What is Yarn?
Structurally, yarn is a continuous strand of intertwined fibers that are held together by their mutual friction. While this is quite a mouthful, all it means is that the individual fiber strands are twisted together so that their rough outer surfaces adhere to one another.
What yarn to use for crochet? It depends form your project. There are numerous types of fiber used to make yarns, and we will discuss them below, as well as their properties and optimal uses.
Yarn fiber categories
While there are many possible categories to divide up yarn types, too granular a scheme will be unwieldy. So, we’ll start with the most fundamental three-bucket arrangement based on sources: animal, plant and synthetic.
Animal fiber yarns broadly come in two flavors. On the one hand you have the hair of mammals that moo, maa or otherwise baa. By far the largest share of this market is made of sheep’s wool.
However, there are also others such as llama, alpaca, angora and cashmir. Indeed, in the past even horse and cattle hairs have been used to make yarn fiber. That said, sheep wool is absolutely the most prevalent source.
The other major type of animal fiber yarns are silks. These are the fibrous secretions of various invertebrates. Here, the largest share comes from the silkworm, Bombyx mori, but others are known. One type, now little more than a curiosity, that was particularly prized in antiquity was byssus, or sea silk, made from the byssus fibers of certain large mussels.
Plant fibers are another popular option. Here, cotton fibers rule the roost. This fine, naturally white, cellulosic fiber makes excellent hypoallergenic yarns. Moreover, it takes dyes really well and is washable.
It is particularly well suited to light and comfortable clothing. It is also great for people with sensitive skin, who find wool yarn uncomfortable or itchy. Other, less common plant fibers include flax, hemp, nettle, banana silk and jute.
Synthetic fiber yarns are spun from man-made materials such as acrylic, polyester or polypropylene. They too exhibit some interesting properties, as they are non-shrinking, and usually waterproof. Synthetic fiber yarns are usually less expensive, available in a greater variety of colors and more resistant against the elements.
Categories of Yarn
Now that we understand fiber types, let’s speak about yarns themselves. One of the biggest mistakes is that people make is calling all yarn wool. As we showed you above, not all yarn is woolen. The word yarn refers to the physical form of the material, a spun fibrous strand.
If you really mean wool, say wool, wool yarn or woolen yarn. If you don’t, or you don’t know what fiber it’s made of just say “yarn”.
If you look into vintage crochet patterns, you will have come across this style of yarn. It’s most commonly used in lace or fillet crocheting, because it’s thinner, finer and easier to work into intricate shapes. For this reason, a fine 1.75 ml or 2ml hook will be your best bet. Despite being thin, cotton yarn is quite strong.
This is a non-shiny fiber that generally refers to untreated (raw) cotton. Matte cotton is a very versatile material excellent for heavy use items, because it’s durable, strong but still quite breathable.
While some cotton fibers are known to lose shape, mercerized cotton is a treated fiber that has better shape-holding. Unlike matte or untreated cotton, it has a slight sheen to it, and gives projects a different appearance. Mercerized cotton is particularly good for color variety, making it a fabulous choice for kids’ projects.
Wool also comes in a great variety. Some kinds are very soft like the luxury or premium wools: merino, alpaca and cashmere. Others still are denser and rougher, like 100% sheep’s wool. As wools have natural oils and protective substances, check if the recipient isn’t allergic to wool before embarking on a project.
Individuals that are sensitive or allergic to wool, will find it itchy and hard to wear. In these cases, stick to cotton or synthetic yarns. As it isn’t cheap, make sure you will be able to use it before investing tons of cash.
You get what you pay for, as the saying goes. While silk yarn is amazing to work with, it costs an arm and a leg. However, it drapes amazingly and is very hypoallergenic.
As silk often makes a finer, thinner yarn it’s also best worked with a fine hook. You can turn a silk yarn into a lovely open lace, a luxury garment or special project for example for weddings.
While linen yarn is also classified as a luxury yarn, it’s a very traditional fiber that comes in a great variety of thicknesses, from very fine to decidedly bulky. There is no more old-timey yarn for classic homewares and back-to-basics garments.
Hemp and String
This is a rustic yarn perfect for people with more organic tastes. Hemp and string are great to work with because of low cost. However, the rough texture can be hard on your skin as you crochet. It may even cause blisters, so beware.
Nylon is very flexible and soft but quite durable. This is why sock yarns usually include it.
This is generally an inexpensive, and somewhat rough synthetic yarn. It may feel itchier than the others. However, the color variety is dizzying and many of the colors are difficult or impossible to attain in a natural fiber.
You could consider these more decorative and less functional. You can achieve effects like fluffy yarns, or ones that sparkle and glitter. Novelty baby yarns also often fall into this category. While they lack for warmth, they are normally hard-wearing and perfect for costume or accessory work.
Natural and synthetic mixes
Like in other areas of material science, an addition of synthetic fibres to natural ones can greatly improve the latter’s properties… or even make an entirely new category of yarn. Wool/synthetic blends are probably the most versatile yarn form available. They are cost-effective, universal and are capable of making a garment similar to a luxury wool for a fraction of the price.
Wool and cotton blends
Like the synthetic/wool blend, cotton can be added to wool to make it softer and less itchy. This is a great choice If you want the benefits of a blend, but prefer natural fibers,
These are multi-colored yarns that are perfect for shifting colors on a project without changing yarns on the fly, and the color transitions are usually gradual.
What kind of yarn for crochet to choose will depends from a project, your budget and your preferences and skills.