What’s in a yarn?

Recently I have been concentrating again on researching yarn ethics… it’s a long time since my original post. There is so much information out there and it can be really hard to wade through it all to find out what you want to know.

Having sifted through a whole load of web sites* and tracked down a very useful book**, I have managed to distill some of what I have learned into a diagram to help you and me understand what different yarns actually are:

Yarn types

Plus, here is a little table listing some information about the various yarns you might come across:

Yarn Natural/MMF Source Polymer Fibre
Wool Natural Animal Protein Spun yarn
Alpaca Natural Animal Protein Spun yarn
Silk Natural Animal Protein Spun yarn
Acrylic Manmade Petrochemical Synthetic Polyacrylic
Hemp Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn
Flax Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn, linen
Bamboo Manmade Plant Cellulose Rayon, Acetate, Viscose
Bamboo Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn
Soya Manmade Plant Protein Rayon
Milk Manmade Plant Protein Rayon
Cotton Natural Plant Cellulose Spun yarn
Cotton Manmade Plant Cellulose Rayon
Wood Manmade Plant Cellulose Viscose
Nettle Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn

I hope this will be useful when you are choosing a yarn or a fabric.


* Amongst my favourites are: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/ and http://www.ecouterre.com/

** Eberle, H., Hornberger, M., Kupke, R., Moll, A., Hermeling, H., Kilgus, R., Menzer, D, and Ring, W. (2008) Clothing Technology… from fibre to fashion. Verlag Europa-Lehrmittel. ISBN 978-3-8085-6225-3.

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  1. Linda Winn

     /  May 5, 2013

    The last time I looked into the textiles industry I was shocked to find that it is judged to be THE most polluting and environmentally damaging process we have invented to date, at every step along the way from growing the crop or manufacturing the fibre right through to the chemicals that leach into landfill when we discard items. YAY for everyone who recycles, upcycles and pre-cycles!


  2. I know what your blog is about usually and despite not knitting, sewing or rag- rugging I often pop in for a look. Tonight I was blind though and saw the title and came here totally expecting to read about a story, a tall tale. I swear it’s time to tell my daughter to start looking for a home for me.
    Hugs xxxx


  3. Very helpful diagram, thank you!
    Linda’s comment above is spot on – recycles, upcycles and pre-cycles

    Additionally to the source, it’s to note that some fibre productions can be less green than others: i.e. cotton – I read that although it’s a natural fibre, its production and handling, from plant to fibre, requires a huge amount of water, which in these days, it’s something not really viable for our future. (Edit: I just noticed that you mention these problems in your other post: https://thesnailofhappiness.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/eco-knittin/)


  1. Making the world a better place | The Snail of Happiness
  2. What the SLS? | The Snail of Happiness

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