How to beat the cold with natural fibres!
Wool, cashmere, alpaca, silk – why are these fibres especially good at keeping us warm? Merion investigates…
It’s no surprise that natural fibres are great insulators – they’re designed to keep animals warm in the wild, and often dry too. Our great grandmothers and grandmothers swore by natural fibres, but which ones are the best? Is a woolly jumper warmest, or will we be cosier in cashmere? Staying warm and not overheating is where natural fibre really comes into its own – natural fibres are breathable, and help us to maintain a healthy body temperature, even in hot weather!
Wonderful wool! Beyond being flame retardant, biodegradable and durable, wool is a fabulous insulator. This is because wool fibres have a natural crimp that traps little pockets of air thus insulating sheep (and you) against the cold. Conversely this also works in the heat – wool is a breathable fabric that is naturally sun safe, and finely woven wool will keep you cool too!
Different breeds of sheep produce different types of wool with very different characters – for example, merino wool fibres have a very fine crimp, which creates the merino signature softness, bouncy loft and warmth. Each different breed will bring qualities to a yarn – Blue Faced Leicester brings beautiful drape and sheen, Merino brings softness, and Peruvian Highland wool combines the softness of Merino with the strength and durability of the Corridale sheep, but they will all keep you warm!
Add a dash of alpaca…
The natural habitat of an alpaca is high up on the plains of the Andes in Peru, where the temperature can drop to minus 30F degrees – it’s a very harsh climate indeed! Thank goodness then, that alpaca fibre is tremendously warm thanks to its hollow core, which traps the heat within. Alpaca yarns are deliciously soft, and their long, smooth fibres make them perfect for garments that need to drape – but they are wonderful when combined with sheep wool to create lofty yarns that can trap the warmth.
Try some deliciously soft GGH Suri Alpaka, a beautiful sport weight yarn with a fluffy halo that comes in 38 shades, or some King Cole Baby Alpaca DK – it’s very affordable and baby alpaca fibre is the first shearing of the alpaca at a year old.
Or luxurious cashmere …
Cashmere is renowned for its warmth – and you can read all about cashmere here – it’s one of those luxurious fibres that you can introduce to your knitting without breaking the bank! Cashmere is said to be “eight times warmer than merino wool” and although 100% cashmere yarn is expensive, you can add some into your knitting by using a gorgeous blend.
100% cashmere yarn is a decadent luxury, but Lang Yarns Cashmere Premium is a fabulous choice and perfect for a cashmere shawl to tuck around your neck! It will last for years, and never pill.
A little bit of possum goes a long way too!
Zealana Yarns tell us that brushtail possum fibre has “exceptional thermal properties” due to the hollow nature of the fibre – in a similar way to alpaca fibre. Fabrics made from Zealana yarn are 55% warmer than merino wool, and even a whopping 35% warmer than cashmere!
Zealana Heron Worsted is a mid-range priced yarn, and comes in the most exquisite range of shades! Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be longing to try the Rimu DK and the deliciously soft Air Chunky, a heady blend of 40% possum, 40% cashmere and 10% silk!
A whisper about silk…
Silk is the slightly odd one out here. Spun by silkworms munching on mulberry leaves; silk fibre is a breathable, natural fibre and has magical thermal qualities! Wear silk next to the skin with layers over the top and you’ll keep beautifully warm, yet not overheat. Yarns made of silk are perfect for scarves and fine knits – although chunkier blends have added silk that will aid the effort to keep warm. Never underestimate the worth of a silk shawl around your shoulders under a coat, or tucked into a collar!
Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk DK has everything you need in one blend! Knit cosy cardies and sweaters in this affordable yarn, and you’ll be toasty in any of the 30+ shades. For shawls and special occasions, BC Garn Jaipur Silk Fino is a laceweight mulberry silk yarn that will shimmer over your shoulders, and Blue Sky Fibers Alpaca Silk is a 50/50 blend of alpaca and silk in a sport weight, in glorious jewel tones!
Feature image: FREE pattern for Melissa LaBarre’s Really Warm Hat.
Last updated: January 11th, 2017.