Know Your Medium

This is the third post in a series, in which I’m sharing lessons learned as I progress on my yarn art journey.  To see the complete list of posts in this series, please visit the Guess what, yarn art newbie? page.

Lesson 3:  All Yarns are NOT Created Equal

This is a lesson I’ve learned from experimenting with different types of materials and qualities of yarn over the past, what is it, three years?  How long have I been crocheting?  November 2012, so I reckon it has been about three years.  Gosh, it feels so much longer than that!  Anyways, I’ve worked with a lot of different kinds of yarn over the past few years, but it’s still probably a small percentage of all the different types that exist.  There are seemingly endless blends of weights and materials out there.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of available yarn materials, types, and blends, this post is going to disappoint you.  But maybe I can still point you in a good direction while we learn about our medium together. 🙂

The first yarn I ever used for crochet was Caron Simply Soft.  To date, this is still my favorite go-to, cheap, budget-friendly yarn to use for everyday projects.  It is a 100% acrylic, worsted weight yarn.  Now, if you’re new to yarn arts, that probably sounded just a little bit foreign to you.  Not to worry. 🙂  It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to learn this kind of information, and I promise, I won’t quiz you at the end.

When I first got into crochet, I thought that yarn was yarn.  You pick a color and hook and go to town, right?  While you certainly could start out this way, once you have practiced and learned basic stitches, you’re going to want to tackle something harder and create a finished project you can be proud of – maybe even gift to someone!  When you’re ready for that step, you’re going to learn a little bit more about yarn, whether you really want to or not, (but trust me, you’ll want to).

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Source

Weight

One of the first things I learned about yarn was that there are different weights of yarn.  This doesn’t refer to how heavy the yarn is, but rather how thick the yarn is.  Even if you’ve never used yarn a day in your life, you’ve probably seen a doily before, right?

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Click for source, and for the FREE pattern.

My grandparents all used them, and my mom even still uses them on occasion.  If you pay attention to a doily, you’ll notice that it’s usually made from a very thin yarn.  It’s actually called thread.  Which, I’ll admit, can be super confusing if you’re new to all this.  You probably think of thread as the kind of stuff used for sewing and quilting, right?  Crochet thread is actually quite a bit thicker than that stuff.  From what I’ve been able to tell, crochet thread is like the bottom of the yarny totem pole (or would it be the top)?

A step up from crochet thread is lace weight yarn.  I don’t use a lot of crochet thread so far, so for my purposes, I consider lace weight to be the thinnest weight of actual yarn.  The most common weight of yarn, sort of the middle ground in the scope of yarn weights, is called worsted weight.  This is probably what you are most familiar with from school or crafts.  And as big and bulky weights of yarn have grown in popularity, there has even been a higher weight of yarn added to the ranks in the past couple of years, appropriately classified as jumbo.

Here are a couple of links where you can check out more information about the different weights of yarn:

Material

Yarn can apparently be made from just about any type of fiber.  Including human hair.  Eww.

The most commonly used yarn, that you typically find in chain stores like WalMart, AC Moore, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, or JoAnn, is made from either acrylic or cotton.  These places do carry some yarn of other materials, especially as some of the biggest names in economical yarn branch out.  Some of those big names, you’ve likely seen or used before, even if you’ve never picked up a crochet hook or pair of knitting needles.  You may even recognize some of their labels if you’re really into crafting:

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Red Heart, Caron, Bernat, and Lion Brand are just four of the most commonly seen brands at chain stores.  These are all perfectly good yarns, and I believe I’ve used them all at one point or another.  They’re great for baby items, beanies, scarves, and blankets.  A great universal type of yarn, using less expensive materials, mass-produced in standard textures and colors.  I love to use Red Heart and Caron in particular when I have a large project, such as an afghan, to create.  I also enjoy using them to make gifts and to experiment with.  Acrylic and cotton are easy to work with, and quite durable materials.  They are generally safe from allergens, machine washable, and usually are available in a wide assortment of colors and novelty effects.  (I never knew there were people who are allergic to wool until I got into yarn arts).

Some other yarn materials I’ve worked with, off the top of my head, are yak, silk, mink, wool, alpaca, and various blends.  I believe I even have some bamboo yarn in my stash somewhere.  (We’ll talk more about yarn stashes later.  Yarn is kind of a broad subject).  In my own experience, when you want to try materials outside the realm of acrylic and cotton, you might find some of these different materials in a chain store, but your best option is to find an independent local yarn store (LYS) or online yarn store.  And that brings us to the next topic:

Value

The thing you will quickly learn as you journey into yarn arts, is just how valuable handmade items truly are.  Before learning to crochet, I must admit, I never gave much thought to what went into those doilies and afghans my grandparents made.  Now I know what kind of time and love and materials went into them.  I have WAY more respect for those items now, and have even saved a few pieces that were destined for the donation box, or perhaps even the trash(!!!).

As valuable as the handmade items from our grandparents are, you may be tempted to think, as I was, that yarn is cheap, and the value comes from the time and skill it took to make the item.  Sometimes, though, the yarn can be a bit pricey too, when compared to chain store fare.  That’s because, just like your grandma’s doily, sometimes a lot of time, love, and materials go into making yarn.  An independent LYS or online store is where you’ll probably find the biggest selection of high-quality, hand spun, or hand dyed yarns in a broad range of materials.  I refer to these as “specialty yarn” because I have found that, otherwise, people envision the fab four pictured above.  Think of economical yarns like Crayola, and specialty yarns like Windsor & Newton.  As a former commonfolk myself, I can tell you that most commonfolk don’t even realize expensive yarn is a thing.  I had quite a bit of sticker shock when I coveted my first specialty yarn.

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These little beauties represent my very first skein of specialty yarn.  I don’t even remember now how I came across Expression Fiber Arts 3 years ago, but when I saw skeins for over $35 each, I was floored.  Why are people paying this amount for one skein of yarn, when they can go to WalMart and get, like, 7 or 8 skeins of Caron Simply Soft for that amount?  Nevertheless, I was intrigued.  This yarn was a mystery.  And I’m not just waxing poetic here, it was literally a mystery.  Expression Fiber Arts has what they call a yarn club, and you get to select your yarn based on an inspiration photo, without actually seeing the end result until it arrives in the mail.

sugar_ribbons_dewy_dk_yarn__56655.1429630071.100.100_mediumThis was the only picture I had to go on, but it was enough to make me want it.  Badly.  Bless my husband, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he bought me one for Valentine’s Day 2013.  When it arrived in all it’s bright and colorful glory, I was instantly hooked (haha… hooked… get it?).  It was a gorgeous, squishy twist of bright blue, purple, and pink, with 689 yards of an equal yak-silk blend in a delicate lace weight.  While on a weekend vacation in Ocracoke, I spent a couple of hours with the help of my sister opening the thing up and winding it into a ball with my hands (back before I had a yarn ball winder).  I couldn’t wait to turn it into something amazing.  Wanna see what it turned into?

Thus began my love affair with specialty yarns. Over time, that sticker shock has diminished, but for a couple of years I went a little crazy with my new addiction (more on that later).  And I’ve since worked with a good assortment of different yarns and I can tell you from experience that although the price might sting a little, most often it’s absolutely worth it.  If you need proof, go back up to that photo of the two balls of yarn.  I went searching to find people who had bought this yarn and wanted to sell it, and when I found 2 more of them, I snatched those suckers up!  To date, my all-time favorite yarn to work with is yak silk.  The one that started it all. 🙂

As I said, yarn is a broad topic.  There is a lot to learn, and I’ve still not learned it all.  But I’ll continue to share more of what I have learned in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, tell me about your favorite yarn(s)!  Do you prefer economical yarn or specialty yarn?  What has been your favorite material to work with and why?  I’m always on the lookout for new yarn to try!

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