Wool. There’s merino, superwash, alpaca, mohair, highland, llama, cashmere, qiviut, camel, angora, lambswool, ACK! Oh, and some parts of the world refer to yarn generically as wool, so do they buy wool wool and acrylic wool????
With so many wools to choose from, how do you know what to get? And what do you do with it when you’re done? Is there anything that really SHOULD be made from wool as opposed to cotton or a synthetic?
I’ll try to help, but a lot of the answers come down to personal preference and experience. I never cared for wool before I got serious crocheting. It was all too scratchy for me. Even mohair made me sniffly and itchy. I’ve since learned that the way wool is finished can affect how much I like wool, but there are some that I like better than others.
To finish most wool projects, I soak in a lanolin no rinse solution. I like Eucalan Unscented but Eucalan Lavender is also nice if you can tolerate light fragrances. This softens up the fibers considerably and helps set the stitches in places in place when you block your finished project. You do not need to use Eucalan every time you wash a wool item, but every few washes is good. I add one capful to a sinkful of water and let it soak at least an hour. The great think about Eucalan is it does not require rinsing, so you can just block or shape your item to dry after it’s soaked. If something is making me particularly itchy, a Eucalan soak frequently solves that problem.
A good, safe wool to start with is Merino. You don’t want it to feel super scratchy in the hank or skein when you buy it, but a little bit of scratchiness is okay – that will improve with a soak. Merino has a huge advantage in that in almost all cases, it’s washable. If it doesn’t specifically say “machine washable” the best way is just to soak it in something like Eucalan, as I mentioned above.
Merino is considerably softer than what I expected wool to be before I started using it. It comes in a wide variety of textures and weights, so that will play a huge factor in project selection. Finer wool makes thinner, drapier projects, but can still provide warmth, breathability, and even some water resistance. So it’s great for things like shawls, sweaters, clothing items in general. As long as you wash it gently, Merino doesn’t tend to pill and has really nice stitch definition.
Alpaca and Llama yarn are very similar. They can be extremely soft, so they are nice when used close to the skin or as an added fiber to soften a coarser or scratchier wool. I simply LOVE this yarn and it’s very affordable. https://www.lovecrafts.com/en-us/p/cascade-alpaca-lace-1 (mention my name, Caroline Cameron, and you’ll get 15% off your first purchase!) Alpaca and Llama have a little bit of a halo, which is the fuzzy bit that kind of glows off the project. This doesn’t make my nose tickle the way Mohair can, but it does irritate some people. You should probably feel it before investing too much in a project.
Highland wool comes from not Scotland, but Peru’s Highlands. It does tend to be scratchy… at first… but over time it softens up and is highly durable. It provides extra warmth and will last your entire lifetime, and probably your grandchildren’s lifetimes too!
There are many, many different types of wool but these are just a few of my favorites. I’m making a scarf right now with a very popular wool that I haven’t used before. I’ll post a review when I’m done, and the pattern.
Important note: All wool must be washed carefully lest you shrink and/or felt your project. An adult man’s sweater could come out toddler size if you wash it on hot and put it in the dryer!
Happy hooking all!