The Natural Progression of Fibre Obsession
For those just beginning their journey into the fibre arts, it can be difficult to know where to begin, so I wanted to take some time to outline some of the more influential yarn companies in the industry, and what to expect from each of them. Every company has a mission, and niche that they are attempting to dominate. The individuality between them can be astounding, so here I discuss where each of these companies shine in their own right.
As in many industries, there exist the giant corporations that dominate the market, flooding consumers with massive quantities of a product that was manufactured and sold on a budget. In the world of yarn, this would be most closely associated with Bernat, Red Heart, or Lion Brand. These yarns are where most of us entered the world of knitting, crochet, and other fibre arts. They let you get a feel for working with yarn, and decide whether this is a hobby you might like to pursue for a little while. In this stage, you may even get a few really great projects off the needles! I know I started with dishcloths, and Bernat’s cotton was a perfect groundwork to start with. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Lion Brand’s Wool-Ease Thick & Quick yarn.
Eventually, you discover that there are dedicated yarn shops that sell specialty brands. Yay, you don’t have to get stuck in the retail trap that is Michael’s forever! It doesn’t take long to realise though, that these LYS’s (local yarn stores) are even more perilous for your wallet. For with specialty yarns comes a specialty price tag. Dubious at first, you buy a single skein. For me, it was Berocco Vintage DK, in an olive green colour. This skein turned into my first pair of socks, for which I used 2.5 mm needles – lovely though the socks are, they were a huge pain to knit at that gauge. Lesson learned! However, I also learned another lesson with that project: specialty yarn is nice.
At first the difference was intangible, then as I began to work with more and more of these specialty yarns I began to realise the difference between cotton, wool, alpaca, mohair; they all had their distinct tendencies, and they all worked best for particular types of projects. My next favourite was Cascade, with their hardy wool in a variety of colours. I suppose this is where the obsession really began. It was also around this time that I discovered the wonder of Knitpicks. Knowing that the exchange rate (CDN/USD) was working in my favour at the time, I bought as much as I could. I had to try as much as possible, and it was all such an approachable price! Being a student at the time, and having the ability to knit a sweater for $25 was a ginormous bonus. This is where my giant stash of yarn came from. This is also why many of my knits use Knitpicks yarn. I am trying so hard to get through it all – and I do actually have projects picked out for most of it too! Their Wool of the Andes I have used in multiple garments, and it is simply my favourite yarn. Soft enough to wear against skin yet sturdy enough to wear well, an endless array of colours (and weights!) to choose from, and a price-tag that can’t be beat makes me tremendously happy. Knitpicks is also very open about their yarn sources and purpose. This is a company I can get behind.
There are several companies that not only fall into this Specialty Yarn category, but I believe have really influenced the world of knitting in the modern era. Each has a distinct role to play, and they each have proven to be leading yarn producers in recent years. I would recommend to any budding knitter that they spend an extended amount of time playing around with yarns from each of these companies.
1. Cascade: For basic wool, heathered or solid. Their 220 worsted is a great sweater (all-purpose) yarn that won’t make you go bankrupt. They also have huge (400g) skeins of their Eco+ wool available.
2. Madelinetosh: Gorgeous single-ply yarns in tonal colourways that almost seem to luminesce. They also have some striking solid colours available.
3. Manos del Uruguay: This yarn is often very subtle, but striking. My Bowties are Cool socks are my only experience with this yarn, and it has both alpaca and silk content – making it a dream to knit with.
4. Blue Sky: Lot’s of organic cotton-based yarns, these are super soft and feel like they would be very comfortable to wear against the skin. I must admit that I haven’t had the pleasure yet to knit with this one!
5. Malabrigo: These tend to be primarily wool, with lots of single-ply spins, and very saturated colours. These yarns definitely create some eye-catching pieces!
6. Noro: This company has a following! Their yarns are often quite coarse feeling, although the labels say that they soften considerably with washing. They typically have crazy colour changes, so much so that they release a magazine dedicated to patterns developed specifically for their yarns, to best show them off.
7. Drops Design: Wool and alpaca blends make beautiful yarns to knit with, often in traditional colourways. Worth giving a try! And they have a website with a TON of free patterns available, including some traditional Fair Isle colourwork designs.
8. Berroco: I find this company to be similar to Cascade in terms of popularity. Great specialty yarn to start with – traditional heathered colourways, basic wool blends, good price point.
9. Brooklyn Tweed: This company’s yarn has exploded over the past few years! Along with Quince & Co., I would say that Brooklyn Tweed was the original “indie-dyed” yarn. Scrumptious, expensive, but worth it, and only a few yarn bases to choose from. It’s also pretty hard to find (at least here in Canada). I have not yet located any to try out for myself, but someday I will get my hands on a sweater-quantity’s worth!
10. Quince & Co.: Beautiful soft colourways, on only a few yarn bases. One of the original “indie-dyed” yarns, that has certainly blown up in popularity to a full-on company! Again, haven’t located any near me yet, but someday I will have it!
11. Briggs & Little: Perhaps a little lesser known, this is Canada's oldest fibre mill hailing from Atlantic Canada (my homeland!), and they produce very woolly-wools that are sturdy and hard-wearing. Solid and traditional colourways available, this company is more about quality fibre, rather than innovative dyeing. I certainly recommend giving it a try!
12. Harris Tweed: Also very traditional UK wool, in traditional solid and heathered colourways. Would make a great guernsey or Fair Isle garment! (Can you tell I’m in love with hard-wearing wools?!)
While many of these names are likely familiar to you, dear reader, I would like to now segue into the next category of fibre artists. As globalisation has run its course in the past 50 years or so, we are beginning to see a massive shift toward small businesses. Many consumers are gravitating back to the shop-local business model, which has resulted in many a person with some entrepreneurial spirit and a love for all things wool to begin dyeing their own yarn and selling it to these locally-minded consumers. I’m talking, of course, of those indie dyers that this site aims to feature. This is where we can bring these lovely individuals together and build a craft community. With a focus on hand-dyed small batch yarns, there are many many dyers producing gorgeous skeins of yarn. While the quantity and brand recognition may not be at the same level as the latest Knitpicks sock yarn release, the quality is always there. Let’s support small business owners – you know that they will appreciate every single order that you place, and they will pour their heart and soul into the product they make, especially for you.
Happy crafting until next time!