Type of wool? (a question and tiny little rant)

I know what you mean, Most of the ‘natural’ yarns just make me itch. Some are not to bad if I can wear them over a shirt of something but I really want to find a yarn that I can wear, as is. I may just have to just knit in cotton, it’s the least itchy so far.
Is there anything that doesn’t 'set the bells a’ringing’
for those of us who are a little more sensitive?

hmmmm, it might depend on the quality and if its blended with other fibers… i think 100% wool can be very itchy and harsh but mix it with some acrylic and it can be quite nice (depending of course).
I’ve always found Merino wool to be very soft, not entirely sure what the difference is tho.

I guess I meant to say, what kind of sheep is this sort of wool from?

I live in a pretty small town (~20,000) and don’t have the choices. There’s several brands I’ve seen locally that are very reasonably priced and come in nice colors. But I can’t get a specific kind of notably soft wool, like merino or alpaca. Only “wool”, acrylic, wool/acrylic blends, and mohair blends.

We are taking a trip to Athens in September and I plan to hit a big yarn store on Kolokotroni Street. :mrgreen:

Yes, harsh. That’s the word. I think merino wool is from the merino sheep. So I was wondering what sort of sheep produces this harsh wool, or if it’s the processing? I know nothing about that side of knitting. I see sheep all over the place here, but I don’t know what species they are. They have long, thick, straight wool and these long, spindly, bald legs.

I keep hearing that merino and alpaca are very soft and don’t bother sensitive people. I am working on a sweater now that is 80% acrylic, 10% virgin wool, and 10% mohair. It was not expensive at all and I thought it was just right for my first attempt at a sweater. However, I think I will have to wear a t-shirt under it. It’s a little prickly. That’s assuming, of course, that it’s wearable. :oo:

I have been window shopping online for months and am overwhelmed at the choices. It’s hard to choose when you haven’t seen and touched the yarn yourself.

I think there are different kinds of sheep that produce a softer wool… merino I think is one, but I think that part of the softness is in processing. I usually can’t wear wool at all, but I was at my LYS and someone was using Lorna’s Laces 100% superwash wool and it was soooooo soft! Can you shop online? I know shipping can be a problem for those of you out of the country. :shrug:

there are so many kinds of wool yarn. you might look at some other sources for your yarns. merino is a great pick…knit picks is a good source for yarns. you might consider looking on line.
a scratchy knit ‘anything’ will never get worn by the give reciever

Well, softness depends on the micron count. A micron is a measurement of length equal to a millionth of a meter or a thousanth of a millimeter, if I remember correctly a human hair is usually 100 microns, the lower the micron count the skinnier the wool fibers, the higher the micron count, the fatter the fibers. There are other factors involved that affect softness such as the bounciness (crimp structure) of the fiber and how tightly the yarn is spun, chemical treatments can also leave wool feeling harsh, but in general, the lower the micron count the softer the yarn, the higher the micron count, the harsher the yarn.

Wool fibers 30 microns and over are practically guaranteed to be itchy while wool fibers 20 microns and under tend to never bother people. Fibers between 21-29 microns may or may not itch depending on how sensitive your skin is. Most people who claim to have wool allergies don’t and either have sensitive skin or have only been exposed to harsh yarns made from coarse wool.

Different sheep breeds produce different wools. Merino sheep produce wool that tends to have a micron count in the low 20’s and is why it’s known for its softness. Merino wool can go as thin as 12 microns, finer than cashmere but most commercial merino yarns are made with medium or strong wool merino which is around the low to mid 20’s. All merino is not the same, a yarn made from 16 micron merino is going to feel alot softer than a yarn made from 23 micron merino. There are other sheep breeds that produce soft wool like: bond, finnsheep, cormo, polwarth, rambouillet, columbia but all of them have been bred and/or cross bred with merino.

Most wool yarn is made out of a blend of wools. I can’t say what wool makes up yarn that’s labeled “wool” but it would be from “dual purpose” sheep, meat sheep. Sheep that produce good meat tend to not produce good wool and vice versa so people try to breed happy mediums that can give decent meat and decent wool. Corriedale is a major dual purpose breed and produces wool 25-30 microns. Suffolk is a major meat breed in the united states with a micron count between 27-33 and I’m pretty sure that it’s wool ends up in alot of domestically spun yarn.

Sheep aren’t machines so some of them will produce finer wool, some coarser wool, and there’s usually a difference of at least a few microns in an individual fleece. All this gets mixed together before being spun so even if a yarn contains mostly 26 micron wool but say five or six percent of the fibers are over 30 microns, it’s probably going to be itchy.

There are also dual coated sheep: sheep that produce a down like wool and guard hairs: Shetland sheep Navajo Churro and Icelandic sheep are all dual coated. The undercoat is very soft but the guard hairs are usually very coarse which means that depending on how it’s spun it can be soft or harsh. If the guard hairs are removed the yarn will be soft, if they’re not removed, the yarn will be harsh. Cashmere is also a down fiber and everyone who talks about how wonderfully soft it is has yet to experience yarn made from insufficiently dehaired cashmere (shudder).

Now of course is when I talk about the downsides of fine wool. In general, the lower the micron count, the shorter the wool fiber which is why merino tends to pill alot easier than a wool blend yarn, the fibers in the merino yarn are shorter and wriggle out and form pills much easier. Coarse wool is long wool and it wears like iron so some things like outerwear and carpets require coarse wool. A tighter spun yarn would reduce the pilling but then the yarn would be heavy and dense. Another solution would be more, thinner plies: a six ply worsted weight merino yarn would be more durable than a four ply but this means more work for the spinning mills.

I have seen charts in books with different breeds and their average micron ranges but my google fu has failed trying to find a similar chart online. I can however direct you to two sites that list the different breeds of sheep:
Sheep 101 - Breeds of Sheep A-Z
Breeds of Livestock - Sheep Breeds

As for where to obtain soft yarn, alot of shepherds nowadays are sending off their wool to spinning mills and selling the yarn from their flock, instead of getting pennies per pound selling to a wool pool.

And about the acrylic/wool/mohair yarn: virgin wool just means that the wool came from a sheep’s back and wasn’t recycled. As far as I know all wool nowadays is virgin wool but apparently it used to be common practice some time ago for surplus wool fabric to be ripped apart and respun and rewoven into fabric called “shoddy”. Virgin wool does not imply that it’s soft, any wool that isn’t reused is virgin wool. Adult mohair is also pretty itchy to most people at around 30 microns. The softness of acrylic, or lack thereof depends on how thin the individual acrylic fibers were made. Acrylic can be really rough and itchy, but if made fine, like in microfiber yarns, it can be amazingly soft.

I have this problem with wool, too. With regards to merino wool, in my humble opinion, there seems to be different grades of that too, because Patons Classic Merino (100% merino wool) seems a bit scratchy for me, but I made a scarf using Takhi brand’s 100% merino wool (can’t remember the specific brand), and it’s not scratchy at all. As others posted, I think it’s all about the microns, as well as the wools that are reputed to be softer, like the cashmeres and merinos. I stay away from stuff simply labeled “wool” unless it’s in a blend. I can wear Lion Brand’s Wool-Ease with no problem–it’s a blend of 80% acrylic with 20% “wool” (no specification of what type of wool), it’s machine washable and dryable:woohoo:, it’s really warm, and has a nice loft to it.

Are microns and deniers the same thing?

A denier is the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of a fiber or yarn. The smaller the denier the finer the fabric. For example, microfiber has a denier of less than one.

I googled micron and only came up with a couple of examples of shoes made out of microfiber.

I’m not familiar with the term deniers, but I believe that microns in yarn talk have to do with the yarn’s diameter, and the smaller number of microns, the softer and finer the yarn.

For what it’s worth–with regards to alpacas–this site gave the following information on microns:

[FONT=Verdana,Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif,sans-serif]less than 20 microns (Royal alpaca) – pashmina-type scarves, vests[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana,Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif,sans-serif]20 – 23 microns (baby alpaca) – fine knitwear, lightweight worsted material[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana,Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif,sans-serif]23 – 26 microns – worsted outerwear - jackets, suits, medium weight knitting yarn[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana,Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif,sans-serif]26 – 29 microns - knitting yarns, rugs, blankets, interior products[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana,Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif,sans-serif]greater than 30 microns – bags, interior furnishings, carpets[/FONT]

That could be the mohair, too. While some wools are itchy, I have found many (including merino), to be soft enough to wear against my skin. But anything mohair? :ick: I just can’t do it. It feels fine on my hands, but anywhere it’s just too itchy.

YIKES, so much wool so little time!

the micron count actually refers to the diameter of each individual strand of wool, not the diameter of the spun yarn. you could spin bulky yarn with very fine alpaca, and likewise, you could spin a lace weight with a coarse mohair.

Yes, I can shop online and will probably do so from a shop in England, once I ever decide what I want. The shipping doesn’t cost nearly as much as from the states.

I am just tired of scratching around in my LYS (pardon the pun, how awful) and never finding quite what I want/picture/imagine. Thanks for the tip on Lorna’s Laces!

I had no idea.

The yarn I am using now (with the 10% mohair) looks exactly like my cat. It’s the exact same shade of light brown and the mohair used in it is white, so it looks like my cat’s white guard hairs sticking out. This choice must say something about me, but I don’t know what.


Thank you for that post. That’s exactly the sort of information I was interested in learning. There’s a big textile/fiber/yarn industry here, but that absolutely does not equate with cute, quality yarns in the shops. I think you hit the nail on the head in the paragraph about meat sheep. Certainly people eat a lot of sheep here, and also eat plenty of sheep milk cheese and yogurt. That is the main use of sheep here, I am sure. In addition, there’s a big industry of heavy wool carpets.

I was looking through your provided link about sheep breeds, and can’t believe how many they are. I’d like to know what kind of sheep some people in my village have, and think it looks quite a bit like the Sicilian Barbary, but the page says it “usually” has dark spots on the face and legs, and these don’t. I haven’t been through the whole list yet, though. These sheep are sadly very ugly, with goatlike faces. They grow these huge fleeces and when they are shorn, it seems like there’s nothing left of the sheep! :mrgreen: They are also very tall, and can stick their head in my car window when I am waiting for them to pass by. They are almost all cream colored, but very occasionally I will see a lamb with black or brown patches.

At any rate, now that I knit, I see them in a whole different way!

As Jeanius80 said, the micron count has to do with the diameter of the individual wool (or alpaca or silk or angora or mohair, etc) fiber, not the yarn. Fibers with a low micron count are more suited to being spun thin but that does not mean that they have to be.

If you google wool micron you’ll find results relating to wool and micron count.

I think that paton’s merino is a very nice yarn and I’ve never had problems with it but it is on the coarser side of the merino spectrum so I could understand if someone with really sensitive skin might find it itchy.

I still haven’t found a great table online yet but I did find these two:
Wool By Grades
Fiber Grades (PDF)

The first chart for some reason only includes the bradford scale numbers for some wools. The Bradford system is and older way of measuring fineness based on how many 560 yard skeins of yarn can be spun from a pound of a specific fiber. In this instance, the higher the number, the finer the fiber.

The second chart includes the bradford scale and it’s corresponding micron diameters, and has micron counts for exotic fibers.

I did a little more searching and found some stuff on the UN food and agriculture website about the indigenous sheep breeds of greece:
Here’s a list of indigineous breeds, though most don’t have pictures.

Here’s the page of greek sheep pictures.

Here’s a document from 1979 entitled "declining Mediterranean Sheep Breeds with a little bit of info on greek sheep. On the figures page there are some pictures but they’re in black and white and aren’t the best quality.

While some of those sheep produce medium wool, most of them produce very coarse wool, suited for rugs and carpets, and maybe even ropes or twine.
There may be finewool sheep being raised somewhere near you, but none of the native sheep produce exceptionally fine wool.

As for alpaca never being itchy, I personally find that alot of alpaca yarns feel very “prickly” to me. Alpaca is a very straight and silky fiber so it feels nice to the touch, but if the fibers are thick, it will still feel itchy next to the skin. That is not to say that all alpaca is itchy to me, the nicer stuff like baby/cria, royal, or superfine, never bothers me.
Mohair is similar: it’s a smooth fiber but most adult mohair is really coarse so that’s why so many people find it so soft to the touch and so itchy next to the skin.
Kid mohair is nice though, it’s smooth and lustrous, and creates a nice fluffy halo, though not as big as adult mohair, but it’s alot finer and shouldn’t bother most people.

Hi’ya Walter! :waving: Thanks for the info regarding wool and its qualities! I saved your post in my Knitting Files for future reference! Thanks for doing the legwork for us! Sharing it with us was very generous of you! :hug:

DOES ANYONE KNOW: What is the ‘micron count’ of Malabrigo (worsted weight) yarn???