A Note from Kathleen: I found this article about yarn by Judith MacKenzie McCuin in an older issue of Interweave Knits (Fall 2002), and I thought it was so interesting that I wanted to make sure it lived on electronically.
If you’ve wondered why yarn behaves the way it does, or wished you knew more about how to choose the right yarn for your project, read on!
Humans are thread-makers. We have made thread over tens of thousands of years. When we lived in caves, we made thread from the hair of the great woolly mammoths. We made thread in the desert from the tough grasses; in the icy northern plains, from the hair and sinews of rabbits; in the warm south, from tropical leaves and bark. So much of what we know as humans depends on the production of such simple thread. It moved us out of the cave; it made it possible for us to travel, whether by sail, snowshoe, or spaceship. Thread-making gave us the ability to move into the landscape, to survive its inconsistent behavior, and make the whole world our home.
In this modern world, the number of yarns and threads is simply staggering. Yarn is available from every corner of the globe, in an amazing range of styles, weights, and materials: gauze-fine cashmere from Tashkent, robust alpaca from the wilds of the Andes, and jewel-like silks from India and China. Knitters truly have the world at the tips of their needles. How can we choose, from this vast array, the perfect yarn, the one that will allow our fingers to create the fabric we have in our heart?
While there is no better tool for learning than actually working with a yarn, there is also a lot to be gained from understanding beforehand the fibers and techniques involved in a yarn’s making and how these factors will inevitably influence the final knitted product.