Understanding Fiber

When you are choosing the perfect yarn for a project, one of the most important factors is fiber content-is it from a plant or an animal?  Yarns made from plant fibers such as cotton and linen can be perfect for summer garments and accessories with their amazing ability to absorb moisture and keep you cool in the heat. Animal fibers from sheep, goats, rabbits, alpacas, dogs, and even silkworms are known for their warmth and memory.

Even within the category of animal fibers, each fiber creates a slightly different yarn, reacts to dye differently, and will create a different finished fabric. What we call wool can actually be separated into three distinct types, wool fibers, hair fibers, and kemp, each with its own distinct qualities. Understanding the structure of the fiber can help you understand why it creates a different fabric after it has been spun into yarn and crocheted. In the Winter 2011 issue of Spin-Off, Judith MacKenzie looks at the composition and qualities of wool, hair, and kemp. Here is an excerpt of her article:

Hair or Wool: What's in a Name?

by Judith Mackenzie

While this fiber continuum is all very fascinating to wool scientists, why should someone creating textiles be interested? Is there information here that would help us make that perfect yarn for the cloth of our dreams? While I definitely have the mind of a crow, fascinated by shiny new bits of information, I do sincerely think that knowing a bit about wool science is a great help to anyone working with textiles.

For instance, the amount and type of crimp in a fiber makes a big difference in how it should be spun, how it can be finished, and how much loft the yarn will have when it is finished. It will determine the weight of the project, how it will wear, and most importantly, whether the cloth . . . will have natural memory. It is natural memory that gives fiber the ability to retain its shape, and the amount of memory is directly related to the crimp structure….

-from Spin-Off magazine

Whether you are spinning your own yarn or just looking for the perfect yarn for a crochet project, a solid understanding of the qualities of individual fibers is invaluable. Subscribe to Spin-Off today and gain a greater appreciation of individual yarn types, discover how to combine fibers for the perfect fabric, and maybe even learn how to spin your own yarn.

Best wishes,

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