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Published on September 30th, 2014 | by Elizabeth Bagwell

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What’s in a yarn? Synthetic fibres examined

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In the second part of our three-week series, we look at yarn content –  this week, synthetic fibres.  Invented rather than discovered, synthetic fibres are often the most exciting and unusual ones around. Elizabeth Bagwell walks you through the names on the label.

You’ll often find natural and synthetic fibres in the same yarn. Synthetic yarns are typically strong, durable (they may never decompose, in fact) and machine washable. They come in an astonishing array of shapes and colours, including quirky ladder yarns, neon bright shades and fluffy eyelash yarns.

Acrylic
Made from oil, like plastics, it was invented in the 1940s. The yarn may be soft or rough, thick or thin. Tends to melt rather than burn in a fire. Available in fluorescent colours.

Elastic
Rubber or oil-based thread used to give a yarn some stretch

Metallic
Yarns with a sparkle! May contain actual metal threads or sequins, or more commonly a metallic glitter element or dye.

Microfiber
Extra-fine acrylic, nylon or polyester. Usually indicates a softer yarn.

Nylon
A versatile fibre invented in the 1930s. Like most synthetic fibres, it’s made from oil. It’s tough and strong so is commonly used to strengthen sock yarns.

Polar
Thin strips of Polar material used as yarn. Polar is a spongy acrylic material, typically used to make ‘hoodies’ or ‘fleece’ sweatshirts.

Polyester
Another oil-based synthetic yarn. Polyesters are typically durable and machine washable. It’s often blended with cotton.

Rayon
Usually made from wood pulp, the natural product is so thoroughly transformed that rayon is usually considered a synthetic fabric. Depending on the process used, it might feel more like wool, silk or cotton.

Stainless-steel
Yarns with a stainless-steel core hold their shape when stretched, making them ideal for wearable art. Often wrapped with silk.

Tencel
A type of rayon.

Viscose
A type of rayon. You’ll often see this term on French yarn labels.

Believe it or not…
A Spanish firm once made a yarn out of milk. Yes, actual milk! The proteins in cow’s milk can be reformed into a thread and spun into yarn. And no, it doesn’t have a use-by date.

 

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About the Author

Elizabeth is a keen knitter, occasional designer, enthusiastic traveler and a professional freelance writer. She spent three years working for British knitting magazine, Simply Knitting, and has also written for The Knitter and other craft titles. She blogs at: www.elizabethbagwell.me.uk


Last updated: September 30th, 2014.

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