No Need to Stitch and Itch: Choosing Wool Yarn

Posted by on Oct 8, 2013 in Crocheting, Knitting | Comments


When you were new to knitting or crochet, it’s likely you made a sweater made from wool. It’s also likely that the sweater made you feel a little bit itchy. Don’t let an itchy wool turn you against this cozy fiber forever.

Want to expand your knowledge of wool even further? Be sure to check out Craftsy’s FREE class, Know Your WoolDeborah Robson walks through the details of learning specific characteristics of wool, including fiber type and breed of sheep, offering an in-depth look into yarn.

Here’s how to choose wool yarn that’s appropriate for the project you’re making. You’ll never stitch and itch again!

Ball of Grey/Blue Wool Yarn

Smooth wool vs. coarse wool

The itch you feel when you use coarse wool happens when the ends of the wool fiber rub against your skin. It can cause itching and sometimes even make your skin to break out in a rash. Yuck! A coarse wool likely has shorter fibers that stick out, rubbing more against your skin.

Wool yarns can be spun in two ways: worsted and woolen. Here’s the difference:

  • Worsted: To get a smoother yarn, the fibers need to be long and lie parallel to each other. Worsted spinning will achieve this, with fibers that are about the same length and run parallel.
  • Woolen: Woolen yarns have a variation of long and short fibers that go in different directions, which makes the yarn feel a bit rougher.

Of course, there’s much more to be said about how the yarns are spun differently, but for itchy-wool purposes, you really just need to know the basics.

So other than feeling the yarn, how can we look at the label and know if it’s going to be itchy?

One piece of advice is to use merino wool. This Cascade Venezia Worsted Yarn is 70% merino wool and 30% mulberry silk, doubling the comfort factor by adding that silk in there. Blends are a good compromise, too. Choose wool that’s blended with fibers that you know to be soft and silky. That combination will reduce the itch factor.

According to Devon Fine Fibres, a farm producing cashmere, mohair and wool, the key to choosing wool is quality. Not all merino wool is going to be high-quality no-itch, so buying from reputable yarn companies is a good idea. (If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty of why wool itches, Devon Fine Fibres has a detailed wool article explaining fiber microns and more.)

Other itch factors

There are other factors besides the coarseness of wool that can make you itchy, and most of them have nothing at all to do with being allergic to wool.

Look out for these signs next time you feel the itch. Maybe your yarn isn’t to blame!

  • Temperature: Obviously you won’t be wearing a wool sweater in the middle of summer. But if it’s winter and it’s hot in the room, that can make your sweater more itchy.
  • Skin conditions: If you already have a skin condition such as eczema, you’re probably more likely to itch, even if you’re wearing a high-quality wool.
  • Thick vs. thin skin: Thin-skinned wool wearers are more likely to feel a prick than say, someone who has thicker skin. That’s why choosing wool for babies — who traditionally have much thinner skin than adults — is so important.

Have a sweater that has more issues than just itchy wool? Give your sweater a makeover in Carol Feller’s Sweater Surgery Craftsy class. You’ll learn how to add shaping, pockets, and even turn a sweater into a cardigan.

Looking for non-itchy wool yarn? Check out the Craftsy merino wool yarn shop. If you want to use up your extra wool, check out my post 5 Ideas for Knitting With Wool and get going on those winter projects!

How do you make sure your wool yarn isn’t itchy? Any favorite yarn types?

Comments

  1. Vanessa says:

    Hi Ashley: Thank you for the educational and excellent advise on ‘wool’.
    As a child visiting Wales (UK) and the various ‘Woolen Mills’, I became very fascinated in the milling process. It is rather ironic that with someone having Welsh background I would be allergic to ‘wool’. Having sensitive skin, I would break out in hives, couldn’t stand anything to touch my neck or arm remotely. My favorite pattern is Fair Isle. My devoted Grandmother made me an Aran jumper with cabling (just for me in acrylic.

    I did find eventually, my preference for Merino wool as you have suggested. I haven’t as yet quite mastered making socks, now I know I can if i choose the right wool. I found a really nice pair of socks at ‘sock addict’ (merino wool of course. Even in late September/October my feel are comfortable and breath.

    Cheers, all the very best. Vanessa

  2. Amanda says:

    Try alpaca, it’s soft AND hypo allergenic

  3. Kit says:

    I like merino wool as you suggested. But so far I don’t seem to have a wool allergy at least, knock on wood. Of course some wool is slightly prickly because of the nature of the wool or how it was spun. I understand that, and I have from time to time noticed the mild prickliness. But as long as the wool is just a little prickly I don’t mind. The little occasional prickles remind me that it is wool and therefore warm, so it is a somewhat reassuring feeling on super cold days. Of course that is more true in a place that has super cold days. Tomorrow was predicted to be 26 degrees F below zero with a wind chill of 40 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit or Centigrade – this is where the scales are equal.) So I really appreciate warm clothing,