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

Where can I buy good quality wool that will allow me to knit high quality wool socks that don’t burn holes in them in the first year of use?

It’s not the wool.

Virtually any wool or non-sheep fibre can be used for making socks. Some people like a blend of wool with nylon/polyester/acrylic or cotton for strength and wear. Others like a sturdier fibre like mohair, or breed-specific wool such as Herdwick:

Herdwick ewe with lamb at foot.

Still more prefer worsted-spun over woollen-spun, or an unbalanced ply over balanced. Then there are the arguments over yarn weight, between the die-hard fingering-weight knitters, the never-anything-but sportweighters, and the worsted warriors.

And superwash wool is a must if you’re planning to machine-wash your socks – or even if they need vigorous handwashing.

But beyond such matters, there’s a deeper issue; a philosophy, as it were, of socks.

  • Socks go on your feet. Feet are the hardest-working, most active physical part of your body. Feet are also the roughest, most abrasive part of your body. Look at your feet. Look at your toenails. Are they hard, horny, ragged, split? The condition of your feet and toenails can affect your socks, like putting them on an orbital sander or an angle-grinder. Fix your feet, and you’ll fix most of the problems with your socks.
  • Even with perfect baby-soft feet, your socks still undergo a lot of wear and tear from shoes and simply being on your feet. You can’t do much about the latter, but you can make sure your shoes aren’t causing the problem. Assuming the shoes aren’t the problem, you need to accept that socks, however tough and hard-wearing, whether handmade or shop-bought, are going to require darning at some point. This is the truth of being the most hard-working item of clothing you own. You need to become a darning diva. It’s not difficult and can be as soothing to the soul as knitting the socks in the first instance.
  • Or you can rise beyond the sock to realise a more perfect solution, a sublimation of the sole if you will. The sock is not the problem – the sole is. So knit your perfect sock – and then, knit your perfect sole, and sew them together. You can even use completely different yarns, a delicate fingering for the cuff and foot arch, and a sturdy pure wool Aran or Bulky for the sole. And when that wears through, simply snip off the sole and replace it.

I’m a worsted warrior, and I like Novita 7 Veljestä wool right now. I will happily use pure wool Aran mill-ends, too, especially for kilt hose – you can get these directly from your nearest spinning mill, or they might have a local shop outlet. They’re on cones, from 500g upwards. I also have a 4kg cone of Herdwick, which I’ll probably be buried with, even though I have made multiple items from it. It just never seems to get any smaller.

Quora linky.

Are Irish wool sweaters itchy?

It’s very unlikely that you would ever find out.

The majority of sheep in Ireland are meat breeds. Their wool is poor quality, and usually goes into landfill.

Therefore, there is no Irish yarn to make into egg cozies, much less sweaters.

Most of the (very, very tiny amount of) yarn produced in Ireland is made from Australian merino. That’s not scratchy* in the slightest.

There is some (an incredibly tiny, miniscule amount) wool currently spun from Irish sheep, principally Zwartblés but including some other breeds including the rare-breed native Galway Longwool. However, this is usually only spun in fingering weight, for making socks. You can make a sweater out of sock wool, but it will take years and will only be suitable for hot summers.

Quora linky.

What is a “Donegal” sweater?

As a Donegalwoman, there is no such thing as a Donegal sweater.

There is, however, such a thing as Donegal tweed. Donegal tweed is woven from wool, of course. But what is interesting about this wool happens during the spinning process. The fleece is dyed after scouring (cleaning and washing), then woollen-spun with minimal or no carding to remove short fibres. During the spinning process, these short fibres fall on the mill floor. After a few days or a week, the floor is swept, and the resulting semi-felted little bobbles (‘neps’) are added to the next batch of spinning. The yarn looks like this:

The neps stick to the yarn giving little pops of colour. A sweater knitted in this yarn could be called a Donegal sweater:

Carol Feller, wearing her Killybegs cardigan, in Studio Donegal Aran Tweed in shade Green (4824). The cardigan is has a round collar and opens from throat down, and features a delicate honeycomb cable pattern at the cuffs, waist, and yoke.
Killybegs pattern by Carol Feller, in Studio Donegal Aran Tweed

Quora linky.

What would you think if you saw a man knitting in public?

Absolutely nothing, because I’m not stupid enough to think men can’t, or shouldn’t, knit.

Men have always knitted. It’s likely that knitting was invented by shepherds – men herding sheep. In the medieval era, men completed a 7-year apprenticeship to become professional knitters in men-only guilds. The Moorish knitter who created the silk pillows in the grave of Spanish prince Ferdinand de la Cerda was probably a man:

Back and front of silk pillow from the grave of Spanish prince Ferdinand de la Cerda

The first knitting machine, in 1589, was invented by William Lee, a man. Sailors and soldiers have knitted, at sea and in the trenches. Most haute couture knitwear designers, even in recent history, have been male:

Kaffe Fassett:

Wedding dress by Jean-Paul Gaulthier
Wedding dress by Jean-Paul Gaulthier

My uncle became a globe-trotting mining engineer not because of his education, but because he could cook, sew and knit, and therefore could be sent to uninhabited regions of the world without female support. My father, a lorry driver and former amateur heavyweight wrestler, won prizes for his lace knitting:

My father and I at my PhD graduation.
My father and I at my PhD graduation.

My younger brother learned to knit before I did, and can still knock out a decent pair of socks.

So, if I saw a man knitting in public, I might ask what he was making or which pattern he was using, ask what his Ravelry name was, and give him mine.

What is the best way to seam together the shoulders on a knitted sweater?

It very much depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Fundamental to this is the fact that the entire garment depends on, hangs off, the shoulders. So, what is the garment like? What is the construction? How wide are the shoulder seams, and what are the dimensions and weight of the body of the sweater which hangs off those seams?

You can rule out some constructions, depending on the sleeve treatment. Yoke sweaters don’t have shoulder seams:

A woman wearing a yoked sweater of the icelandic lopapeysa type, but with swedish motifs.

They’re just knit in the round, reducing as you approach the neck.

Raglan sleeves usually don’t have a shoulder seam, because the ‘shoulder’ is built into the sleeve:

A man wearing a wide-necked, textured sweater with raglan sleeves

Ditto for saddle shoulders, which are often seen on Aran/fisherman/ cabled sweaters, such as Katherine Dames’ An Aran for Anne:

A woman wearing a non-traditional ballet-necked Aran sweater with sinuous floral cables, featuring a saddle sleeve treatment.

A saddle-shoulder sweater does need seaming as such, but the strap from the sleeve is sewn to the top of the body.

Then there’s the drop shoulder. You’ll usually find this on knitted garments that are fairly ‘unstructured’ – not fitted or tailored as a suit would be. They’re loose, over-sized, relaxed – they have ‘positive ease’, in the jargon. This generally means a lot of wool/weight is hanging off the shoulder seam, but the shoulder seam itself is substantial:

A woman in a v-necked ribbed sloppy joe sweater with drop sleeves falling  roughly to the elbow,

This is a style you’ll probably be seeing all over the shops this winter – a very sloppy Sloppy Joe style, possibly called ‘Hygge’ in the more fashion-conscious boutiques. Note that the shoulder is so wide that the sleeve only begins at the elbow.

Of course the fitted sweater is a thing, and very popular too. Here’s Ruth Garcia-Alcantud’s After Five Sweater:

A woman in a vintage-style fitted  sweater featuring tailored set-in sleeves.

This has a ‘set-in’ sleeve, a very tailored feature that you’ll see on suit jackets, and a relatively short shoulder seam.

There are a few variations on these four shoulder/sleeve treatments – for example, a raglan may be modified to stop before the collar, and the remainder must be seamed (perhaps to add a Henley or placket collar) but these patterns will usually contain instructions for seaming.


So: the methods I would recommend for the two shoulder-seamed sweaters (drop and set-in) are as follows.

Drop shoulder: because these are fairly heavy, with a lot of wool in the body, I recommend the sturdy, inflexible mattress stitch. This won’t stretch as grafting does.

You might also find it useful to sew on twill or bias tape to give the seam extra strength.

Mattress stitch is also the best seam for saddle shoulders, especially if it’s a heavyweight Aran. Here’s another video demonstrating the technique for this:

Set-In shoulder: These are usually found on fitted sweaters, which means less weight on the shoulder seam. For these, you can graft the seam. There’s several methods:

The standard way, with a tapestry needle –

or the knitted, no-sew way –

And, new to me, a variation on the tapestry needle method which is so, so much simpler than either of the above –

I’m gonna have to design something just so I can use this…

There’s a third technique which doesn’t get as much press because it’s often bulky, doesn’t sit well, and can irritate tender skins. But it does have its uses, especially when the seam needs to be very, very sturdy indeed. I would tend to use it only for outerwear garments, though it’s also a good choice for sleeveless sweaters, especially with thin shoulder seams like Melinda VerMeer’s Laurelhurst:

A woman in a sleeveless knitted top.

It’s the 3-needle bind-off:

Of course, you don’t need to listen to me. Maybe you want your Hygge sweater shoulders down at your wrists, or you can’t be bothered with all that in and out and back and front of Kitchener stitch. Maybe, like Melinda VerMeer, you want a clunky seam as a design feature. But these are the broad principles:

  • Heavy sweater -> mattress stitch
  • Light or fitted sweater -> Kitchener stitch/grafting
  • Must not stretch EVAR -> 3-needle bind-off.

Quora linky.

How many sheep does it take to produce a wool sweater for an adult human being?

None. Sheep are not used in the making of sweaters.

The fleece of sheep is used to make sweaters, following scouring, carding, spinning and dyeing.

As a rough rule of thumb, it takes about 600g of worsted weight yarn to make an adult sweater. As the process of making yarn is lossy – up to 50% loss by weight – this means roughly 1.2 kg of fleece is used to make a sweater. Different varieties of sheep produce different quantities of fleece, usually between 1 and 4 kg, so a worsted-weight sweater uses the fleece of between 0.3 and 1.2 sheep.

Quora linky.

Can I make a living from selling wool and from knitting?

From knitting? Almost certainly not.

I was a maths teacher, and collected some data for a Functional Maths project I ran with low-ability students. One heavily-cabled Aran sweater I made took me 60 hours (I’m a fast knitter. It was complicated) of knitting time, and about 10 hours of swatching, planning and finishing.

  • At the current minimum wage in the UK (£8.21 an hour), I would need to sell that sweater for £574.70 to compensate me for my working time, plus the cost of the yarn (just over £50, so pretty cheap).
  • However, I am NOT a ‘minimum-wage knitter’, I am an expert AND an artist/artisan. In my professional career, I routinely charged £25–50 per hour for private work. Applying that to my knitting, that raises the minimum sale price of the sweater to £1,750-3,500, plus yarn costs.
  • I knit that particular sweater for my husband: people regularly complimented him on it, and, on learning his wife had knitted it, asked if I’d knit one for them – – – – for £20. INCLUDING the yarn…

From selling wool? If you mean running a yarn shop, people do, and can be quite successful. However,

  • my local non-artisanal yarn shop also sells cheap crappy acrylic yarn, fabric, supplies for sewing, embroidery, quilting, paper crafts, art (painting, sculpture, etc), and just about anything else you can imagine. The owner makes a modest living.
  • a posher yarn shop stocks only locally-sourced wool and mohair. The owner is independently wealthy, only opens part-time, and uses her profits to promote local charities. She does do a mean hot chocolate and gluten-free cookies, so I spend far too much time there.
  • A friend and neighbour who’s a yarn-dyer does make a living by selling online and through trade fairs all over Europe, and teaching, and giving talks, and Patreon, and ‘moonlighting’ as an accountant.

From producing wool? Eh. The suppliers of the posh yarn shop that I’ve met produce yarn as a way of offsetting the cost of keeping their animals. One also keeps milk goats and sells the milk, another keeps Jacob sheep for meat, skins and wool. They also teach, dye, design, etc.,etc. They’re not getting rich, and might not be making very much money at all once the accounts are balanced. I once had a go at buying fleece and getting it spun for sale: I did make a profit, but I had to sell the undyed yarn for nearly £20 a 100g hank – and the profit wasn’t enough for me to buy more fleece to spin the following year 😦

Almost everyone I know of who is making a living off fibre crafts is not just a dyer, or a designer, or a spinner, or… They’re a sample knitter and a dyer and a designer and a spinner and a teacher and a vlogger/blogger/podcaster and a magazine contributor and a book author and a photographer and and and. I knit, design, and teach, and it just about covers the cost of my yarn.

Quora linky.

Is knitting clothes yourself more environmentally friendly?

No, unless you are shearing your own organically-raised free-range sheep with manual clippers, prepping and spinning your own wool, and are happy to only have clothes in the natural colours that come off your sheep. Or, if you’re bartering your organically-grown vegetables (or whatever) with a neighbour within walking distance who does.

If you want to use plant fibres, even those grown, prepped and spun by you or your neighbour, then you’re pretty much straight-up damaging the environment from the get-go. Cotton is hellaciously bad for the environment, linen may be somewhat less damaging – though your neighbours will be less willing to barter with you after you’ve filled the air with the stench of rotting flax plants.

I hope I don’t have to explain why synthetic fibres are bad for the environment.

I don’t, do I?

You can minimise the environmental impact by buying your yarn from local producers, and looking particularly for yarns that have been dyed with natural, or at least minimally damaging dyes: for example, vinegar can be used to fix dye in animal fibres, though the colours are likely to fade over time. You can also mitigate the damage by reusing yarn from old garments.

However, by making your own clothes, whether knit, crocheted, or woven and sewn, you are helping the environment. For example, you will probably make better-quality clothes, which will last much longer than Primark’s finest. If you do somehow manage to wear out a home-sewn tweed jacket, much of the material can be repurposed for quilts, children’s clothes, and as patches for other clothes – avoiding landfill, and saving you money in the long run. In addition, fabrics like wool don’t require regular washing, so you’re cutting down on the water, electricity and detergent you use: if it gets muddy, just let it dry and then brush it off; if it gets sweaty, hang it in a draught for an hour or so; if it gets soaked, lay it flat near a heat source. A couple of sheep will keep your lawn down with less impact on the environment than a lawnmower.

And so forth. It’s about finding a balance.

Quora linky.

Are knitted yarn sweaters better to keep you warm than wool or polyester sweaters? Why?

What kind of “knitted yarn” are you talking about? Both wool and polyester are yarns that can be knitted to make sweaters. Polyester is a lousy yarn for knitting: the fabric knitted from it is not warm in cold weather, and in warmer weather, it quickly becomes sweaty and damp. Like its synthetic counterparts, it is dirt cheap, which is why virtually every cheap sweater you see in the shops is made of some kind of man-made fibre.

Lots of things can be made into knitting yarns. Plastic shopping bags, for example. PaperStainless steelSilverTorn-up clothingMilkEyeballs. Some make warm sweaters, some don’t, some aren’t meant to.

I’d suggest you join Ravelry, and spend 6 months or so in the Yarns section, studying all the different fibres, constructions, weights, blends, and drafting methods and how these influence each yarn’s qualities, dyeability, fulling/growth, draping, etc., etc. Spend some time learning from others on the Yarn and Fibre Forum, even ask a few questions. Discover and follow Rav yarnies like Clara Parkes. Take in a handspinning class. KNIT SOMETHING.

Quora linky.