Monday 29 June 2015

The Joy of Wool

I think you might of realised by now that I am a yarn snob, I only use natural fibres.
I would say 100% natural fibres, but I will stretch to a small percentage of synthetic fibre in a yarn as long as its not over 25%.

I spend a lot of time social networking and looking at pictures of crochet via Pinterest and Instagram.
I am sad to see the numbers of crocheters who seem to use synthetics and nothing else, who not only exclusively use synthetic but seem oblivious to the possibilities of using other fibre types.
At the moment there seems to be a trend to use a certain brand (which I will not name),
Recently on several occasions I have been e-mailed by crocheters wanting to know which colours of that particular brand do I use in my blankets......sigh.......

So rather than dwell on the over reliance of synthetic for crochet I am going to share my joy of wool.

Wool is warm, malleable and cuddly.
It can be soft, sophisticated and refined such as a expensive merino or rustic and full of character such a rare breed hand spun wool.
Some of the more rustic yarns still smell of sheep and have lanolin left in them, for some people this would be a bad thing, but I love the fact that I am working with an almost living fibre.
Part of my enjoyment of crochet is the yarn itself and how it feels in my hands, I love the warmth and texture and tones of colour, even the chemically dyed cheaper wool yarns have a depth I haven't seen in a synthetic yarn.

Incidentally I should add I don't use synthetics now, but I have done in the past and so have some knowledge.

There are several misconceptions about wool.

1 - Its expensive
Yes - Indie dyer/Specialist spun wool is quite a bit more expensive than synthetic yarn.
But there are budget ranges of wool that are perfect for blankets, which are slightly more expensive than the cheaper synthetics, but you could still make one of my smaller blankets for under £50.
Recently I have been exploring cheaper wool ranges to recommend for my blankets, the first 2 brands I have discovered are Drops and Cascade, both these companies have a huge range of yarns and colours that are well worth exploring.
However there are many companies who spin cheaper wool yarns, if you search Wool DK on Love Crochet, you will find a world of wool waiting for you to discover.

But if you want to treat yourself to something special, go and have a look at one of the following yarn companies, they all sell beautiful wool, they are all my friends and I love their yarn and thoroughly recommend all of them.
John Arbon Textiles, Skein Queen, Easyknits, Knitting Goddess, Fyberspates and Posh

2 - It is not machine washable.
Completely wrong!!
Look for the superwash wool's, in the past I dyed quite a few for NDS and made several garments that were bunged in the washing machine time and time again.
However you will need to check the washing instructions or ask the manufacturer before you throw them in the wash.

3 - Wool is itchy/scratchy
Some of the cheaper wool yarns aren't as soft as they could be, but then so are some of the cheaper synthetics.
I have read comments on Ravelry from knitters/crocheters advising others that if you wash your itchy synthetic yarn with fabric or hair conditioner then it softens up!!
The yarn isn't getting any softer, all you are doing is coating it with a conditioner that makes it feel soft!
In my experience wool gets softer over time and synthetic gets harder.
I have several blankets made by my Granny about 30 or 40 years ago, she didn't actually buy yarn, instead she went to jumble sales and searched out the hand knits, frogged them and re-made them as blankets.
The synthetic yarns are rock hard and the natural yarns are still soft, obviously synthetic has come a long way in 40 years, but even still how are we to know what it will feel like in 40 years time.
If you are putting all your time and love into  heirloom blanket, you still want it to be just as beautiful in 40 years as the day you finished it.

4 - Wool is produced by cruel sheep farmers who mistreat their animals.
Recently PETA have produced a disgusting video of sheep being shorn in a very cruel and barbaric fashion, I will not link it here as I find it so upsetting, but if you want to watch it you can find it easily on a goggle search.
There are "bad pennies" in every industry and PETA has focussed on one of them, the practises seen in the video should be outlawed and the people performing them should be prosecuted and banned from contact with animals.
However I live in an area where sheep are the main farming crop.
I've watched sheep being shorn on numerous occasions and have never seen a sheep treated in this way, I find it outrageous that all sheep farmers have been tarred with the same brush, it makes me very angry.
I could write pages and pages of venom aimed at PETA for producing such a one sided argument and the damage it will do to farmers who are ethical and do the right thing.
I have supported PETA in the past as I am an animal lover and believe in animal rights, but I also support my local farmers who are eking out their living in a difficult place and treat their animals with care and compassion.

I've also read articles on how animal farming destroys the environment and how we should only be using vegan yarns.
I have very strong feelings about so called vegan yarns, but I need to stop writing this blog post before it becomes too much of a rant and leave you with the following Bamboo link as a counter argument, it may be extreme, but its no more extreme than the PETA video!.


  1. I am with you 100%. If I am going to spend a great deal of time making something I want to be able to enjoy it for a long time and for it to improve with age. I love alpaca, merino, silk, cotton and linen. I am relatively new to crochet (been knitting forever) but am enjoying making a blanket in some beautiful Pima cotton. I have also used some noro which softens beautifully once washed and can often be picked up in sales. I have just bought a big haul of drops alpaca silk in a range of muted colours and ought in the sale it worked out at less than £2 a ball but feels beautiful.

    Natural fibres breathe, soften with age and look beautiful. There is nothing wrong with acrylic but there are other beautiful, natural yarns which are in the same price range.

  2. Totally with you on the natural fibres - with all the different breeds of sheep and the differences in their fleeces there is a wool fibre that would be perfect for pretty much anything you could wish to make.

  3. Three cheers for Amanda. My one caveat is to do with superwash. I have sworn never to use superwash yarns again as they have a terrible tendency to grow in the finished article. My one exception has been a jumper I knitted for my 12 year old grandson and I told him not to wash it until he had grown a lot and it was too small. That way it would grow with him., Be interested in what you think about this stretching tendency, Amanda.

  4. Absolutely agree 100% - I have knitted and hooked up a number of commissions for people. Sadly we live in a consumer's world where people are used to paying peanuts for clothing and generally don't even consider the possibility of wearing something for more than a year or two so as much as I try to persuade them of the merits of pure natural fibres more often than not it's the cheaper synthetics (particularly THAT brand you referred to ;-) ) that win. I can't afford to turn down work so I grin and bear it... That said all my personal knits are natural fibres - Drops is a brilliant brand with so many wonderful, natural yarns and I have just discovered the gorgeous Cascade 220! I look forward to wearing my makes for many years to come!

  5. I love wool dearly but it doesn't love me. Wearing it next to my skin leaves me with an itchy rash that takes ages to fade. I would love any advice on dealing with this as I would love to produce myself loads of wool tops and scarves.

    1. Have you tried alpaca. It is said to be one of the fibres that people with a wool sensitivity can wear. Drops do a gorgeous alpaca that is approximately lace weight in lovely colours.

    2. I am allergic to lambs wool too but baby alpaca is just fine although I couldn't wear it next to my skin all day. The Drops alpaca yarn is, as Madeleine suggests, very nice.

  6. Here here. Artesano are also good!

  7. Great blog post - why do you apologise for being controversial?? it is not controversial to offer an alternative view point! I did not know that about bamboo - so thank you for sharing the link.

    Now, can you solve my problem... I LOVE buying nice yarn, but there is not enough time to knit it (I crochet only under duress I'm afraid)

    After that, there is world peace that needs your attention!

    Keep being controversial for goodness sake!

  8. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you :) I am a devotee of wool who has recently started crochet, there are so many wonderful patterns about & I've joined a number of groups, but was so confused seeing that everyone was using acrylic yarn to complete their beautiful projects!
    Was I wrong? Had I been misleading myself all these years that wool was the only option?
    You have restored my faith in myself, so I've gone & ordered enough Drops wool to complete my first lapghan, yes it cost me more than it would've if I'd done it in acrylic, but I'm hopefully making an heirloom.

  9. I was just looking for some yarn that wasn't acrylic - and one that won't make me itchy and come out in a rash as many pure wools do. I'm going to look into Drops as you suggest. Thank you for the tips!

  10. I much prefer to use natural yarns such as wool and cotton but have also used good quality acrylic or mixes of acrylic and wool. I don't know if it would be possible to get pure wool or cotton at a price similar to synthetic yarn; I've not come across any. I'm in the last stages of crocheting a cotton blanket for my king-sized bed. So far it has cost me £160 and I'll probably need some more of the cotton to do a border. I've tried the Drops yarns and find them very good and not terribly expensive. Their merino wool is really nice.