I was asked by a friend about natural fiber yarns. What’s the difference between mohair, cashmere wool blends, etc. Natural fiber yarns include cotton, bamboo, wool, plant fibers, silk, linen (flax), hemp, jute and Seacell®.
Seacell® is made from combining cellulose and seaweed, a variant of lyocell. When Seacell® is combined with a luxurious silk, the fiber has a beautiful drape a wonderful sheen. Seacell® is very breathable, pleasing to the touch and soft.
Cotton comes from cotton plants. Cotton has a cooling effect on the body, absorbs moisture and dries quickly. Cotton does stretch. Not all knitting stitch patterns work well with 100% cotton yarns.
Bamboo comes a woody evergreen plant which is the largest species in the grass family. Bamboo, besides being soft, has natural antibacterial properties and is highly absorbent. Bamboo is best when combined with other fibers. 100% bamboo fiber splits and stretches.
Jute comes from the stem of the jute plant and was historically used for rope twine. Jute is used by man for macramé. Jute is fire and heat resistant, but best combined with other fibers for knitting and crocheting.
Linen (flax) is derived from the stem of the flax plant. It is one of the oldest known fibers for textiles. Linen draws moisture away from the body, durable and great to wear in the summer and warm climates. It is a heavier fiber, therefore it is usually spun very fine.
Mohair comes from the Angora Goat. Mohair doesn’t felt like wool. It is both resilient and durable. It is flame resistant, naturally elastic, and durable. Knitting with 100% mohair may never return to its original size due to it being heavy and does stretch out. Best to use mohair blends with wool for elasticity and other fibers for strength.
Angora wool comes from the Angora Rabbit. Angora is known for its softness, fluffiness (referred to as halo) and thin fibres. Angora is much warmer and lighter than wool. Typically 100% angora is used for accents, not entire garments. Normally angora is combined with other wools for yarn elasticity. Most commercial knitting yarns use 30-50% angora.
Alpaca is the fleece from the alpaca. Alpaca fiber is similar in structure to sheep wool but is much stronger than sheep wool. The fiber comes from the undercoat of the alpaca. The fiber of the alpaca is very fine and light. Alpacas come in 22 natural colors and numerous shades from a pure black to browns, to pure white, silvery-gray to rose-grays.
Baby Alpaca is four times warmer than regular alpaca of the same weight yarn. It is softer and downier than regular alpaca. Alpaca is naturally hypoallergenic and may be hand-washed or dry-cleaned.
Camel hair is extremely soft, lightweight, warm, lustrous and durable. Usually it is blended with sheep’s wool to make it more economical. It has also been combined with silk fibers. Camel yarn must be dry-cleaned.
Silk yarn is made from the thread-like filaments the silkworm spins around itself to form its cocoon. A single filament, when unwound, may be as long as 1,600 yards and has beautiful luster, drape and strength. Silk is similar to animal hair fibers – it doesn’t conduct heat, thus silk is also a good insulator, keeping you warm in winter, and cool in summer. There are basically three grades of silk, each from the three different stages of silk processing, giving each of them their own beauty.
The finest quality silk is the unwound filament, and is referred to as reeled silk, having a satiny smoothness and its pure white color. The raw material for carded or combed, spun silk yarn is what’s remaining from the reeling process, as well as the discarded cocoons and is slightly honey-colored. After the carding or combing process there are short fibers left behind which are used to make silk noil yarn, a richly textured nubby silk.
Tussah silk is produced from undomesticated silkworms, resists dyeing and bleaching, so it is often used in its natural beige or brown color.
Shetland comes from sheep raised in the Shetland Islands. Their undercoats are very fine, mostly used in the production of high-end yarns and only available in limited quantities and natural colors.
Wool is sheep’s wool. Lambswool is usually referred to as Virgin Wool. Lambswool comes from the first shearing and is the highest quality of sheep’s wool. It is supremely soft, smooth, elastic and resilient. Lambswool is resistant to dust mites and the most hypoallergenic of all wools. It felts less than other wools.
Superwash is a wool yarn that is machine washable. The yarn has been treated (a patented process) to be machine washable. Superwash wools tend to stretch a little more than normal. It’s very important to do a gauge swatch with a superwash wool to see how much stretch there will be. Superwash does not felt.