making it perfect for wintery weather, out in the cold.
It's even ideal for our pets, who need to wear their sweaters in all kinds of weather.
In addition, wool is elastic and supple, giving a nice 'hand' to garments. They form fit to your body.
As a knitter and crochet enthusiast, I love wool. It's easy to work with, normally doesn't split, blocks extremely well, and maintains its shape. It is also incredibly warm when worked into projects such as sweaters, vests, scarves, and mittens. But there are more pros and also some cons for using wools.
Wool Knitting Yarn: Pros
Cons of Wool Knitting Yarns