Article: Acrylic Yarns - Poor Relation or Unsung Hero?

I should imagine there are some who shudder at the word acrylic with the same violence that Ron Weasley displays every time Harry or Hermione name He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  If the very thought of acrylic yarns brings you out in a cold sheen of anxiety, forgive me, but I think this is something that needs exploring.

The resurgence of popularity of knitting over the past ten years or so has resulted, brilliantly, in a whole wealth of exciting new yarns, fibre contents, indie dyers, yarn weights, knitting and crochet techniques and high-fashion designs.  This is all fantastic and something to be celebrated, but are we forgetting the role the humble acrylic has to play?

If you want evidence that this is something worth talking about, just check out Amy's most recent episode of the Stranded Podcast.  She is kicking off the new year with a "commercial yarn-along" because she is all too aware that some people feel excluded from knit-alongs owing to a limited budget, or not owning any high-end indie dyed yarns.  Don't take my word for it - listen to her!

So I guess that's my first point - yarn snobbery.  Now this isn't to say that everyone who enjoys knitting with indie-dyed yarns, with fibre contents such as baby alpaca, silk, cashmere and yak (yes - yak - and it's surprisingly sumptuous and soft and squishy and ahhhh), is automatically a yarn snob.  Of course not!  Just as I'm not a brand snob for preferring Coca-Cola to own-brand cola.  I enjoy plenty of own-brand products and find them better value and better tasting than the leading brands.  However, among some knitty circles there is definitely a movement against acrylic.  Almost as though you're not a "real knitter" if you're still using Hayfield Bonus DK or Robin Bonny Babe.  And it's this that gets my goat, or yak, if you will.  No one should feel less of a knitter because they use acrylic.  I love using acrylic!  I also have a slightly unhealthy obsession for Truly Hooked Yarns (you may remember from an earlier post that I currently possess over 5 miles of the stuff) and I just love sniffing the yarn I got from the Knitting Goddess (the lanolin in there is scrummy)  but my go to yarn is acrylic and I'm proud.  Yes there are objections such as the environmental consideration but I personally think shrink-wrapping broccoli and whole cucumbers is more irresponsible.

Let me share with you why I think acrylic is just so fantastic.
  1.  It's affordable.  If you're a passionate and fast knitter like myself, you want to make all the things and quite often use a huge range of colours in yarns.  It can be tricky sometimes to get the balance between affordable acrylic and comfy cosy touch but it can be done.  For this, definitely visit a yarn store and give it all a good squish.  It's also perfect for teaching beginners - particularly children!  I like to give handmade gifts and if I wanted to do this all in high-end commercial yarn (Debbie Bliss or Rowan for example) I couldn't do it.  I also want to make a sweater for myself this year - I quite fancy the pavement sweater - and the cover sweater from an issue of The Knitter for my MIL.   The-Knitter-issue-111
    Gorgeous, isn't it?  Yet if I were to use the yarn recommended it would cost me between £50 and £80 to make.  Plus it wouldn't be easy to care for, which brings me to my next point...
  2. It's easy to care for.
    This is such an important issue.  Only knitters will really understand the pain of having a lovingly crafted item felted by its recipient.  I'm a knitter (obviously) and my mum made me a stunning jumper.  She's made me lots of jumpers and cardis in the past and they've all been acrylic based, so they've all gone in the machine quite happily.This jumper, however, was different.I slung it in on a cool wash as I always do and what came out wouldn't fit my 10 year old cousin, let alone a grown woman like myself with a healthy bustline!  In a panic, I rang my auntie and asked her if it's possible to reverse the felting process - I know, I know!  I would be rolling my eyes too if you were telling me this story but I was in a state of extreme panic here and common sense (what little of it I have) had deserted me, to be replaced by desperation.  After she'd finished laughing, I got off the phone and got straight on the phone to my mum, to confess my crime....
    "You've felted it."  said my mum, as she answered the phone.  I stared at the handset in shock.  Bloody Nora that was fast work!  The jungle drums have always been effective in my family but blimey!  My aunt had obviously got there first.
    Yes, me, an experienced knitter, had casually tossed my beautiful jumper into the machine and ruined it.  In my defence, I hadn't known it was made out of a non-superwash yarn, but that didn't help my poor mum who had worked so hard on a special jumper for me.
    If I'm a knitter and I can do that, what chance do non-knitters have?
    This brings me on to another point about the practicality of acrylic yarns.  I was lucky enough to be chosen to be godmother to two gorgeous twin babies this year.  They come to visit with their mum regularly and have sleepovers, which Alan and I really look forward to.  One weekend, I was sorting through the babies' washing (I try to help out where I can and told their Mum there's no point lugging up bags of clothes every visit - keep some here and I'll wash them) and I came across a gorgeous hand-knit cardi that had been done for the little girl.  I stared at it in disbelief.  It had been felted!  Not badly - it would still fit my baby goddaughter - but the stitch definition on the stocking stitch and the moss stitch had been lost.
    I groaned inwardly.  This had been a gift from a colleague and I know she'd chosen to use a Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino yarn.  Not cheap, and not easily replaced.  It was easy to see what had happened - this cool-wash only jumper had been popped in the wash by a tired, exhausted mum with the rest of the baby washing and washed at too high a temperature for a little too long.  The merino wool content had done what it naturally would and felted.  Yes, the gifter had sensibly chosen a yarn that could go in the machine, but only to 30 degrees, and what new mum honestly has time to shift through baby garments to check whether they can all go in at 40 or 60 (depending on the level of baby-damage)?  Let alone a new mum of twins!
    I don't a child at home myself yet (only 10 weeks until we can hopefully bring her home!) but I sent her for a nap when I visited one day and decided to help by hanging out her washing.  The babies must have been about four months old by this point.  Immobile, settled in the lounge, but still needing lots of care and attention.  What should have been a five minute job hanging out a machine full of muslin cloths, baby-grows, and baby blankets took me the best part of half an hour as I had to keep stopping to attend to my young charges.  And this was after I'd already fed and changed them!
    The cardigan has stayed with me - as a knitter, we're lucky because I can re-knit the cardigan without having to break the heart of the original gifter.

    3)  It's good quality!
    You can't ignore this one.  Not all acrylic is bargain basement scratchy stuff like you may remember from when you were a child.  Between natural wools (itch itch!) and dry as a bone acrylic yarns knitwear was rarely comfortable.  But this is simply not the case now!  Yes Robin Bonny Babe is a little toothier than you may want for a baby garment to be worn next to the skin but it's perfect for blankets and the like.
    It's also warm - the synthetic quality cannot be denied.  Yes natural animal fibres are also cosy toasty but combine the warmth, with the affordability and the practicality and I'd be more likely to wear my pretty acrylic beret and scarf out and about where it might get rained on or grubby from the park than my prized MCN mittens as they're just easier to care for!
So, now I've extolled the virtues of the humble acrylic yarn, let me walk you through some of my favourites and why I love them....
Stylecraft Special DK
Made popular by blogstars such as Heather of The Patchwork Heart, and Lucy of Attic 24, this yarn has the double bonus of being super affordable (purchase for as little as £1.59 for 100g if you shop around) and being utterly gorgeous to work with.  The twist has a lovely sheen to it, for great softness and stitch definition.  Stylecraft are also constantly adding new shades to their already booming collection so the creative possibilities are endless!  You can also order a sample card from them for ease of choosing as they're stocked online at Love Knitting and Deramores and even the best photography doesn't always show the true colours.  This one is a favourite of mine for crochet as crochet blankets use lots of different colours in varying amounts - perfect!
special dk sample card A Stylecraft Special DK sample card.  This isn't the most up-to-date version - they have lots more colours than this now!

The special range also comes in varying weights: aran, 4-ply, baby 4-ply, baby aran, chunky, super chunky (XL)- there really is something for everyone. Here are some of the many projects I've made using Stylecraft DK.
Another reason why acrylic is great for crochet blankets: cats just love them! My beautiful star blanket was created using denim, storm, sage and silver
                                             The huge range of shades available make for gorgeous combinations.
What's more, Stylecraft have since brought out some utterly gorgeous semi-solids and speckles.  Their batik range is just scrumptious and I'll be ordering some to test-crochet a pattern for Verity of Truly Hooked.  Batik is a blend of 80% acrylic and 20% wool so perhaps not for baby projects but still machine friendly - result!
The range is truly staggering:  batik swirl takes in the trend for colour-changing cakes of yarn, as does candy swirl; cabaret has gorgeous colour changes and sparkle - who doesn't love a bit of glitter?; carnival is again a variegated yarn but with tonal shades of the same palette rather than the stark contrast changes of batik swirl or the stripes of candy swirl; merry-go-round has gorgeous colour changes in bright bold colours - the list goes on!  Hover over the images below for information and photo credits.

Cabaret.  Photo credit: Wool Warehouse.

Candy Swirl.  Photo Credit 

Carnival.  Credit: Wool Warehouse

Batik DK.  Credit:  Wool4less 


A blanket I created using Merry-Go-Round

Okay, so that's Stylecraft out of the way, what else is out there?
WI Yarn from Hobbycraft
Hobbycraft has come in for some harsh criticism lately and I must admit I'm one of the voices - my local Hobbycraft store has given over most of its top floor to a concession: Cotton Traders.  The back section of its top floor is just clearance and the yarn and fabrics which enjoyed the fabulous lighting of the top floor previously have been shoved unceremoniously at the back of the ground floor.  Hardly great light to shop by - and the range has shrunk significantly.  However, one thing I think that Hobbycraft has got right is the release of the WI yarns.  They are good value, excellent quality, and come in lovely colours and a range of weights.
One of my favourite things about them is the softness and the stitch definition.  I've used both Premium Acrylic and the Soft and Snuggly acrylic yarns in DK weight and can honestly say both are soft and have a good twist that doesn't split when shoving your crochet hook in there.  The Soft and Snuggly does have a particularly gorgeous sheen to it which adds that touch of luxury, so you can see why you pay just a wee bit more.  More recently, I've purchased a 400g ball of WI Aran yarn, which was £9.99 - a pretty standard price for aran yarn, but I was surprised to discover that unlike most aran yarns, there was no wool content at all.  This made it a joy to knit with as I personally find aran can be quite tough on my hands in winter.  I've not yet tried the whole range, but know I'll get a great finish with this yarn.  All photos credit to NurseryKnitsUK - my previous page on fb.

Great stitch definition makes soft and snuggly a great choice for baby toys! As you can see, premium acrylic provides a great finish The colour palette is lovelySoft and Snuggly has the same twist as the premium but a definite sheen which adds a touch of luxury.

King Cole Acrylics
I used to make and sell things for babies and tots as a hobby and King Cole became my go-to yarn for my Wish-Bears.  Great quality, great price, good yardage and oh so soft - these were perfect for baby gifts.
I used Cuddles for my fluffy Wish Bears and this yarn was incredibly popular with my customers.  For my first girls' cardigan design I used Soft and Gentle - the stitch definition was perfect for lace and the soft quality of the yarn meant it was perfect as a baby garment yarn.  Finally, over the summer, I dived into my stash and came up with balls of King Cole Yummy which had been gifted to me for my birthday.  I made a lap blanket for myself but my godson soon claimed it for himself - it's so soft and squishy and he just loves snuggling up in it.  My goddaughter (his twin sister) also loves it and at 7mths old sausage rolled herself up in it! I can tell you now that that blanket has been through the machine and a much higher temperature than I usually would put knitted items through it (let's just say feeding time can get messy, as can the aftermath of feeding time) and it's absolutely fine.

Soft and Gentle made this a perfect garment yarn Cuddles did exactly what it said on the band!
Yummy - a chenille finish yarn from 100% acrylic
And I'll tell you another thing about acrylic yarn - it dries really quickly!  Honestly I get my knitwear out of the machine and within an hour or so it's dry - ideal when you're shoving baby blankets in as babies get through a LOT of clothes and blankets and you can't have an endless supply!
Okay, so that's three of my favourites so far, but what others are worth a try?

Basket of beauties Hayfield blanket

I think Hayfield deserves a shout out!  Yes okay it may not always be the softest yarn but you don't have to go for the bonus range.  Go one up and you get soft, lovely, pretty yarn that makes a gorgeous blanket.  Plus, I wouldn't leave my indie-dyed yarns out on display like this - for one thing moths love natural fibres and for another I have cats and godbabies.  What can bring more joy next to your armchair than a basket of beauties like this one?

 Rainbow Acrylic from Hop Stitch and Jumper
And I am just so in love with this yarn!  It's 100% acrylic, non-branded but oh my goodness does it shimmer!  I adore the colour changes, it's super soft, and reminds me of unicorns and mermaids due to its ethereal shimmer.  This came from my LYS (local yarn store) Hop Stitch and Jumper.  Florentina the gorgeous lady who works there has already said she's happy to do online sales of this yarn which retails at just £2.30 a ball!  I've linked her shop's fb page in case you're interested.

So - have I convinced any of you?  Are any of you already acrylic appreciators and shouting "yes!" from your arm chairs?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions - just join in with the comments below!

Let's give some time to the unsung hero of yarns - the humble acrylic.


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