I have tried a variety of commercial yarns recently and was lucky enough to get some yarns donated so was not totally guided by budget. Rather than put up reviews of yarns, and moan about their negative qualities, I am going to list some of my favourite factory yarns and why I like to work with them.
I think in the world of blogging factory yarns get a raw deal and people prefer to go on about the unique qualities of hand spun. However, as a designer, quite often yarns have to be available Worldwide, they have to be machine washable with a guarantee of no dye run and you need to know you can rely on them to deliver. Making things for a publisher with a short deadline is not a time to be experimenting, although that can be done in my free time.
The qualities of factory yarns are consistent and I have had few problems of shrinkage, dye run have found that suppliers generally don't let me down. Also, although I would love to promote British Wool producers and spinners, many of them are not open to donation for publishing jobs and these days publishers will not write a budget in for yarns.
100% Extra Fine Merino Wool 87 ½ yds (80m)/ 1 ¾ oz (50g)
18sts/24 rows to 10cm on 5mm needles
This is a superfine Superwash merino. I can’t tell you the technical term for the way it is spun, but I can say that it looks like it is made up of spirals around a central strand and seems to have air in the middle of the strand. There are quite a few yarns out there at the moment that seem to have been spun in this way and it makes it light and spongy and you can get some beautiful stitch definition. There is a sheen to the knitted fabric and it looks clean and non fuzzy. Beware though, as this really would show up any uneven stitches. However, the spongy texture of the yarn allows for a stitch to expand and fill the space so stitches look neat and tight at any gauge, whether knitted on 4.5 mm (US7) or 5 mm (US8). The colour range started out being a little on the strong or bright side so ideal for kids. However it has expanded and now has more subtle and dark shades, although when I checked recently I was struck by the fact there was no grey. They yarn is also available as Debbie Bliss Rialto DK and has fewer shades in this gauge of yarn
Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran
75% Extra Fine Merino Wool, 20% silk, 5% cashmere 86m / 50g ball
18sts/24 rows to 10cm on 5mm needles
This yarn is a good substitute for Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran. It has fewer shades and no brights as such although it has a strong red. Because this yarn contains silk, it can look a little crumpled whilst working with it compared with a pure merino, and looks a little worrying, but when it has been laundered or very lightly pressed the stitches do even out. I am told it is a joy to wear, and it does not seem to cause any irritation in my niece and nephew who suffer from eczema. This is also available in DK with more shades, and Baby DK which is a mainly pastels range with 3 different shades of pink and 2 shades of off white. My main drawback with this yarn, is that it creases easily as I said before but it also tangles easily, however well the ball is wound it seems to collapse! A tip from Amy Singer though, is to not wind balls that are very silky into centre pull balls as the middles empty and cause the outside to collapse. I am going to knit my niece a ballet wrap top from the DK version of this. There is also a Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool DK. As someone who writes patterns, I do find their names unmemorable and difficult to get in the right order!
55% Merino Wool, 33% Microfibre, 12%
I fell in love with this as a basic hat yarn, and loved the shades available. Then I knitted some gloves in Super Chunky Cashmerino, and it pilled so badly I thought that any version of this yarn was going to do the same. Since then, the Super Chunky version has been discontinued but there is a Chunky in its place, and to be fair, I never got any pilling problems with the Aran version.
I knitted this hat with the Cashmerino Aran and am working on some secret projects using the same. It is cuddly and soft but also very hardwearing. You don’t get a huge amount of stitch definition compared with a pure merino, but you do get softness to make up for that. It can be a bit floppy, so not suitable for really sculptural stuff but it does drape beautifully. I have found though, that when I knit with this it makes my stitches much smaller than with other Aran yarns. That is not something I normally experience as my gauge is normally completely rigid unless I change needle size (albeit slightly looser than other knitters, but is the same as Woolly Wormhead's!)
100% Pure new British Wool 188yd/172m per 3.5oz/100g hank
The Mill produces knitting yarn in a variety of shades in Aran/Worsted, DK and 4Ply.
It is a blend of 100% pure new British Wool. They blend several colours together to get the heathered shades. I love the worsted yarn they have as a good hardwearing everyday yarn although I found it a bit scratchy for garments. I think the softness of this yarn depends very much on the dyeing process so some shades are softer to the touch than others. I used to make my Silvanus bag and the yarn fulls beautifully, but also a few hats for Alice who is 4.
Sirdar Click (chunky)
30% Wool, 70% Microfibre 75m per 50g
I used to use a lot of Sirdar yarns mainly for knitting for kids. I just could not bear to spend a lot of money on natural fibres for certain Mums who had not a clue about the value and thought it was worth sticking in the washing machine anyway! Also, I didn't think my knitting was good enough or the designs finished enough to knit in a more luxurious yarn but this has been a false economy as a lot o those designs are now on a list to be reknitted in natural yarns.
The yarns that Sirdar made for kids was mostly 100% synthetic but also machine washable. However, they have brought out several new ranges over the past year that use a higher percentage of natural materials. I should imagine knitters have put the pressure on.
However, Sirdar have now brought out some new natural yarns Luxury Soft Cotton DK and Luxury Soft Cotton 4 ply as well as Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo with wool and Peru Naturals wool with alpaca and acrylic. I have samples of these, but have yet to knit up into garments so will let you know when I've tried them.