Wool is by far the most popular fiber for knitting. It certainly is my favorite, the hair fiber that comes from sheep, not the generic term “wool” often used to describe all yarn.
Why do I love wool so much? Wool has special characteristics; it is flexible and elastic, making it easy to knit with as it glides across your needles. Wool springs back into shape, wears well, and resists wrinkles. Think of those wool trousers worn all day long, and after hanging in your closet over night, the wrinkles miraculously disappear. Wool is different than any other fiber because it is comfortable to wear in both warm and cold climates. It can absorb up to 1/3 its weight in water, shedding liquid easily, and at the same time does not appear to absorb moisture. This characteristic makes it a favorite for items such as hiking socks and outdoor sweaters. I have found that with all the hype about the “wicking” of synthetic fibers in athletic clothing, wool stands up far better.
From my experience in the yarn business, wool gets a bad rap by many customers. The common complaint is being “allergic”. A small percentage of the population is truly allergic to wool. In trying to understand this complaint, one has to look at the structure of wool. The surface of a wool hair fiber is covered with scales that vary in size, and determine the fineness and coarseness of wool. Fine, soft wool has as many as 2000 scales/inch, whereas coarse wool has as few as 700 scales/inch. These scales are responsible for the “itchy” feel people complain of, particularly with coarse wool. The scales are also responsible for the felting or shrinkage of wool. “Superwash” is a finishing process that alters the scale structure so that wool can be machine washed. This process also makes the yarn feel softer. The most luxurious, fine, soft wool fibers come from breeds such as Merino, and Merino sheep dominate the world sheep industry. Icelandic breeds produce a coarse, scratchy fiber that is highly durable and popular for outerwear. Both fine and coarse wool fibers, have properties that are suitable for a variety of knitting projects.
I have garments made from wool that last for an incredibly long time. So give wool a try, and enjoy the feel of the yarn as it moves across your needles and its unique characteristics.
A few of my favorite brands: Ella Rae’s Classic Wool and Lace Merino; Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran; Diamond Luxury Collection Foot Loose and Galway; Cascade 220