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.
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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.
Petroleum based knitter, removing that nasty oil from the ground one skein at a time.
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.
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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.
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)