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View Full Version : WOOL FIBER VS ACRYLIC FIBER


Kibben
12-01-2008, 02:59 PM
What is the advantage of using wool fiber? Most professional knitters & "upscale" knitting patterns use wool instead of acrylic fiber. Thank you for your response.:knitting:

reeny
12-01-2008, 03:04 PM
I am no expert, but animal fibers such as wool are much better at keeping you warm and dry. So, if you are making a hat or gloves or the like, it is better if you stick with wool.

ETA I just made my very first pair of mittens and I used acrylic. They seem fine to me, but I think I am going to use a wool or alpaca blend for my next pair.

Jan in CA
12-01-2008, 03:34 PM
Generally I think wool is used for many reasons including it's warmth and it's nice to knit with. Acrylic is man-made which is a turn off for some, plus some people say it it makes them feel sweaty because it doesn't breath. I don't have a problem using it though.

Mike
12-01-2008, 03:59 PM
I don't have a problem with either.

I like wool because it works to regulate temperature rather than just hold warmth and it's superior at wicking away moisture. Wet wool still insulates.
But wool is more expensive and harder to wash (assuming it's not a washable type which are even more expensive). Wool also tends to take on odors (sometimes even create its own odors).

I use acrylic because of price. If I could afford it I would use nothing but wool.
But I like to hunt so having the good insulating/wicking properties is important to me. I think for some it's nothing more than perception.

newamy
12-01-2008, 05:50 PM
Wool and alpaca are protein based natural animal fibers. They both insulate naturally. Both retain body heat even if you are soaking wet. Traditional Fisherman Sweaters kept fishermen warm. Wool is also naturally flame retardant. It will burn but more of a smoldering sort of burn and will stop when moved away from the flame. The natural quality gives depth to color and creates interesting texture. When knitting it has nice give and warms up in your hands. It makes some stitches like cables look fantastic. The drawbacks are that it can be itchy depending on the breed of wool and how it is spun and processed. Some people are allergic too it.

Once you get hand washing down it is really not that difficult to wash. I happen to have a front loading washing machine with a hand wash cycle. I can put a wool sweater in a garment bag, run it through the hand wash cycle and lay it out to dry. Even in top loader if you are careful you can probably rinse and spin a sweater in the delicate cycle if you use a garment bag.

Acrylic is petroleum based. It comes from oil. It does not breathe the way natural fibers do. So while you may be warm in something acrylic it is because it is holding in your sweat. If you are soaking wet in acrylic you will be cold and not retain any body heat. So out in the woods it won't protect you from hypothermia the way wool would. It is easy care for so people often choose it for kids things. However it actually is not safe for babies at all. It is not flame retardant, it melts when exposed to flame and can cause horrible burns. Stephanie Pearl McPhee aka the Yarn Harlot asserts that no baby should be left unattended with acrylic for this reason.

Actually lots of modern clothing with acrylic and nylon pose the same danger if you are wearing them in a fire. If your clothes catch fire you can be terribly burned by the melting of the fiber. Children's pajamas that are labeled flame retardant have been treated with chemicals.

Cotton and Linen are natural vegetable fibers, they do not insulate. They might burn in a fire but won't melt all over your skin. They can also offer interesting textures and color.

Natural fibers come from renewable resources. Acrylic does not. However acrylic is in much of our modern clothes and carpeting. I don't know anyone with wall to wall 100% wool carpet.

ChibiMethos
12-02-2008, 03:22 AM
I personally like acrylic yarn for the simple reason that it's cheaper and I'm highly allergic to wool and alpaca. Cotton is alright, but the skiens are small and expensive.

SewCrazy
12-02-2008, 08:13 AM
I like acrylic in some forms. The softer versions like Caron Simply Soft have a great feet to them, but I find they don't retain their shape in larger patterns. I have used wool, but sparingly as I actually want people to wear what I have knitted. Some folks find wool itchy and refuse to wear it. I like the smooth yarns, as they feel great to my hands when knitting. I use a lot of acrylic because it is cheap and I have huge stashes of it.

klymyshyn
12-02-2008, 08:30 AM
Acrylic is particularly good for children...because the item may need to be washed easily!
Wool has wonderful properties (so glad I'm not sensitive to it!) and was most likely the FIRST yarn EVER!

booskibabe
12-02-2008, 02:01 PM
I use mainly acryilc because I can't afford wool. The price is the main drawback for me. If you can afford it, wool is definately nicer than acrylic, IMHO.

of troy
12-02-2008, 04:16 PM
if wool were discovered today, and pitted against synthetics the wool manufactures would be telling you:

Warm with out wet.. wool naturally wicks away moisture.. keeping you warm and dry..

Warmth even when wet..get stuck in the rain? splashed by a car or bus? stepped into a puddle? wool still insulates and keeps you warm..

Fire retardant--wool is safer.. its great for blankets and baby clothes, because it is naturally fire resistant (it resist flames, and will self extinquish one the fire source is removed)

Versital.. very light weight wool is cool in summer because of its wicking properties, (the best mens suits are made from 'tropical weight wool (so light weight it is almost sheer!)
and warm in winter.

Take dye well (and since it only needs an mild acid to set dye, its pretty organic.)--and resist fading.

its a natural, renewable resource.

It is natural water proof--(to varying degrees.. )

its natural absorbant (which is why its used for babies sookers)

its has anti bacterial properties (which is why the sookers don't smell--well not nearly as much as expect!)

it can wash or dry cleaned..

It resist wrinkling, (and creases can be removed by the steam from a shower!)

Really--it would be the best thing you could think of!

it has 2 "drawbacks" --it felt--(which is also an asset)

and moths.

of troy
12-02-2008, 04:22 PM
re: was most likely the FIRST yarn EVER!

i doubt it. plant fibers are likely older.

cotton (and linen, and hemp) likely preceded wool by thousands of years.

first sheep had to domesticated--(and that took a while!)

in north america, there were no domestic sheep, and wool was a luxury fiber (collected from tuffs left behind by spring molting sheep, and from sheep that had be killed for food)
but Cotton was a domesticated crop in many parts of NA before european settlement--and there were other plant fibers as well (including the beautiful silk like pine apple fibers)
(in SA, the inca's domesticated llama's and ilk, but very little of this fiber was traded north (and high altitude llama's were not suited to live in lowland deserts of NA south west (and this created a geographic barrier to their spread (to other parts of NA)

Cynamar
12-02-2008, 05:58 PM
I just don't like synthetics for anything.

ArtLady1981
12-02-2008, 06:19 PM
Wool and alpaca are protein based natural animal fibers. They both insulate naturally. Both retain body heat even if you are soaking wet. Traditional Fisherman Sweaters kept fishermen warm. Wool is also naturally flame retardant. It will burn but more of a smoldering sort of burn and will stop when moved away from the flame. The natural quality gives depth to color and creates interesting texture. When knitting it has nice give and warms up in your hands. It makes some stitches like cables look fantastic. The drawbacks are that it can be itchy depending on the breed of wool and how it is spun and processed. Some people are allergic too it.

Once you get hand washing down it is really not that difficult to wash. I happen to have a front loading washing machine with a hand wash cycle. I can put a wool sweater in a garment bag, run it through the hand wash cycle and lay it out to dry. Even in top loader if you are careful you can probably rinse and spin a sweater in the delicate cycle if you use a garment bag.

Acrylic is petroleum based. It comes from oil. It does not breathe the way natural fibers do. So while you may be warm in something acrylic it is because it is holding in your sweat. If you are soaking wet in acrylic you will be cold and not retain any body heat. So out in the woods it won't protect you from hypothermia the way wool would. It is easy care for so people often choose it for kids things. However it actually is not safe for babies at all. It is not flame retardant, it melts when exposed to flame and can cause horrible burns. Stephanie Pearl McPhee aka the Yarn Harlot asserts that no baby should be left unattended with acrylic for this reason.

Actually lots of modern clothing with acrylic and nylon pose the same danger if you are wearing them in a fire. If your clothes catch fire you can be terribly burned by the melting of the fiber. Children's pajamas that are labeled flame retardant have been treated with chemicals.

Cotton and Linen are natural vegetable fibers, they do not insulate. They might burn in a fire but won't melt all over your skin. They can also offer interesting textures and color.

Natural fibers come from renewable resources. Acrylic does not. However acrylic is in much of our modern clothes and carpeting. I don't know anyone with wall to wall 100% wool carpet.



I prefer natural fibers, too, for all the reasons that newamy detailed. Very good information amy! Well said without going overboard! Easy to follow and understand!

I love knitting with the fiber of an animal...and I also like the cottons, bamboos, and hemps for summery things.

However, that said, I have used acrylic yarns many times for little kid's hats, sweaters and blankies. Mainly because of the washability. I have only used fine fibers for little kid's things when I know the mother well, and am sure she is willing to make the time to handwash my handknit gift(s). No mother has the time. She has to make time usually. If I'm unsure, I just make it in the nicest washable yarn I can find. There's no sense in making it harder for a mother, especially since most mothers also hold fulltime or parttime jobs outside the home.

Whatever yarn we choose to knit with, the important thing is THAT WE KNIT! It's all about the love in the gift! It's also about what you can afford to use, or what you have access to! Just keep knitting! And sharing your beautiful projects! :heart: I admire all the projects I see in Whatcha Knitting. I don't usually pay any attention to the type of yarn. The most outstanding feature is the knitted item itself, and who its for!

KnitBeg
07-11-2013, 03:30 AM
I thought this thread quite interesting - and it sure scared me about getting to close to fires with the clothes I'm usually wearing :shock:

What I wonder though - if you do not really care about the different qualities in wear, can one just use 100% acrylic for a 100% wool pattern (given the gauge is similar)? Or is there something else to consider DURING KNITTING?
For example, does it stretch out (and not stretch back) more so you have to reknit your sweater every half year or so? :p Just wondering.

DogCatMom
07-11-2013, 01:23 PM
Thank you for bringing this thread back to life; I hadn't read it before. :)

Re. acrylic vs. wool--my personal experience, although limited in knitting (I have lots of crochet experience), is that the stitch definition in acrylic isn't as clear as that in wool. Over the past five years, I made myself several hats in a 75% acrylic/25% wool blend which can be washed in the washer and dried in the dryer (to restore the "spring"/"bounce" in the acrylic) vs. one hat out of wool (Knitty's Coronet http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEwinter03/PATTcoronet.html).

Now, it's of course possible that the washing-machine treatment itself has blurred the stitches in the acrylic-based hats, but the hand-washed Coronet hat's cable band and stockinette crown are as clear as the day I finished the hat approx. February 2012. Likewise an all-wool diagonally patterned Cascade 220 hat with a crocheted Koigu ruffle (because the hat, a class pattern, was too short). Pattern is just as clear as it was Summer 2011.

I've almost finished my first wool shawl and will be able to provide comparative information on it vs. my long-time acrylic crocheted shawl (made at a time when wool was completely beyond my means) in a few months.

salmonmac
07-14-2013, 06:26 AM
I mostly knit with natural fibers or washable wools with the exception of some baby items. (I agree with ArtLady on gifts for new moms.) I haven't found a big difference with acrylics and wools however but I have to admit that I hand wash everything. Cotton is the one fiber that I have found does stretch out and so I'm careful about the kinds of things I knit with cotton, usually simple patterns, nothing too heavy that will add to the weight of the fabric.
I'm interested in DCM's experience too and hope we get to hear about the crocheted shawl results.

justplaincharlotte
07-14-2013, 02:39 PM
Just to add to the great discussion here: it's much easier to twist cables in wool than acrylic because the fiber "gives" much more easily. For garments, I like superwash wool as it's much more fire safe than acrylic and has the benefit of being easily washed. Given a preference, I'll take superwash wool over acrylic any day.

offgridgirl
07-14-2013, 10:19 PM
Wool and alpaca are protein based natural animal fibers. They both insulate naturally.


Natural fibers come from renewable resources. Acrylic does not. However acrylic is in much of our modern clothes and carpeting. I don't know anyone with wall to wall 100% wool carpet.

Well said....Natural fibers are best. I love my all wool tapestries and small area rugs.:mrgreen:

jinxnit55
07-14-2013, 11:49 PM
Baaahhhh! wool all the way, baby! Washable wool for baby stuff.

The earliest surviving knitted object is a pair of socks discovered in Cairo, where the dry climate preserved them. They are knitted in two color stranding and dated from 1200-1500 A.D. Women made the yarn, and MEN did the knitting! How things change.

butlersabroad
07-15-2013, 12:17 PM
I much prefer natural fibres to acrylic too, no scientific formula behind it, just personal preference to use something more natural and organic, although I like a bit of nylon in my sock wool for better wear.

What does concern me a bit though is the dyes used.... just because our wool is a natural product, doesn't always follow through that the manufacturer has used natural dyes too. So for those of us who prefer to use something natural over something man made, is it really as natural as we'd like?

Crycket
07-15-2013, 12:24 PM
Just to chime in...but to say basically what everyone else has said...

As a beginner...I used acrylic. It was cheap...and I didn't have any other experience with knitting...it was fine. As I got more experience...I could see what a good wool fibre could do (warmth, felt better to knit with etc), so I started spending on my knitting like a hobby, not like a cautious buyer trying to justify cost of a FO.

Depends on who I am knitting for in the end. I like acrylic for baby stuff (I only knit blankets and toys for babys now. I hate knitting something that will maybe get used once before the baby outgrows it) and if I am teaching knitting...I will use acrylic. For anything I want for me or special gift for someone I know will get use of it...it is going to be some sort of natural fibre.

jinxnit55
07-15-2013, 05:23 PM
I read somewhere that wearing nylon/acrylic clothing on a plane could up your chances of getting serious burns if the plane crashes, because of these fiber's tendencies to melt into your skin with intense heat.

GrumpyGramma
07-15-2013, 09:04 PM
I read somewhere that wearing nylon/acrylic clothing on a plane could up your chances of getting serious burns if the plane crashes, because of these fiber's tendencies to melt into your skin with intense heat.

Thank you! Now I have a real reason not to get on a plane. :thumbsup: This is what I'll tell the next person who wants to know why I won't fly.

justplaincharlotte
07-15-2013, 10:19 PM
I read somewhere that wearing nylon/acrylic clothing on a plane could up your chances of getting serious burns if the plane crashes, because of these fiber's tendencies to melt into your skin with intense heat.


And that's why the US Army only accepts donations of knitted helmet liners made of wool for soldiers.

ArtLady1981
07-16-2013, 12:10 AM
Mountaineering expeditions require all wool for all sweaters, hats, mitts and the like. Acrylic banned.

jinxnit55
07-16-2013, 12:30 AM
And that's why the US Army only accepts donations of knitted helmet liners made of wool for soldiers.

Makes sense! I have never seen any sheep on fire, either!

jinxnit55
07-16-2013, 12:35 AM
Thank you! Now I have a real reason not to get on a plane. :thumbsup: This is what I'll tell the next person who wants to know why I won't fly.

I used to like flying, but when I was in medical school our pathology professor showed us slides of the Sioux City crash. Absolutely stomach-turning! Still sometimes the only way to get somewhere far away is to fly.

Just put my boy on a plane to Japan for a summer stay with a youth program. When I heard about the Asiana crash in San Francisco, I was like, "That's awful!" AND "Whew! The chances of that happening again right away are slim!" Can't wait 'til he lands back home again!

butlersabroad
07-16-2013, 07:20 AM
The chances of anything happening in a plane are slim, you've got more chance of being killed or injured in a car crash than a plane crash, but no one gives a second thought to jumping in their car each day and heading out somewhere!

Hope your son has an enjoyable trip Jinx, what a great opportunity.

DavidSydney63
07-16-2013, 07:22 AM
If you're knitting for a baby or someone who's prone to throwing up on their chest (like a drunk husband), then acrylic is priceless as you can throw it into the washing machine ... not always a brilliant idea with wool.

knitcindy
07-16-2013, 09:13 AM
I have always knitted/crocheted with acrylic. Mostly for the simple reason that my husband is allergic to all animal fibers.

I wish I could try something in alpaca or quiviut or something "fancy" like that, but I can't.

Wishing I could knit with something natural,
knitcindy

Woofens
07-16-2013, 06:12 PM
If you're knitting for a baby or someone who's prone to throwing up on their chest (like a drunk husband), then acrylic is priceless as you can throw it into the washing machine ... not always a brilliant idea with wool.

Like a drunk husband? :roflhard: Thanks for the laugh! I needed it today.

justplaincharlotte
07-16-2013, 11:58 PM
If you're knitting for a baby or someone who's prone to throwing up on their chest (like a drunk husband)...

ROFL David!! Thanks for the laugh. You made my day with that delightful snippet. :roflhard:

jinxnit55
07-17-2013, 12:20 AM
I have always knitted/crocheted with acrylic. Mostly for the simple reason that my husband is allergic to all animal fibers.

I wish I could try something in alpaca or quiviut or something "fancy" like that, but I can't.

Wishing I could knit with something natural,
knitcindy

That's too bad!

shadowfox118
07-17-2013, 01:47 AM
Cindy you could always try cotton

knitcindy
07-18-2013, 10:03 PM
Thanks!

I have used cotton to knit dishcloths and placemats/coasters.

knitcindy

shadowfox118
07-18-2013, 10:51 PM
after i read up on quivet i really wanna use it but it's sooo expensive and i don't have the money for it

knitcindy
07-19-2013, 08:24 AM
I suppose I could try wool occasionally, but I haven't yet because I never know what would happen with allergies around here.

So I try to avoid it (and other natural fibers) altogether, just to be on the safe side.

Oh well. I can always read about them. I love that book, "The Knitter's Life List". It has whole chapters devoted to all kinds of fibers.
I live my natural fiber stash vicariously!!!!!

knitcindy