Knitting wools, also commonly referred to as yarns, are made up of plant fibres or animal fibres, and sometimes have synthetic constituents to them as well. Pure animal fibres are most commonly sheep’s wool, though other varieties are used frequently as well – notably alpaca wool, angora wool, and cashmere wool that comes from Cashmere goats. Known for its fineness and softness, Cashmere is one of the most expensive types of wool.
Hobbyist knitting projects typically make use of larger-stranded yarn than commercial knitting does. In essence, this is because thicker knitting wools are easier to use when hands and needles are being employed to create garments. Machines can work with much finer yarns easily as hands and needles may find the fineness of some commercial yarns, difficult to manage or impossibly time consuming.
Wherever natural fibres are present in wool and yarn, great care must be taken – both in preparing as well as knitting the yarn, and in the subsequent care of the resulting garment. Natural fibres are prone to stretching, shrinking, and being eaten by carpet moths (or rather the larvae thereof).
On the other hand, the more natural fibres there are in knitting wools, the more waterproof those wools are likely to be. Pure wool is so water repellent that it can even dismiss strong body odours. Anyone who has worn a fine-knit woollen undergarment for athletic activity can attest to this. Woollen undershirts can stand a whole week’s worth of hill trekking without significantly developing a smell, and will dry within a relatively short span of time when hung somewhere with access to air.
The more natural the wool is, the warmer it can be. Its moisture wicking properties make it ideal for taking sweat from the body, so it can be used to cool rather than heat. By building up several thin layers, extraordinary heat retention may be promoted.
Knitting wools may be sourced both in single colours and multiple colours. Dye is added to strands of natural wool to colour it. On the other hand, to create a multi-coloured yarn, different dyes are added at different stages during the spinning process (by which the natural wool is teased out and twined into the yarn). There are a couple of other notable processes for creating yarn say filamenting or air texturing. In both cases, the yarn is still twisted to form the fibrous appearance common to thicker, spun yarns. The main difference is that wool is spun into knitting yarns using short natural filaments, while filamenting requires long single fibres such as silk.
The different knitting wools are sold in thicknesses and weights. Though in practice the concepts of weight and thickness are conflated, as in Aran weight (which actually denotes that the thickness of the wool is perfect for Aran sweaters and hats) or sock weight (for socks). Skeins of knitting wools are normally sold with recommendations for the gauge of needles used to produce the perfect stitching or cabling.
Using needles outside the recommended gauges may produce unpredictable results, including holes or saggy finished garments.
Sharon Wayne is a freelance content writer. In this article she describes about knitting wools.