Understanding the principles of natural fibers will help you in your decisions for making blends to develop your yarns. Of course this also can help you decide blends for different projects. Most of our customers are always asking about what to add to their own fibers to create a unique and quality yarn they can stand behind.
Natural fiber used in yarns fall into two main categories.
We have the protein fibers which include wool, alpaca, llama, mohair, cashmere and silk and plant fibers.
Second, we have the plant fibers, which are derived from plants. Plant fibers consist of the obvious, like cotton, flax, and bamboo, but Tencel, Rayon and acetate are also plant fibers.
Each of these fibers have certain characteristics that will define their yarns, affecting the results of your knitted or crocheted pieces. We will separate the fibers into 2 defining characteristics, drape and elasticity.
A side note, cotton is its own unique fiber. We are not blending cotton with any fiber in our mill, but are experimenting with it. Cotton has not memory or drape but does take dye well and gets stronger in water.
Making this choice is always up to you, but we hope the following information will help you in your quest to make a yarn you will enjoy working with as well as selling the yarns.
Yarns that are elastic, having the ability to stretch and return back to their original length easily, are often made from wool. There are a number of reasons that contribute to this characteristic.
The major contributor to wool’s elasticity is it's crimp. In other words, how many wavy lengths/bends, are in an inch of the fiber lock. Generally the more crimps the fiber the fiber and the better elasticity in wool. The scales on wool are longer and able to lock together well.
Though alpaca can have a very fine crimp, it's scales are short and smooth, which do not allow it to lock together well. That is why 100% alpaca yarns will stretch and not return to their original shape.
Another factor in the elasticity of a yarn is the way it’s been spun. Yarns spun and plied with tighter twists tend to be more elastic and stretch-resistant then yarns that are spun and plied with a lower twist. This is due to the extra energy stored in high twist, tightly plied yarns, which enables them to resist stretching and bounce back to their original length and shape. We are not a fan of tighter twisted yarns, they feel more harsh to us, but we know it is a matter of preference. We would rather spin a 3 ply yarn, as we find it is rounder and will keep its shape better than a 2 ply tightly spun.
The best way to think of drape is the fluidity of the completed fabric. You want to think of how it moves and flows over the finished item.
Flowing silk shawls are another way to think of drape.
Yarns containing linen, silk and bamboo, rayon will have a silky feel and shinier to the eye.
Why you might ask?
Well, there are two factors:
these fibers have no crimp to speak of
the length of the fibres used in the yarns is very long, so they require very little spinning twist to stay together.
Not only plant fibers will drape well, protein fibers such as mohair, alpaca, llama, long wools like Wensleydale, tend to have less crimp and elasticity, and the resulting yarns will have drapey feel.
Drapey yarns are best suited for shawls, or projects using a lace yarn. We wouldn't make a sweater from a drapey yarn unless you want to knit a flowing shawl like sweater. We also would not suggest this style of yarn for socks.