What is the best yarn to crochet or knit sweaters?

There is no “best”. It all depends on what the pattern designer wants to achieve.

Certain traditional techniques require fairly specific qualities of yarn:

  • Aran sweaters require a round woollen-spun Aran-weight pure wool yarn, ideally in the grease.
  • Icelandic sweaters (lopapeysa) require slightly hairy, unspun lopi wool from Icelandic (breed) sheep.
  • Fair Isle knits require grabby fingering weight yarn from Shetland (breed) sheep.
  • British fisher ganseys need to be tightly worked in worsted-spun sport-weight pure wool.
  • Cowichan sweaters should be worked in greasy handspun bulky-weight wool in natural colours.

and so on. You can, absolutely, knit an Aran sweater in bulky-weight cotton, but prepare to be deeply disappointed in how cold it is, and the way it expands with every wash. A Cowichan in qiviut would be toasty-warm, but outside pretty much anyone’s budget. And a Fair Isle jumper in acrylic yarn just doesn’t bear thinking about, especially if you’re going to knit it properly with steeks.

For other knit items, the appropriate yarn is the yarn that does what the designer wants. Linens and silk, and the higher-end breeds of sheep, produce a great draping effect. Alpaca and cashmere are luxuriously warm, with widely differing price points. Woollen- and worsted-spun yarns have differing uses, which can vary depending on the source fibre – worsted-spun in, say, Wensleydale, makes marvellous – and sexy – thermal underwear, but in mohair is perfect for all-weather overcoats, while woollen-spun yarns trap heat and are usually terrific for textured knits.

Of course, not everyone is going to have access to, or be able to afford the yarn recommended in the pattern. Many designers get free yarn as part of the deal when knitting for a yarn producer, and yarn producers offer such freebies as part of their marketing campaigns to get knitters to buy their yarn. Learning to substitute yarns properly is an essential skill for knitters, at least as important as learning different cast-ons and bind-offs (sturdy, firm, relaxed, decorative, etc.).

Make a policy of learning about different yarns and their qualities, what they’re best suited for, and – most importantly – what YOU like about them. If you’re a vegan or allergic to lanolin, wool isn’t your best choice; similarly, ladies of a certain age (moi) should avoid synthetic yarns, and look to linen, hemp, and lighter-weight animal fibres. And some people cannot knit with cotton without their hands cracking, chapping and bleeding (also moi).

Resources

How do you pronounce “Ewe” as in a female sheep?

Personally? “Yo”, as in “Yo momma’s so fat…”. That’s how it’s generally pronounced by farming folk in my neck of the woods.

Outside my neck of the woods? “You”.

My way makes more sense of the urgency of “The ewes are in the yews again”, or, indeed, “’Ugh’s been at the ewes again”.

Quora linky.

Do black sheep usually become goats?

Aaaay, whut?

Is this a metaphorical question? If so, it’s generally a bad idea to mix your metaphors. You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead, if you see what I mean.

If you seriously believe that black sheep TURN INTO goats – no. Not even slightly possible.

Taxonomy diagram of Ruminantia, showing sheep and goats as separate species.

They’re different genuses – Ovis (sheep) and Capra (goats) – which means they’re like taxonomic cousins. They can interbreed, but it’s rare, like human cousin-marriage. But a sheep turning into a goat is as likely as you turning into your Cousin Kevin.

Ewww.

Quora linky.

I love wearing wool but I know sheep farming can be a terrible industry. Can anyone suggest ethical wool clothing brands?

What makes you think sheep farming is a “terrible industry”?

Have you spent any time on a sheep farm, or any kind of farm? Even a petting farm? Or are you just spouting nonsense from delusional idiots who know nothing about farming?

If you’re genuinely interested in ethical clothing, forget about “brands”. A lot of the big brands you’ll have heard of may have ethical lines, but quite often they’re not as ethical as they’re cracked up to be. Those who are genuinely ethical are usually very small brands, and can be hard to find because they embrace local marketing – for example, a sheep farmer who shears, spins, and weaves or knits garments for sale in local farmers markets or online, and/or sells wool to handknitters and weavers.

One way in which you could actually make an impact and have some control is to try making your own clothes. You can recycle fabrics and clothing, or buy artisanal fabrics. Here’s a duvet cover dress:

Here’s a puzzle dress you could also make from a duvet cover. Or an old embroidered linen table cloth:

An apron from an old pair of jeans:

and here, by the miracle that is (or was) the Wayback machine, are swants – trousers made from old sweaters:

Of course, you could also learn to knit…

Quora linky.

Why is there always a black sheep in a flock?

Don’t be daft.

These are Manx Loghtans;

They’re all that kind of rusty brown – no other colour.

Herdwick lambs are born almost completely black:

Then turn a bright orangey-brown (their head turn white within weeks of birth):

before finally becoming grey around the time of first shearing:

Shetland sheep are every colour possible:

Coburg Fox sheep – born orange, fades to taupe:

Dryesdale – white only:

Jacob sheep, doin’ their own crazy thang since Methuselah was a lad:

Quora linky.

Where does the wool go after it is taken off the sheep?

That very much depends on a lot of different factors.

In wild sheep or domesticated self-moulting sheep, the fleece may just lie there and decompose, unless taken by another animal or bird for burrows or nests.

If the sheep is a meat sheep, the fleece is usually of very low quality. Occasionally, it can be sold as insulation material or for industrial carpeting, but it is quite often just dumped and allowed to decompose.

Better-quality fleece can be made into high-quality carpeting, upholstery and soft furnishings; clothing; or yarn for fibre arts – knitting, weaving, etc. In some countries, there is a central processing board to which all such fleece must be sold (e.g., British Wool, in the UK), in others there may be competing processers to which farmers can sell fleece.

Quora linky.

How does wool keep you warm when you are wet?

As it happens, the other day I had one of those very common sink-tap accidents which resulted in me being sprayed down the front with water.

That kind of thing, except all over my woolly jumper.

If I’d been wearing almost any other top, I’d have had to change. However, with my woolly pulli, I just brushed off the drops sitting on the surface of the fabric and carried on. Some spray did go right through the fabric and landed on my chest, which was unpleasant, but that water swiftly evaporated with my body heat, right back through the fabric. So I had no excuse but to carry on washing those damn dishes.

This is the kind of thing woollen garments excel in. You can wear your Aran sweater out fishing on a drizzly day, and stay perfectly warm and dry on the inside. Your Melton-weave wool overcoat will see you through moderate to heavy rain, and only require a shake-out on the doorstep when you get home. However, if you fall off the boat into the sea, or are unfortunate enough to walk home in torrential rain, neither is going to help you much (of course, no other fibre will help either – you’re soaked: get changed).

From: Wool fibre structure and properties

The above shows the structure of a single wool ‘hair’. Off the left-most end is the root of the fibre, where it grows out of the skin. For our purposes, the important bits are the Cuticle, and the Cortex.

Cuticle: The outer surface of the fibre is made up of overlapping cuticle cells, or scales. These have a chemically-bonded waxy coating, which repels water. This allows tap-spray and light rainfall to simply run off the fabric.

Cortex: The cortex is made up of two types of cell with different chemical compositions. One type attracts moisture more than the other, and therefore expands more than the other. This difference in expansion causes the fibre to ‘crimp’ (curl). It is the crimp in wool that allows it to trap air pockets, providing insulation. So, a slightly-damp woolly jumper becomes ‘crimpier’ and warmer.

I’ll mention a third region for completeness: the Matrix. This is mostly hydrophilic sulphur-based proteins, which allow wool to absorb up to 30% of its weight in water. If you get thoroughly soaked, this layer fills up, your woolly garment weighs a ton, and it takes forever to dry out. In an emergency, you can try wringing it out and relying on the cortical crimp to – at least – keep you warm, but the waterproof outer cuticle has been subverted. You need to get somewhere warm, with hot food and dry clothes, stat.

Quora linky.

Why were some early swimsuits made of wool?

Why not?

Back in the day, undercrackers, especially those worn in winter, were made of fine wool.

A 1920s newspaper advertisement for men's commercial woollen underwear, featuring 3 men in full-body button-fronted Union suits in fine 100% wool or part wool, one smoking a pipe, one holding a newspaper and reading glasses, and all 3 looking remarkably happy to be standing around together in their underwear as if that was a completely normal thing to do in the 1920s.
Commercial woollen underwear, 1920s, an age where manly men were in the habit of getting together in their underwear to smoke and discuss the latest news.

Commercial woollen underwear, 1920s.

Wool was a huge, huge industry in most Western countries. We cannot imagine, today, with cheap off-the-peg clothing imports, what the wool industry was like before the 1970s. Think Amazon, think eBay, think Microsoft: that sort of big. Just getting dressed was a major part of life, before you could pop into Primark and come out with a complete wardrobe, including smalls, for £10–20. In my grandparents’ day, it meant going to a tailor for your decent outdoor and winter clothing, purchasing rolls of cotton or linen to sew your summer clothing, and knitting, knitting, knitting in every spare moment to provide yourself and your family with socks, underwear, gloves and other ‘comforts’. For many families, it meant carding and spinning the wool, before knitting. Much of Great Britain’s former wealth, and its Industrial Revolution, was driven by wool.

And so, of course, when sea-bathing became the In thing to do in the Victorian era, the outfits were naturally made of wool – though usually woven flannel fabric, rather than knitted.

2 photos of the same woman in a sailor suit styled swimsuit (try saying that after a couple of gins) comprising a short-sleeved dress and knee-length bloomers.
The first shows her entering the sea, the second shows her leaving the water and entering a beach cabin. The peplum of the dress portion appears to have lengthened slightly in the second photo.

This fabric did not sag and expand (much) when wet, and if it did, so what? It just meant it covered up more of the body, which was the point of these cumbersome outfits.

It was only when fashions changed to more skimpy swimsuits that it became apparent that wool, particularly when knitted, wasn’t ideal: the sagging then revealed more than hid.

But there’s no reason to avoid crafting your own swimwear: crocheted cotton is a sturdy fall-back –

A woman wearing an orange bikini in crocheted lace. I'm probably just a touch too old for this style. A mere smidge. Which pretty much describes what it covers.
Crocheted cotton bikini

and even wool is okay, if you work with its qualities rather than against:

Quora linky.

Was the sheep’s wool used in the original Michael Collins Rug sourced locally in Mayo and why does Foxford Woollen Mills currently mainly use Australian wool?

Foxford Woollen Mills is a weaving mill, producing fabrics, including the fabric for the Garda Síochána uniform. It does not, to my knowledge, prepare and spin woollen yarn.

The company does not provide much information about the original travel rug (car blanket) presented to Gen. Michael Collins, beyond the fact that they used a 4-ply yarn. This is not particularly helpful, as 4-ply yarn today is a very thin yarn that produces a lightweight fabric unsuited to a travel rug. Presumably, the yarn they used was made up of 4 thick strands, plied together to create a rug yarn, closer to an Aran- or Bulky-weight knitting yarn.

While they do not reveal the source for their weaving yarn for Gen. Collins’ rug, given the period, it is likely that it was sourced from a spinning mill in Ireland, possibly but not necessarily in Co Mayo; and that that spinning mill purchased fleece from Irish sources, possibly but not necessarily locally.


Historically, sheep breeds in Ireland were mixed-use – farmed for wool and meat*. With the exception of a couple of breeds, the wool produced was often of relatively poor quality, too rough for anything but outerwear** or carpeting. There was nonetheless a thriving woollen spinning and weaving industry across Ireland, with mills in many towns, particularly market towns where animal marts took place. In Donegal, there was hardly a settlement of any size without a mill. Virtually everybody had a Donegal tweed suit, purchased as a wedding outfit, worn as Sunday best for decades – often picked apart and re-fashioned according to trends – until they were finally buried in it.

My grandparents in their tweed wedding suits, 1924.

This industry was decimated by the mid-20th century. Petroleum-based yarns destroyed the wool-spinning industry, cheap imports from the far east destroyed the knitwear and weaving industry, trends in agriculture towards specialised farming and a lack of political support for the industry meant that, from the 1960s on, these small local mills disappeared. Today, only 3 of these historic spinning mills survive: Donegal Yarns in Kilcar, Co Donegal; Kerry Woollen Mills in Killarney; and Cushendale Woollen Mills in Graignamanagh, Co Kilkenny. The latter two survived by amalgamating weaving and woollen products into their operation, Donegal Yarns through relationships with weaving mills and with international yarn brands such as Debbie Bliss and Lang Yarns.

Generally, weaving mills did better than spinning mills, partly due to the worldwide cachet of Irish tweed and carpeting, and there are still quite a few like Foxford around. But most sheep in Ireland are meat sheep, there’s no marketing support for shorn wool, so there’s virtually no Irish fleece for the spinning mills, and therefore virtually no Irish-grown yarn for the Irish weaving mills. Almost all the wool dyed and spun in Donegal Yarns comes from Australia, via a cleaning operation in Bradford, England.

And that is why Foxford Mills uses Australian wool: because it exists, and Irish wool (almost***) doesn’t.


*: I’m not aware of milk breeds being of much importance until recently.

**: Aran sweaters, while a 20th-century innovation, were outerwear, worn over a good flannel shirt.

***: There are some small-scale efforts to use Irish fleece – Donegal Yarns is working on a range using Wicklow Cheviot fleece, Cushendale Mills processes Irish Zwartble fleece, and Kerry Woollen Mills adds lowland Galway fleece to imported fleece. There’s also a new mini-mill in Cavan, Olann, which will spin small quantities of fleece (the others only accept commercial quantities in tons) which will likely appeal to hobby and rare-breed farmers with only kilos to process; but this won’t supply a large concern like Foxford Mills.

Quora linky.

Why would a vegan be opposed to wearing wool when sheep need to be sheared?

Because vegans lack common sense, and have no understanding of the natural world.

Their existence is only possible in a post-scarcity Western society, where there are lots of vegan alternatives which are only available by raping and bankrupting developing nations for their avocado toast, cutting down rainforest to grow their monoculture soybeans, and destroying and polluting the environment for their cotton clothing and ocean-destroying plastic ‘leather’.

They need to spend a year or two living on locally-sourced turnips and wearing nettles to knock some damned sense into them.

Quora linky.