Acrylic, synthetic, no matter how you prefer to call it, man-made vs. natural yarn is a hot issue in the word of fiber art. Not potential war with North Korea hot, but pretty hot.
I think it’s fair to say though, that if the average knitter* or crocheter was offered 100g of synthetic yarn or 100g of cashmere/alpaca mix yarn, the latter would be the choice. Natural yarn is almost always seen as the best choice for any craft, and a lot of makers see the slightly annoying task of hand-washing delicate fabrics as a worthy trade off for working with a material that is animal or plant based, not made from anything artifical and usually pretty lovely to touch.
*Forgive me if I sometimes only use the word ‘knitter’, but I’m trying to avoid typing ‘knitter/crocheter/weaver/etc’ all the time because, obviously.
Then there are others who cannot work with or use animals fibers (shout out to the vegans and allergic people) to whom acrylic yarns are life and the difference between crafting or not.
I did a little Instagram poll recently where I asked my followers a few questions about their feelings towards our acrylic-y friends.
“Here we go…” I thought, “The synthetic-bashers are going to come out in force with this one” but surprisingly to me at least, 61% of people asked said that they are a fan of acrylic, and 57% said that 50/50 (acrylic & natural) yarns are also great. 43% of those asked said that even if the yarn was mixed with natural fibres they still wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole, and 39% said that acrylic was basically “ugh!”.
Sorry to use a particularly trendy and irritating word, but I was SHOOK!
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that normally when I scroll through my feeds on social media that natural fibres are the ones that get most of the praise. You don’t usually see folk proudly holding up their 100% acrylic chunky yarn proclaiming, “Look at this babe I found in my #LYS! I cant wait to get my mitts on this!” – unless they are sponsored, or sent it for free, and I can’t criticize, but then again I’m a fan of acrylics – that kind of talk is almost always used for your expensive hanks of 100% angora, am I right? My conclusion is that maybe using acrylic is seen as a sneaky, ‘guilty pleasure’ by some people and/or maybe it isn’t as photo worthy as those lovely natural skeins, or perhaps it’s just that, no matter how much synthetic yarns have improved in recent years, it’s still seen as a nasty, crunchy, filling-irritating. cheap, neon green ball of nastiness only used by beginner knitters who don’t know any better (we’ve all been there, guys) or cantankerous great-aunts who insist on making appalling cardigans for you that make you sweat just by looking at them.
Which brings me on to the next part. The fact that there’s acrylic and then there’s acrylic (the latter said in a slow, accusatory tone, obvs).
Let’s make it easier and take a look at the positives and negatives of synthetic/synthetic mix yarns.
Undoubtedly it is cheaper to buy acrylic yarn than natural yarn, with some exceptions. For those of us who have to count the pennies and need to watch what we spend on our yarn hauls, buying synthetic is a good way of still being able to shop for that sexy yarn and fill those bags and not break the bank.
It’s a positive addition to other yarn compositions
Cotton, for example, is the high-maintainence chick of the yarn world. It’s unforgiving, stretches out easily and is a pain in the backside to use if you make garments, things that need cuffs, ribbing… It’s However, when combined with a synthetic material such as polyester, it can gain a bit in terms of stretch and take on some wool-like characteristics that make it a lot better and more versatile to work with.
It’s ideal for people with allergies/animal-free lifestyle choices
Whether you are a maker who chooses not to use animal fibres in your work, or you are making something for a person who has a wool allergy or is following a vegan/veggie lifestyle, you can still create fantastic handmade treats for them. The same goes for plant-based yarns as well, of course.
It’s unfair to say that all acrylic is that kind used by that nasty auntie I mentioned earlier. There are some simply beautiful acrylic yarns on the market, some of which I was kindly sent to review by Stylecraft Yarns recently (You can find a mini-review later on in this post). Premiums are a world away from scratchy, cheap versions.
Especially when you make items for children, durability is key. Synthetic yarns tend to be hard wearing, machine washable and easy to care for – although don’t iron them, ever!
That itch I mentioned, and the sweat
Probably the number one issue people have with Mr. Acryl and his sisters Poly and Ester is the itchiness, sweatiness and general lack of breathability acrylic yarns have. No matter how high-quality the synthetic yarn is, you can’t replicate that fantastic breathability of natural fibres. Let’s be honest though, 100% wool garments can also give you the itch (itchy pits alert!), so it depends on the quality of the yarn you are using.
Pilling, shine and the “halo”
Nothing to do with Beyonce here, she’d obviously be 100% organic silk if she was a skein of yarn, but the halo I’m talking about is tht unpleasant ‘glow’ that hovers around acrylic yarns. Slightly fuzzy and cheap-looking, it is a good way of telling whether a garment is synthetic or not. We aren’t talking that sweet halo you get with angora or fluffy natural yarns. Pilling is when fabrics bobble up with wear, and although these bobbles can be removed with a special tool, it’s inconvenient and makes items look tatty. Thirdly, synthetics can have a pretty horrible shine to them which can look bad. Maybe that is a matter of taste, though. I’m not so keen on it.
So what can we gather from all this, yarn people? The fact is that there are good and bad things with all types of yarn, and acrylic just happens to be one of them. The moral of this story is, as long as you are in love with what you are making and are enjoying yourself, that’s all that matters.
If you’re interested in checking out some fabulous quality synthetic/synthetic mix yarns, here are a few examples of the best I’ve tried so far in three weights from 2-ply to aran, and no sweaty Betty in sight!
Schachenmayr (try saying that with your mouth full) Baby Smiles Suavel
Composition: 100% Acrylic
Tension/Gauge: 34 stitches, 44 rows to 10cm (4in)
Buy it at: Loveknitting
A genuinely awesome yarn, completely chemical-free and the ideal choice for lighter babywear. It comes in a wide selection of muted colours, typical baby shades and some brighter options. Try it out on a romper, mid-season sweater or a newborn hat. So soft!
Stylecraft Bambino DK
Composition: 100% Acrylic
Tension/Gauge: 22 stitches to 10cm (4in)
There will be a big, detailed review of this yarn soon, but for now here’s a baby (bambino?) one. I bloody love DK yarn, ’tis my favourite weight, and when this lovely pile arrived for me to try I was really impressed with the softness and look of it. A good choice for baby and kidswear. A generous 100g hank. Perfect for cardigans. Super silky and almost Merino-like to the touch.
Katia Merino Tweed
Composition: 51% Merino, 43% Acrylic, 6% Viscose
Tension/Gauge: 16 stitches to 10cm (4in)
Needle/Hook: 4.50/5.50 mm
You could have fooled me that this contains ANY man-made fibre, to be fair. This is the softest acrylic mix yarn I’ve ever tried, and I love the wonderful flecks of material that give this yarn a really cute and traditional look. Good for garments that need a ‘rural’ look (it makes me think of posh people in the countryside called ‘Bunty’ or ‘Julian’ wearing wellies and walking Labradors – I mean TWEED – of course you would). A wonderful Aran that makes for a quick knit and a warm garment.
I’m excited to hear your opinions and views. Are there any synthetic yarns that have totally impressed you, or totally made your teeth itch? Let me know via the contact form or on Instagram and I’ll share your views in a future post!