Get yarn educated!

Martingale's Knit and Crochet Friday

From Beyond WoolOne of the questions we get from readers is, “How do I knit or crochet this project with a different yarn than the pattern calls for?”

While it is possible to answer questions like this on a case-by-case basis, the world of yarn is vast and varied—so we thought this would be a great opportunity for yarn education. And of course, we always jump at the chance to talk yarn with you here on the Stitch This! blog.

Today we’ll be talking about the various types and textures of crochet and knitting yarns. Knowing the different characteristics of yarns is the first step in being able to substitute yarns. Each type of yarn has different qualities that will affect your project and pattern.

Read on for excerpts from All About Knitting and A to Z of Knitting that will boost your yarn knowledge.

Types of Yarn

From A to Z of Knitting

Your choice of yarn will determine the overall look of the garment. A range of different fibers, both natural and synthetic, is used to create the fabulous yarns that are available for today’s knitter. Natural fibers are derived from either animals or plants. Different fibers are often blended together to create yarns that exhibit the best properties of their component fibers.

Natural animal fibers

Natural animal fibers--alpaca
Alpacas (Photo by Candace Strick. From Beyond Wool.)

Alpaca is a very fine, soft yarn that comes from the animals of the same name. Alpacas are related to llamas.

Angora is made from the shorn fur of angora rabbits. It is very fine, lightweight, and has the ability to absorb considerable amounts of moisture before it feels wet.

Cashmere is combed from the backs of cashmere goats. This silky, soft fiber is very expensive, but also extremely warm.

Natural animal fibers--cashmere
Cashmere Goats at Rabbit Tree Farm (Photo by Paul C. Merbach. From Beyond Wool.)

Mohair is a hairy yarn obtained from angora goats. The yarn from very young goats is known as kid mohair. Mohair accepts dyes readily.

Silk is a luxurious fiber taken from the cocoons of silk worms. Comfortable to wear, it keeps you warm when the weather is cool and cool when the weather is warm.

Wool is often used as a generic term for knitting yarn, but it applies more specifically to the fleece of sheep. It accepts dyes easily and is particularly warm and durable. Lamb’s wool, obtained from the very first shearing of an animal, is particularly soft. There are many breeds of sheep and each type produces fleece and fiber with different characteristics. For example, Merino sheep are prized for a soft, lofty fiber while Shetland wool is a coarser wool taken from the back of Shetland sheep. It is mainly used to create country tweed yarns.

Natural plant fibers

Natural plant fibers--cotton
Cotton Plant with Cotton Ball (Photo by Greg Anderson. From Beyond Wool.)

Cotton is an easy-care, cool-to-wear yarn, but it lacks the elasticity of wool.

Linen was one of the first fibers used by humans for making fabric. It makes a strong, stiff yarn. However, it is usually blended with other fibers to soften it and often softens with repeated washings.

Rayon is spun from cellulose and readily accepts dyes. It is not very resilient, so it can easily stretch out of shape.

Synthetic Fibers

Most synthetic fibers are derived from coal or petroleum and they are generally inexpensive and easy to care for. On the down side, they will not withstand high temperatures and are very susceptible to static cling. Nylon, acrylic, and polyester all fall into this category.


In addition to being created from many different fibers, knitting yarns are available in an extraordinary range of textures.

Knitting yarn is a popular, smooth, even, hard-wearing yarn.

Bouclé yarn is made up of irregular loops twisted together. These are supported on a thinner, straight thread.

Ribbon yarns are flat rather than rounded, just like ribbon. They are usually made of cotton or synthetic fibers.

Nubby yarns have small, irregularly placed pieces of yarn incorporated in them. The nubs or slubs are often a different color than the rest of the yarn.

Chenille yarns are generally made from cotton or synthetic fibers. They create a soft, plush fabric.

Denim yarns actually fade with washing in the same way as denim jeans.

Mélange yarns have various colors that are mixed together before the yarn is spun.

Mouline yarns are created by twisting together either different colors or different types of fibers.

The chart below, from All About Knitting, shows some of the many different yarn textures you might encounter.

Yarn-texture chart from All about Knitting

Now that you understand the basics of yarn fiber and texture, you’re ready to dive into the task of picking out the perfect yarn for your project.

Want to learn more about yarn and knitting basics? You can purchase A to Z of Knitting and All About Knitting right now at

A to Z of Knitting and All about Knitting

What is your favorite type of yarn? Tell us below in the comments!

11 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Great post, and looks like a fascinating book. Wish you would have giveawaya for us knitters more often.

    —KittenWithAWhiplash on June 28, 2013
  • My favorite yarn has always been worsted acrylic, especially the new "soft" ones. While money is an issue, I do love alpaca scarves.

    —Lynne on June 28, 2013
  • No doubt cashmere, but I prefer it with a small percentage of silk. It ‘a yarn impalpable, elegant, that lends itself to all types of work, period. The sweaters and works made with this yarn definitely have a successful and long-lasting. EXCEPTIONAL!!

    —Silvana on June 28, 2013
  • Right now I’m totally in love with paca de seda, 80% alpaca and 20% silk. It’s a dream to knit and is so soft and light weight. I made a baby blanket with cables and seed stitch panels and the definition was spectacular and the yarn just glided along. Not inexpensive but worth the effort for wrapping up my first grandchild. I want to try other yarns but haven’t gotten to any others and there are so, so many my head spins with what is offered. I’m favor more natural yarns than synthetics.

    —Joan Trautwein on June 28, 2013
  • I'[m looking forward to trying Hoooked yarn – seeing it in several shops here in Spain. Next time I see I’m going to get several spools!

    June @ QuiltQuest on June 28, 2013
  • I just learned how to make knitted socks with heels…and found a great sale…so lately I am really enjoying working with Patons Kroy Sock yarns…great colors and the sale had the bestest price ever….with the leftovers from the socks Ièm going to make miniature afghans for my daughters and niece….have a great knitting day…

    —Darlene Krystal on June 28, 2013
  • My favorite yarn is Manos Del Uruguay "Maxima" is 100% wool, bulky weight and comes in the most striking colors imaginable.

    —Amanda Best on June 28, 2013
  • Right now my favorite is quivuit(Musk oxen) which I am knitting into a lace scarf. The yarn was a treat purchased during a northern trip last summer. Quivuit is so soft and strong. I love the natural colours though I saw some that was dyed and also some combined with silk. The lighter weight animal and plant yarns are always my favorite. They may take more time to knit but the lovely drape and softness of the fabric is always worth it.

    —Audrey on June 28, 2013
  • This question is about fabric.
    On your home page you have a grouping of quilts in the last section on the right.
    Can you please tell me what the pattern is for that quilt.
    Thank you,

    Hi Carole, thanks for your question. Those quilts are all from the book Urban Country Quilts. You can see all the quilts from the book here:

    ~ Jenny

    —Carole on June 29, 2013
  • I like lots of yarns but the most important criteria for me it has to be soft and cuddly if I am knitting for a young child – baby. I think the most used yarn for me is 8 ply in wool. But I like Alpaca as well because of its light weight and warmth.Thanks.

    —Nancy Boyd on August 9, 2013
  • I have found bamboo to be surprisingly soft, so that is one of my current favorites. BTW, the picture labeled ‘alpacas’ shows an alpaca in the front, and a llama behind it.

    —Kathy U. on September 6, 2013

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