I’m flattered that my friends ask my advice about yarn a lot: which is the best one to use for such-and-such a project, which is a suitable but cheaper alternative to Brand X, which weight of yarn would work for this cardigan, which will be hard-wearing enough…? If I wrote an article on factors to consider when choosing yarn, it would turn into a book! And a heavy one at that… Instead, in this blog post I talk about my journey in selecting the yarns that I use for my Rainbow Knits garments and items. It isn’t sponsored by anyone, and opinions expressed are mine alone.
When I first started knitting in rainbows, while pregnant with my 3rd daughter in 2010, it felt like my choice was limited to acrylic if I wanted really bright, vibrant colours. I found that one range of good yarn would have, say, the shade of red I wanted, but didn’t do orange or green. And to look at its best, you really have to have all your colours from one range if you’re going to knit in rainbows! You might get away with yarns that have identical gauges, but even then some will drape differently, feel different and look different (eg hairier, shinier, smoother, ‘grainier’, etc.)
So I started with Stylecraft and Bonus acrylics. And quickly discovered that not all acrylics are equal! The 2 ranges I used have very different textures. Given that I was knitting little garments for babies (and that I’m a raging perfectionist…), I wasn’t satisfied with the feel. It’s absolutely fine over socks, for example, when you might want your cold-footed little infant to have warmer feet, and I regularly use it in knits for my own family that I don’t expect to last forever, but I wouldn’t put acrylic next to baby skin for hours and hours on end. Then I found the Texere Chunky Wool range: pure British wool in the most wonderful colours! However, it needs to be handwashed because it will felt and shrink if washed in a machine. That’s great if making garments for dollies and small animals floats your boat, but I prefer my knitting sizing to be predictable, wear upon wear, and I don’t have time to handwash baby clothes. Although chunky looks fantastic in bigger items (and I do use it for bigger Rainbow Knits items, still, eg my star-striped beanie), it isn’t the ideal thickness of yarn to make tiny things with. And it just didn’t have the baby-soft feel I was after, either.
I spent over a year seatching for my Perfect Baby Yarn: it had to have a wide colour range; it had to be soft enough to be worn next to sensitive baby skin; it had to be machine-washable (if Fussy Me doesn’t have time to hand-wash baby clothes, I can’t expect my customers to). In an ideal world it would also be hard-wearing and a natural fibre. I dithered between the strength and non-pilliness of Blue Faced Leicester versus the softness of Merino. I considered changing my business name from Rainbow Knits to Pastel and Tweedy Knits. I considered offering a handwashing service for every knit that I sold. Then I found it: my Holy Grail! Biggan Design 8 ply. A massive 64 beautiful, vibrant shades. Machine-washable. Merino First Cross. When I bought some to try it out, it was just as soft as merino and perfect against mine and my baby daughter’s sensitive skin.
If you’ve checked out the links, you’ll see that Biggan Design yarn comes from the other side of the planet, in Australia. And it’s very expensive. I have to pass that price on when I make my knits. So why persevere knitting with such an expensive yarn? I think the photo below might explain why it’s my reach-for yarn when I want to use a DK weight of yarn: it’s actually excellent value for money in the long term.
Mr Rainbow Knits is a bit careless with his mobile phone, so I offered to knit him a cheerful phone sock for it (an ‘eSock’). He wanted it done quickly with no fuss, and requested acrylic. He was delighted with the finished item. After around 3 weeks of having it in and out of his trousers back-pocket, and 2 whirls through the washing machine, it looked as it does in the photo (left), definitely showing a bit of wear. By that time, I’d increased my stash of Biggan Design, so knitted him up an identical sock in premium yarn. He swapped socks and gave it the same treatment. After 6 months, you can see that the Biggan Design yarn sock in the photo (right), is barely showing any wear at all. And it’s only needed one wash in all that time.
I read a lot of yarn manufacturer’s claims when I’m trying out different yarns for knits for my family, and I typically take claims of durability and ‘staying clean’ with a pinch of salt. In my own lacking-in-scientific-rigour experiment, I’ve been amazed. And will continue to use Biggan Design yarn in anything that I knit specifically for babies and children. Yes, it really pushes up the price of some yarn-heavy items (eg pram blankets), but when you’re knitting an heirloom, I think you have to make sure that the yarn you’re using is up to the task of lasting that long, too!