If you're interested in knitting you might feel overwhelmed with all the information coming at you! Yarn, needles, gauge, weight, patterns... As enthusiastic as you can be, knitting is a slow hobby, we will start with the most basic stuff you need to understand: the yarn.
Types of yarns
Yarn is a continuous often plied strand composed of either natural or man-made fibers or filaments and used in weaving and knitting to form cloth - that is the Merriam-Webster definition.
We will see later what plied or stranded means, in the meantime let's focus on the yarn composition which is natural or man-made.
Plants are great producers and cotton was one the first source of fiber for clothes, some cotton balls were dated to 5000 BC. Other plants like linen and hemp are also used.
It's the domestication of cattle that made the use of their fiber possible. The most common natural fibers are animals such as wool from sheep, angora from the rabbit and/or sheep, cashmere from the Himalayan goats, as well as alpaca and silk. Of course, depending on where you are living some fibers are more available than others: like camel yarn.
Of course, the list is not exhaustive.
Some of these fibers, because they are rare and/or difficult to obtain, are expensive and delicate, especially cashmere which is often mixed with other fibers. As soon as this type of material is present in the wool, the knits obtained must be carefully maintained.
There are also synthetic fibers such as acrylic, nylon, polyester or bamboo. These fibers are ideal for people with allergies and although they are synthetic, they are also often used to complement natural fibers. They provide structure, strength (especially nylon when you want to make socks and want to avoid tearing at the heels). They are also more accessible from an economic point of view and more practical when you have to wash the knits!
Plied or Stranded yarn
Now we know where the yarn is coming from, but from the animal to getting yarn there is still a lot to do...
In the case of animal fibers, the animal must be shaved, the fiber is then cleaned and carded.
The card step is essential as it involves disentangling the fibers, airing them and arranging them so that they can be spinned which result in a thread of yarn. Carding can be done on natural fiber or with fiber already dyed.
The video below shows how wool is carded (here it is really a very small piece of equipment, it is obvious that larger machines exist to work more material at once).
@paradisefibers is using fiber that has been previously carded and dyed, by re-carding the fibers they reorganizer fibers parallel to each other's on the blending board. By using different colors, they are creating a gradient #rolag.
This rolag is then spun (on the wheel or spindle of the Sleeping Beauty 👸🧙♀️🐉, among others). At the end of the first video and in this second video, you can see how the rolag is spun into yarn.
The fibers in the rolag are a little bit pulled away from each other to create length and twisted to create strength and limit a further pull-apart effect: the strand of yarn is obtained.
The strand can be as thin or thick as one wants.
Once the strand as the right thickness, it can be left as is which is called a #single strand of yarn. The spinning will give the yarn a natural twist but there will be no more manipulation.
This product tends to be more fragile, the fibers are les