Knitting With Wool Yarn

October 1, 2022 0 Comments

Once upon a time, I spun my own yarn from the fiber of our sheep, dogs, Angora rabbits and Angora goats. I would go to sheep and wool festivals and buy cashmere, silk, alpaca, llama, and have fun spinning with them. I don’t have the time or access to fiber like I used to, so now I buy commercially spun yarn, but I learned a lot about how fiber affects yarn and what properties and qualities are given to the finished yarn.

I would like to talk about the universal fiber, wool. Wool is a term that refers to many types of animal fibers. The best known is sheep fiber. Wool has very unique properties. It has a great insulating capacity that keeps you warm, or in hot climates, keeps you warm. It is naturally fire retardant. Instead of turning into fire when a match is applied, it will smolder and often die out. Sheep’s wool is an excellent material for socks as it is absorbent and will keep the wearer warm even if it gets wet. Highland Scots took off their kilts, soaked them in streams, and put them back on to keep out the wind and keep warm. Not many man-made fibers can boast these attributes. It has three major drawbacks. Some people are allergic to the proteins in wool, the fiber is attractive to clothes moths that eat it and cause holes, and care should be taken when washing garments made from it to prevent felting and shrinkage. There are several treatments to prevent clothes moths, such as storing woolen garments in the freezer, mothballs, or many herbal remedies. There are no answers to allergy except not wearing wool. And below is how I wash woolen clothes.

Wool varies in texture and use depending on the breed of sheep it comes from. There are sheep specially bred to produce the finest and softest wool. The best known breed is Merino. The incredibly soft yarn is made from Merino fiber. Ramboulet is another smooth-haired breed. Yarn made from this type of fiber can be worn next to the skin with very little discomfort in the form of itchiness…unless one is allergic to wool. The finest and softest Merino is called Cashwool. It’s as soft as cashmere. At the other end of the spectrum is the very coarse, coarse fiber used to make felt and rugs. All other types vary in softness and are what make up the bulk of knitting yarns. Of course, there are also a large number of blends that use wool as one of the components. Wool always adds its properties to the mix.

Wool of all types can be spun soft and airy, hard and strong. Soft spun yarn is the warmest because it traps air between the fibers and this helps keep the wearer warm. The tightly spun yarn is very strong and is not generally used for garments but for weaving rugs and other applications that require strength.

Sheep’s wool comes in natural colors of white, cream, black, shades of gray, and sometimes brown. It also stains well with natural vegetable dyes or chemical dyes. As long as someone isn’t allergic to it, it’s a versatile yarn option for knitting.

As mentioned above, woolen garments should be washed very carefully. Unless the garment is made of yarn that specifically states that it is machine washable, do not wash woolen garments in the washing machine. Soap, agitation and change in water temperature will cause woolen garments to sit and shrink, damaging them. Machine washable wool is usually blended with at least 10 percent nylon to prevent shrinkage during machine washing. These are the only items that can go into a washing machine. Other products must be hand washed. Fill a basin or sink with warm water. Add your favorite laundry soap…just enough to work up a little lather. Gently submerge the item in the water avoiding shaking or rubbing the fabric as this will cause it to sit and shrink. Let it soak for a while and gently squeeze the soapy water through the fabric, being careful not to be too rough. If you treat the fiber roughly, it will shrink. Take the garment out of the water, carefully trying to make it support the weight evenly. I usually put it in a colander to drain while I change the water. Take note, by touch, of the temperature of the water you are shooting. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the rinse water needs to be close to the same temperature or the wool will be shocked and shrink. Gently squeeze the soapy water out of the garment, do not wring it out, again this roughness will cause felting. Gently place it in the water and let it soak. Repeat this process until you are satisfied that the soap has been rinsed away. There are 2 ways to remove excess water to facilitate drying. One is to do something called “wuzzing” and the other is to use the washer’s spin cycle. Wuzzing is an ancient practice and is similar to what happens during the spin cycle. Put the garment in a pillowcase, take it outside, and fairly quickly spin it in the air over your head or on your side so that the water shoots out. Continue like this until no more water comes out. To use the spin cycle, place the garment in a pillowcase and into the washer, add something to balance the machine, and turn on the spin cycle. When the cycle ends, remove the garment. It is now ready to dry.

Lay a towel or towels on the floor and place the garment on top of the towel(s). Shape it to the shape it should be, or in the case of a sweater, to the dimensions it was knitted. Smooth out the wrinkles and let it air dry. This is called blocking and must be done each time the garment is washed.

With proper care and moth protection, woolen items can last for quite a while. It’s still one of my top choices for working with winter wear, whether it’s wool or blends. If you have never worked with it, give it a try. Then it will become part of a wool-working tradition that is thousands of years old.

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