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Beginners Guide to Knitting Wool

It's confession time again here on the blog: I am a wool addict! I love wool more than I love knitting with wool and when I say wool I mean real wool - that lovely stuff that comes from sheep. My wool addiction has gotten so bad that my boyfriend remarked that "the amount of balls of wool coming into the house are not really proportional to the amount of knitted garments being produced". Well like yeah some of the balls just look nice hanging out in that large basket there!

 

So with my years of wool addiction and knitting experience let me share with you some what I believe to be vital information about wool and how to go about choosing wool for your project.

When we say wool it is somewhat of a misnomer so let's call it knitting yarn for now as most yarn isn't wool at all but man made fibres or a mix. There are some basic fibre types used to make knitting yarn – each of them have different properties and you might prefer one over the other for many reasons.

Yarn types:

Pure Wool: Made from sheep’s fleece and has pretty amazing properties – it is warm, breathable, and will absorb quite a lot of water so if you get caught in a downpour in your knitted sweater you might get heavier but you won’t get wet! Pure Wool does require some more care than other types and will most likely have to be hand washed with care and dried flat.

Merino Wool: Made from merino breed sheep – all of the above properties hold true but merino wool is particularly fine and soft. This is probably my favourite type of yarn to use as it's lovely and soft to knit with and the result is a fabric that is warm yet breathable.

Acrylic: Probably the most common fibre in the yarns we sell – it is a man made, synthetic fibre and while it offers some of the warmth of real wool it isn’t very breathable and can pill relatively easily. It is washable and usually hypo allergenic, most baby yarns are acrylic for this reason. It also takes dye very well so they usually come in great, bright, vivid colours.

Cotton: Cotton is a natural fibre produced from cotton plants and is therefore very breathable and lovely against the skin. It’s not very warm and so is a lovely choice for spring /summer knits. You have to use the right pattern as cotton is quite heavy when knitted up and so can sag. Care wise - it can usually take a cool machine wash or hand wash and so is fairly easy care.

Bamboo: Bamboo is a natural viscose like fibre sourced from the bamboo plant – it has lovely drape and sheen much like viscose and is breathable and usually washable on a gentle cycle. It is ideal for adults and children’s knits.

Alpaca/cashmere: Types of wool but sourced from llamas and goats respectively, both have the same properties as pure wool but are softer and more insulating. Alpaca is particularly warm and has a very soft brush finish. They need a little care and attention and require gentle hand washing.

 

Many of the wools we stock will have some combination of the above fibres which will usually give you a mix of the properties of each.  For example: Hayfield Super Chunky with wool is 80% acrylic and 20% wool meaning it’s robust and washable like regular acrylic and ha some of the warmth and loft of regular wool.

I suppose the next thing to consider is the weight of the knitting yarn you're using -

Yarn Weights:

2/3 /4 ply – These are very fine yarns used mainly for crochet and lace knitting, most common in these is 4 ply in white as it is frequently used for Christening robes/blankets. Needle/Hook size 1.5 – 3.25mm.

Double knit – Probably the most common weight, it is especially used for baby knitting as it makes for a fabric that isn’t too thick. Needle/Hook size 3.5 – 4.5 mm.

Aran/Worsted – Aran wool is what’s used in those lovely scratchy jumpers, aran weight simply refers to the thickness of the wool – it is middle of the road thickness and is mostly used in adults garments but can also be used for kids knits. Needle/Hook size 3.5 – 4.5 mm.

Chunky – Thicker than aran but we’re still in the realm of yarn that can be used in kids knits, but not babies. It knits up nice and quick but is still manageable so would be my recommended size for a beginner knitter. Needle/Hook size 5.5 – 6.5mm.

Super Chunky – A really thick yarn ideally suited for accessories and adults garments – it makes a really thick, bulky fabric so isn’t really suitable for kids or baby knits. Needle/Hook size 10mm + depending on the yarn.

So what does this all mean for you when choosing your yarn?

Often as knitters we don't really pay attention to what we're using - we see something we fancy the look of and go ahead with our project. In my years in Hickeys I would look on aghast as experienced knitters, people who had been knitting for 20 + years picked up an aran weight acrylic to knit up a double knit cotton pattern. What does it matter and why would I care? It matters because, as you can see from the brief outline above; every fibre and weight behaves differently -knit with the wrong type and you get the wrong results. Knit using the wool suggested in the pattern as much as possible or at least find a good substitute - the same weight and fibre type/behaviour is important.

I care because I love knitting and I want everyone to knit and be happy with their finished product!

I'll give you a real life example; a wonderful lady used to come into the shop and buy yarn all the time. I was talking to her one day and she remarked how she'd been knitting a cardigan for herself for weeks and how now it was finished she hated the look of it and this is why she never knits for herself and she'll just go back to the baby knitting. I suggested she brings it and the pattern in so we could have a look and see if it could be altered to suit her better. In she comes with a beautiful cotton cardigan that I will admit looked rather long; to my dismay when she showed me the pattern it was for a pure wool aran weight yarn. "Ah now there's your problem - you used a cotton" "But it's aran weight". So after a lengthy conversation explaining how cotton is so much heavier/more drapey than wool that once she had the garment knitted up, even though she stopped at the right point, the cardigan kept growing. I mean once she put it on, the shoulders started hanging and the cardigan was nearly down to her knees. The only option was to rip it back and start again, so we went and picked a suitable pattern and I gave her a hand starting the ripping back process.... 4 weeks later that particular lady came sashaying into the store delighted to be modelling her new cotton cardigan.

What's the moral of the story?

  • Choose carefully before you start your project. Let's face it knitting is a time consuming hobby, buy a yarn you love not only the look of but the feel of and you know you/your loved ones will be able to wear. I once bought a super chunky alpaca yarn to knit a sweater for myself - I have only ever worn this sweater once because it is far to warm and I am not a cold creature. I was a picture in my bright pink jumper with matching bright pink face!
  • Always use a suitable pattern for the wool you have chosen - see real life example above!
  • Buy the best you can afford. While there is always a place for a cheap and cheerful acrylic yarn - even I won't splash out on cashmere when knitting tea cosies - treat yourself/your loved ones to something you will really love and will last. As I have said repeatedly, knitting is time consuming, a labour of love if you will, so make sure you'll love the finished product by buying yarn you love.
  • If you're still unsure speak to an expert!

In conclusion: My name is Laura and I am a Woolaholic!

The Offending Jumper

Laura

I started working for Hickeys when I was only 16 and my love affair with all things fabric, textiles and crafts began!! I always have some project on the go (even if they don't always get finished), and after 17 years in the business I'm still learning new things all the time from fellow staff and amazing customers!

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