Monday, May 9, 2005

Question from Reader: Yarn Differences

Oh great fiber connoisseur,
I have a question for you.

Two yarns, same manufacturer (Caron). Both are worsted weight, 4-ply, acrylic. One is "Simply Soft" and the other is their standard yarn sold as "One Pound".

Why are the yarns so very different? The SS feels more like something you would use for a baby garment/blanket - nice and soft. The other is something you would use for general purposes - sweaters, crafts, afghans, slippers, etc.

I was talking to someone about yarn tonight and grabbed my skeins and looked at the labels. I fully expected the SS one to be 3 ply or listed as a sport weight. NOPE! 4 ply and worsted. I know the actual skein weights are different - 6 oz. of SS compared to 1 lb. of the other, but I think this is probably just the way they are packaged? The yarns definitely have different feels to them.


This morning, I nearly spewed out my first sip of coffee out when I read this.  (I've never been called a "Guru" before! LOL) I'm am very flattered, Sheila!  (hopefully my head won't swell up too much)...

The first thought that came to mind in answering your question, well, it wasn't so much a thought as it was more like a song:  "Love The One You're With"

          If you're down and confused
          And you don't remember who
          You're talking to
          Concentration slips away
          Cos your fav. yarn is so far away

          And there's a rose in a fisted glove
          And the eagle flies with the dove
          Andif you can't be with the one
          You love honey
          Love the one you're with

          Don't be angry don't be sad
          Don't sit crying over good
          Times you had
          There's a yarn, right next to you
          And it's just waiting for something 
          To do


          Turn your heartache right into joy
          You can crochet it up into a toy
          So get it together make it nice
          And you won't need any more advice


Sorry about that Sheila, I hope the song doesn't get stuck in you head as it did in mine. In all due seriousness, I visited the Caron website and pulled up the specs for each yarn side by side. Both are 100% acrylic, both have the same gauge when worked up with identical hooks/needles. But there is a difference! For this we take out our handy calculators and divide the weight into the yardage. Hmmm, seems you get about four extra yards from the Simply Soft than you do from Pounder. This means it's time to look at the fibers up close and personal. Unfortunately, I don't have either of those two brands "on hand" at the moment, so I'm going to base my opinion(s) on my past experience with them.

I agree with you; Simply Soft is softer than the Pounder.  I think the difference starts at the processing plant. Specifically, I'm thinking, the dying process. The Simply Soft comes in specific dye lots. The Pounder does not (although they do differ so be sure to keep checking the dye lot numbers!)  How they achieve this could be why they call the Pounder a "work horse" yarn.

The next thought I have is how the end fiber that we call yarn is created. There are various processes depending upon if the material is natural or man-made.   We're talking about acrylic here, which is man-made.  The process of making the man-made fiber could differ at the factory.

The next thing, once that is determined, is to look at the spin, or the twist, of the yarn. Some yarns, like Lion Brands' "Microspun" have very little twist to it (and thus has a reputation for splitting). Others are spun so tight that they're no longer considered yarn; we call it thread. Interesting, huh? (Want to see diagrams & stuff? Then go here.)

Next up is the ply of the yarn ... the number of fibers that are/or are not twisted that are then twisted together. How tight these are twisted will also effect the end result.

The final thing to look at here is your swatching. Take one skein of yarn and crochet with it coming from the center of the skein. Then crochet up another swatch coming from the outside of the skein. Do you notice a difference? Can you determine why there's a slight difference?

          ...I'll give you all a day to play; I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Don't understand any of this? Want to know more about ply and "those other thingies?" Then you want to click here.  Got more questions about gauge, ply & such? Then go here.

I have never tried my hand at spinning yarn, but I do find the process interesting. This is one of the reasons I enjoy going to the various state Sheep & Wool Festivals & Fairs. If you'd like to read up about the process, then you'll want to click here.

I hope this helps, Sheila. My rule of thumb when I'm purchasing a fiber is that 90% of the time it has to feel good slipping through my fingers. I used an acrylic yarn so coarse once that I swear I got "splinters & blisters" from it. Never again. Unless, of course, that's all that I have, and in that case, "I'll love the one I'm with."  :)


Anonymous said...

Without making a swatch, my guess is that the centers of the skeins are wound more tightly than the outside, which is why the strand of yarn used from the center of the skeins look all scrunched and outer strands of yarn are smoother....they aren't at the "core" of the skein.  But I'll give it a shot with the swatch.  This came up in a discussion last night and I just kind of wondered why, if the fiber content, plys and weights were the same, the yarns would have such a different feel to them.  I'll report back!  Sheila

Anonymous said...

Correction:  Simply Soft - at least the skeins I have in navy blue and white - both are "no dye lot" yarns, as is the "one pounder" in black that I have.  I haven't made any swatches yet, but putting the "one pounder" white up against the Simply Soft white that I have, it looks like the SS is wound tighter than the other (comparing two strands).  I tried to get a pic of it though but in the view finder, they look the same size.  This is all very strange!!!!  Sheila