Yarn Fibers Library
For every yarn we sell, we identify the fiber, or combination of fibers that are used in the yarn. Our library provides additional information about the properties of these fibers and how they influence the feel and usage of a yarn.
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Acrylic is an extraordinarily popular hand-crafting fiber for those who knit or crochet. Acrylic yarn has been significantly improved over the years and is now just as soft (and sometimes softer) than it’s natural fiber counterparts. Since it’s machine washable this yarn is perfect for garments that may require frequent washing, such as those made for babies and children.
Acrylic fibers are synthetic fibers made from a polymer (polyacrylonitrile). To be called acrylic in the U.S, the polymer must contain at least 85% acrylonitrile monomer.
It is manufactured as a filament, then cut into short lengths similar to wool hairs, and spun into yarn, often blended with natural fibers to make them more durable, more affordable, more stain resistant or to lighten garment weight.
Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite.
Angora hair or Angora fiber refers to the downy coat produced by the Angora rabbit. It is known for its softness, thin fiber, and what knitters refer to as a halo (fluffiness). It is also known for its silky texture. It is much warmer and lighter than wool due to the hollow core of the angora fiber.
It also gives them their characteristic “floating” feel. While their names are similar, Angora fiber is different from mohair, which comes from the Angora goat. Angora fiber is also different from cashmere, which comes from the cashmere goat.
Angora rabbits produce coats in a variety of colors, from white through tan, gray, and brown to black. It felts very easily, even on the animal itself if it is not groomed frequently.
Yarns of 100% angora are typically used as accents. They have the most halo and warmth, but can felt very easily through abrasion and humidity and can be too warm in a finished garment. It is normally blended with wool to give the yarn elasticity. The blend decreases the softness and halo as well as the price of the finished object. Commercial knitting yarns typically use 30–50% angora, in order to produce some halo, warmth, and softness without the side effects of excessive felting.
Bamboo knitting yarn is a relatively new entry in the knitting world, but it has become quite popular very quickly, and with good reason. Bamboo is a beautiful natural fiber that wears well and is often considered natural antibacterial.
Bamboo is a grass that is harvested and distilled into cellulose that is then spun into the yarn. Fabric knitted with bamboo is quite breathable and cool and has great drape.
Bamboo is a renewable resource, it can be harvested without killing the plant. And it only takes a few months before the plant is ready to be harvested again. Bamboo yarn, when not mixed with unnatural fibers, is biodegradable. This yarn is often dyed with more natural dyes that are safer for the environment. Bamboo fabric is naturally antibacterial and has ultra-violet protective properties. Bamboo has a good luster, similar to mercerized cotton. Bamboo is strong, flexible, and can be softer than silk when spun into yarn.
The only potential drawback is that bamboo needs to be hand-washed, so it isn't a great choice for garments that need to be washed frequently.
Bison is the soft undercoat of the American Bison. The coat of the bison contains two different types of fiber. The main coat is made up of coarse fibers (average 59 micrometers) called guard hairs, and the downy undercoat (average 18.5 micrometers). This undercoat is shed annually and consists of fine, soft fibers which are very warm and protect the animal from harsh winter conditions.
Camel can produce around 5 pounds of hair a year. The specialty animal fiber is collected by a number of methods including combing, shearing and collecting the hair shed naturally during the molting season. This season occurs in late spring and is a process that takes six to eight weeks.
There are five primary steps to the production of camel hair; collection, sorting, dehairing, spinning, and weaving or knitting. After collecting the hair either through shearing or collecting during the molting season the hair goes through a sorting method. In this process the coarse hair is separated from the fine, soft hairs. The fibers are then washed to remove any dirt or debris obtained from the collection process. The sorted and washed hair is then dehaired. This process removes the coarse hair and any dandruff or vegetable matter before it is sent to be spun into yarn and used for either weaving or knitting.
The color of camel is primarily golden tan but can vary from red to light brown tones. Camel's hair is also a fiber that supplies warmth without added weight. The hair contains thermostatic properties which can protect and insulate the camel from the extreme cold conditions as well as keeping them cool in the desert. The same properties and characteristics are transferred when making fabrics woven or knitted from camel hair.
Cashmere wool, usually simply known as cashmere, is a fiber obtained from Cashmere goats and other types of goat. Common usage defines the fiber as a wool but in fact it is a hair, and this is what gives it its unique characteristics as compared to sheep's wool. The word cashmere derives from an old spelling of Kashmir. Cashmere is fine in texture, strong, light, and soft. Garments made from it provide excellent insulation.
In the United States a wool or textile product may not be labeled as containing cashmere unless:
- such wool product is the fine (dehaired) undercoat fibers produced by a cashmere goat (Capra hircus laniger);
- the average diameter of the fiber of such wool product does not exceed 19 microns; and
- such wool product does not contain more than 3 percent (by weight) of cashmere fibers with average diameters that exceed 30 microns.
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose.
The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, and India. The greatest diversity of wild cotton species is found in Mexico, followed by Australia and Africa. Cotton was independently domesticated in the Old and New Worlds.
The fiber is most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textiles. The use of cotton for fabric is known to date to prehistoric times; fragments of cotton fabric dated from 5000 BC have been excavated in Mexico and the Indus Valley Civilization (modern day Pakistan and some parts of India). Although cultivated since antiquity, it was the invention of the cotton gin that so lowered the cost of production that led to its widespread use, and it is the most widely used natural fiber cloth in clothing today.
Hemp is used for many varieties of products including the manufacture of rope of varying tensile strength, durable clothing and nutritional products. The bast fibers can be used in 100% hemp products, but are commonly blended with other organic fibers such as flax, cotton or silk, for apparel and furnishings, most commonly at a 55%/45% hemp/cotton blend.
Hemp fiber was widely used throughout history. Items ranging from rope, to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fiber. Hemp was often used to make sail canvas, and the word canvas derives from cannabis. Today, a modest hemp fabric industry exists, and hemp fibers can be used in clothing. Pure hemp has a texture similar to linen.
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather.
Llamas have a fine undercoat, which can be used for handicrafts and garments. The coarser outer guard hair is used for rugs, wall hangings and lead ropes. The fiber comes in many different colors ranging from white or grey to reddish-brown, brown, dark brown and black.
Merino is an economically influential breed of sheep prized for its wool. The breed is originally from Turkey and central Spain (Castille), and its wool was highly valued already in the Middle Ages. Today, Merinos are still regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool of any sheep. Poll Merinos have no horns (or very small stubs, known as scurs), and horned Merino rams have long, spiral horns which grow close to the head.
Merino wool is common in high-end, performance athletic wear. Typically meant for use in running, hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, cycling, and in other types of outdoor aerobic exercise, these clothes command a premium over synthetic fabrics.
Several properties contribute to merino's popularity for exercise clothing, compared to wool in general and to other types of fabric:
Like most wools, merino contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties.
- Merino is excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. The wool provides some warmth, without overheating the wearer.
- It draws moisture (sweat) away from the skin, a phenomenon known as wicking.
- The fabric is slightly moisture repellent (keratin fibers are hydrophobic at one end and hydrophilic at the other), allowing the user to avoid the feeling of wetness.
- Like cotton, wool absorbs water (up to 1/3 its weight), but, unlike cotton, wool retains warmth when wet, thus helping wearers avoid hypothermia after strenuous workouts (climbs) or weather events.
Merino is one of the softest types of wool available, due to finer fibers and smaller scales.
Mink is a common name for an alert, semiaquatic, carnivorous mammal of the Mustelidae family which also includes otters, weasels, badgers, wolverines, and polecats. The fur of the American mink has been highly prized for its use in clothing, with hunting being replaced by farming. Its treatment has also been a focus of animal rights and animal welfare activism. We research the yarn companies that we do business with and we ensure that the mink yarn we sell comes only from companies that collect their fur humanely.
Mohair is usually a silk-like fabric or yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat. Both durable and resilient, mohair is notable for its high luster and sheen, which has helped give it the nickname the "Diamond Fiber", and is often used in fiber blends to add these qualities to a fabric. Mohair takes dye exceptionally well. It is warm in winter as it has great insulating properties, while remaining cool in summer due to its moisture wicking properties. It is durable, naturally elastic, flame resistant, crease resistant, and does not felt. It is considered to be a luxury fiber, like cashmere, angora and silk, and is usually more expensive than most wool that comes from sheep.
Nylon is a thermoplastic, silky material, first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush (1938), followed more famously by women's stockings ("nylons"; 1940) after being introduced as a fabric at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Nylon is made of repeating units linked by amide bonds and is frequently referred to as polyamide (PA).
Nylon was intended to be a synthetic replacement for silk and substituted for it in many different products after silk became scarce during World War II. It replaced silk in military applications such as parachutes and flak vests, and was used in many types of vehicle tires.
Polyester is a category of polymers which contain the ester functional group in their main chain. Although there are many polyesters, the term "polyester" as a specific material most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Polyesters include naturally occurring chemicals, such as in the cutin of plant cuticles, as well as synthetics through step-growth polymerization such as polycarbonate and polybutyrate. Natural polyesters and a few synthetic ones are biodegradable, but most synthetic polyesters are not.
Fabrics woven or knitted from polyester thread or yarn are used extensively in apparel and home furnishings, from shirts and pants to jackets and hats, bed sheets, blankets, upholstered furniture and computer mouse mats.
While synthetic clothing in general is perceived by many as having a less natural feel compared to fabrics woven from natural fibers (such as cotton and wool), polyester fabrics can provide specific advantages over natural fabrics, such as improved wrinkle resistance, durability and high color retention. As a result, polyester fibers are sometimes spun together with natural fibers to produce a cloth with blended properties. Synthetic fibers also can create materials with superior water, wind and environmental resistance compared to plant-derived fibers, and are sometimes renamed so as to suggest their similarity or even superiority to natural fibers (for example, China silk, which is a term in the textiles industry for a 100% polyester fiber woven to resemble the sheet and durability of insect-derived silk).
Qiviut (sometimes spelled Qiveut) is an Inuktitut word commonly used to indicate the wool of the muskox. It is valued for its use as a fiber as, unlike sheep's wool, it does not shrink in water at any temperature. (However, this means that it also is not useful for felting.) It is most commonly used for hats and scarves, and is among the softest wools. It is very expensive but accesssories made with it will last over 20 years with good care.
The muskox has a two-layered coat, and qiviut refers specifically to the soft underwool beneath the longer outer wool. The muskox sheds this layer of wool each spring. Qiviut is plucked from the coat of the muskox during the molt or gathered from objects the animals have brushed against; unlike sheep, the animals are not sheared. Much of the commercially available qiviut comes from Canada, and is obtained from the pelts of muskoxen after hunts. In Alaska, qiviut is obtained from farmed animals or gathered from the wild during the molt.
Qiviut is stronger and eight times warmer than sheep's wool, and softer than cashmere wool. Wild muskoxen have qiviut fibers approximately 18 micrometres in diameter. Females and young animals have slightly finer wool.
An adult muskox can produce four to seven pounds of qiviut a year. Qiviut is produced by the muskox's secondary hair follicles, which are not associated with sebaceous glands, and therefore is a much drier fiber than wool, having only about 7 percent oils. The raw, cleaned qiviut is spun and then the yarn is washed. Natural qiviut is soft grayish brown in color, but it takes dye well and can be found for sale in myriad colors. Bleaching weakens the fiber, however, so many spinners and knitters recommend using only overdyed natural qiveut, which has darker, more subdued colors.
Rayon is a manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber. It is made from purified cellulose, primarily from wood pulp, which is chemically converted into a soluble compound. It is then dissolved and forced through a spinneret to produce filaments which are chemically solidified, resulting in synthetic fibers of nearly pure cellulose. Because rayon is manufactured from naturally occurring polymers, it is considered a semi-synthetic fiber. Specific types of rayon include viscose, modal and lyocell, each of which differs in manufacturing process and properties of the finished product.
Rayon is a versatile fiber and has the same comfort properties as natural fibers. It can imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton and linen. The fibers are easily dyed in a wide range of colors. Rayon fabrics are soft, smooth, cool, comfortable, and highly absorbent, but they do not insulate body heat, making them ideal for use in hot and humid climates.
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The protein fiber of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity (sericulture). The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fiber, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors.
Silks are produced by several other insects, but generally only the silk of moth caterpillars has been used for textile manufacturing.
Silk has a smooth, soft texture that is not slippery, unlike many synthetic fibers.
Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers but loses up to 20% of its strength when wet. It has a good moisture regain of 11%. Its elasticity is moderate to poor: if elongated even a small amount, it remains stretched. It can be weakened if exposed to too much sunlight. It may also be attacked by insects, especially if left dirty.
Soy Yarn is yarn produced with fibers derived from soy. Companies that make this yarn usually use byproducts of food manufacturing that would normally be discarded, putting the waste through an extrusion and wet spinning process to create fibers that can be spun into yarn. Many knitting stores sell soy yarn and it is also possible to buy raw soy fiber to spin at home, for people who are interested in making their own versions of this yarn.
Industrial manufacturing of soy fiber dates to the 1930s, and experienced a resurgence in the early 2000s as crafters became more interested in using natural fibers for their projects. Soy fiber can be used to make fabric, as well as yarn, and in addition to being used as a standalone, it can be integrated into fiber blends. Soy/wool and soy/cotton blends are both readily available, bringing out the best traits of both fibers.
Pure soy yarn is very strong and soft. It is also highly stretchy and can feel slippery or slick, much like silk yarns. It can be spun in a variety of weights and is also available in the form of novelty yarns, such as yarn tubes or ribbons. Like many other yarns made from plant fibers, soy yarn takes dyes very well.
Tencel Yarns are based on Lyocell, which is a regenerated cellulose fiber made from dissolving pulp (bleached wood pulp). Lyocell was developed and first manufactured for market development as Tencel in the 1980s by Courtaulds Fibres in Coventry UK. In 2004 CVC sold the Tencel division to Lenzing AG, who combined it with their "Lenzing Lyocell" business but maintained the brand name Tencel. Lenzing AG. is currently (2013) the only major producer of Lyocell Fibers.
The US Federal Trade Commission defines Lyocell as "a cellulose fabric that is obtained by an organic solvent spinning process". It classifies the fibre as a sub-category of rayon. The fiber is used to make textiles for clothing and other purposes.
Some main characteristics of lyocell fibers are that they are soft, absorbent, very strong when wet or dry, and resistant to wrinkles; lyocell fabric can be machine- or hand-washed or drycleaned, it drapes well, and it can be dyed many colors, and can simulate a variety of textures such as suede, leather, and silk.
Wool is the fiber obtained from sheep, and something that we obviously really love at the Raging Wool Yarn Shop! In the United States the term wool is usually restricted to describing the fibers derived from sheep, but people often use the term generically for other natural animal fibers, such as cashmere.
Wool is considered by the medical profession to be hypoallergenic. Wool fibers are also hydrophilic, meaning they readily absorb moisture, but are not hollow. Wool can absorb moisture almost one-third of its own weight. Wool absorbs sound like many other fabrics. It is generally a creamy white color, although some breeds of sheep produce natural colors, such as black, brown, silver, and random mixes.
Wool has a higher combustion temperature than cotton and some synthetic fibers. It has a lower rate of flame spread, a lower rate of heat release, a lower heat of combustion, and does not melt or drip; it forms a char which is insulating and self-extinguishing, and it contributes less to toxic gases and smoke than other flooring products when used in carpets. Wool carpets are specified for high safety environments, such as trains and aircraft. Wool is usually specified for garments for firefighters, soldiers, and others in occupations where they are exposed to the likelihood of fire.
Fiber diameter is the single most important wool characteristic determining quality and price. Wool has several qualities that distinguish it from hair or fur:
- Wool is crimped
- Wool is elastic
- Wool grows in staples or clusters
Wool's scaling and crimp make it easier to spin the fleece by helping the individual fibers attach to each other, so they stay together. Because of the crimp, wool fabrics have greater bulk than other textiles, and they hold air, which causes the fabric to retain heat. Insulation works both ways: Bedouins and Tuaregs use wool clothes to keep heat out and protect the body.
Felting of wool occurs upon hammering or other mechanical agitation as the microscopic barbs on the surface of wool fibers hook together.
The amount of crimp corresponds to the fineness of the wool fibers. A fine wool like Merino may have up to 100 crimps per inch, while the coarser wools like karakul may have as few as one or two. In contrast, hair has little if any scale and no crimp, and little ability to bind into yarn. On sheep, the hair part of the fleece is called kemp. The relative amounts of kemp to wool vary from breed to breed and make some fleeces more desirable for spinning, felting, or carding into batts for quilts or other insulating products, including the famous tweed cloth of Scotland.
Some interesting wool variations & definitions:
- Virgin wool is wool spun for the first time.
- Shoddy or recycled wool is made by cutting or tearing apart existing wool fabric and respinning the resulting fibers. As this process makes the wool fibers shorter, the remanufactured fabric is inferior to the original. The recycled wool may be mixed with raw wool, wool noil, or another fiber such as cotton to increase the average fiber length. Such yarns are typically used as weft yarns with a cotton warp. This process was invented in the Heavy Woollen District of West Yorkshire and created a micro-economy in this area for many years.
- Rag is a sturdy wool fiber made into yarn and used in many rugged applications such as gloves.
- Worsted is a strong, long-staple, combed wool yarn with a hard surface.
- Woolen is a soft, short-staple, carded wool yarn typically used for knitting. In traditional weaving, woolen weft yarn (for softness and warmth) is frequently combined with a worsted warp yarn for strength on the loom.
Yak wool is one of the main reasons why Yaks are able to survive in such extreme environments such as the Himalayan region of south Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and as far north as Mongolia and Russia.
There are three three specific fibers yielded by yaks. The first is the long fiber traditionally used by nomads to make ropes and tents. This is the guard hair most visible on the animal. They also produce a mid-layer fiber. The fiber collected to make wool is the down hair which is broadly defined as fiber smaller than 25 microns in diameter.
Yak is an amazing fiber for many reasons:
- Warmth - tests conducted during the 1980s showed the incredible insulating effect of yak. At an ambient air temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius the animal's skin temperature was between eight and twenty degrees above zero depending on which part of the body the reading was taken from.
- Odor resistance - like other wools yak resists odor by absorbing sweat and then evaporating it into the air. Yak is also anti-microbial, so it won't attract the small microbes that live off sweat and build up on the surface of some fibers.
- Breathability - in order for a garment to "breathe" it must be able to absorb moisture and release it into the air. Yak wool, like other wools, has a remarkable capacity to absorb moisture from your body and release it into the environment. This avoids the sweaty or clammy feel often felt when wearing synthetic fibres.
- Softness - most people are surprised to discover that an imposing animal like a yak can produce such fine wool. Yak wool is often mistaken for cashmere. That's because hidden amongst the long strands of guard hair is the soft down that gives yak fabric such a great feel and makes it a perfect staple for fighting off chilly weather.
- Strength - one largely unknown quality of yak wool is its strength. This is due in part to it's higher levels of sulphur-based proteins and amino acids than sheep fiber.
- Resistance to static - all wools naturally resist static but yak wool is particularly good at it, performing better than comparable cashmere fibers under similar conditions. This means garment make of yak wool are far less likely to spark or cling to the body than those made from more common fibers.