How do I Choose the Best Handspun Yarn?

Katriena Knights

Working with handspun yarn to create a truly original garment or accessory can be a rewarding experience. Choosing handspun yarn, though, can be difficult because of a number of factors. These factors are important when choosing any type of yarn for any project but can be more important and at times more problematic when applied to handspun yarn. Among the things to consider in order to choose the best handspun yarn are the gauge, the material and the color.

The gauge, material, and color are important when choosing the best handspun yarn.
The gauge, material, and color are important when choosing the best handspun yarn.

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing yarn for any project is the yarn gauge, which tells how many stitches per inch there should be in the final fabric. Yarn gauge largely is determined by yarn weight, or the thickness of the yarn and how many individual spun strands are twisted together to make a single strand of yarn, also known as the ply. When yarn is manufactured in bulk, the gauge is standardized during the manufacturing process. Handspun yarn, however, is more likely to vary from a set gauge or weight.

Angora wool may be harvested from Angora rabbits to create a soft, silky yarn.
Angora wool may be harvested from Angora rabbits to create a soft, silky yarn.

Most spinners will list the gauge of their yarn so that a knitter has some idea of how it will knit up. Experienced spinners probably will provide a good estimate of the yarn's gauge. If purchasing handspun yarn online, check comments from other customers who have purchased yarn from the particular supplier to see how happy they have been with the final product. Purchasing handspun yarn at a store will provide the opportunity to look over the full skein to judge for consistency of weight and color, as well as to test the overall texture, giving a better idea of how the yarn might work in the final product.

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Another important consideration in choosing handspun yarn is the material from which it is made. Most handspun yarn is made from natural animal fibers such as wool yarn, alpaca yarn, angora yarn or even dog yarn. Animal fibers are wonderful to work with and provide comfortable textures and attractive drape, but they can bring up allergy concerns. Artificial yarns such as acrylic yarn or rayon yarn are less likely to be found in a handspun version, but several types of handspun silk yarn are available. Silk handspun yarn often is recycled from other garments such as Indian saris, so it should be examined closely for foreign fibers or plant materials that can make their way into the final product.

Color can vary a great deal, as well. Hand-painted yarn and hand-dyed yarn often are handspun as well, and the combination of techniques can lead to large variations in color from skein to skein. If variegations in color are not important to the final project, this is not a problem, but if it is important to maintain a consistent color, this should be taken into account when choosing handspun yarn.

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