Acrylic yarn; we’ve all used it, some of us love it, and some of us hate it. It’s cheap, easy to find, easy to care for, and probably one of the most purchased types of yarn on the market.
In this post, I’m going to delve into acrylic yarn. It’s history, the differences between synthetic and natural fibers, the pros and cons and a few of my favorites. There are so many different acrylic yarns, there is just no possibility I could list all my favorites.
A Little History
There are roughly four types of synthetic fibers; nylon, acrylic, polyester, and spandex. They are called synthetic fibers because they are the result of chemical synthesis. technically speaking synthetic fibers are any fibers with a chemical base of 85-90% vinyl-cyanide or acrylonitrile. The remaining 10-15% is where the different textures and characteristics are created, and justifies all the different brands of yarn.
the first synthetic fibers were successfully created in 1935, by members of a Dupont research team. However, acrylic fibers didn’t reach commercial production until 1950 and were the product of the wartime development of synthetic rubbers. By 1962, there were already over 30 different brands of acrylic yarn.
Modacrylic fibers are nearly identical to acrylic fibers, the difference is in the chemical composition. Modacrylics contain 35-85% of acrylonitrile, compared to acrylics 85-90%.
Synthetic vs Natural Fibers
The major differences between the two different fibers is in the surface texture. Synthetic fibers have a uniformly smooth suface, similar to a rod a glass. Natural fibers on the other hand, with the exception of silk, has scales along its surface.
The scales on natural fibers contribute to it’s natural ability to breathe and absorb several times it weight in moisture while remaining warm and dry to the wearer.
Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, are only able to retain about 2% of its weight in moisture and does not breathe well. This can lead to garments feeling clammy and uncomfortable when worn in hot or humid climates, especially items that need to hold up to a lot of moisture, like socks.
Without the scales on the natural fibers to hold the fibers together under friction causes two major problems. The first problem with all that friction is that it can work longer fibers to the outside of the fabric, creating deeply anchored pills that cannot be removed without damaging the fabric of the item. Problem number two, all the friction leads to static electricity, and static electricity pulls microscopic particles of dust and dirt deep into the fabric causing more frequent washing.
Another difference between acrylic yarns and more traditional yarns is that yarn created from synthetic fibers is not spun together like traditional yarn, it is twisted together like thread.
I am of the opinion that there are more positive aspects to acrylic yarn than negative. So long as you are using in the right projects for the right purpose, it can be a really great choice.
Acrylic yarn is not only cheap to produce it can also be one of the cheapest types of yarn to purchase as well. This leads to most people to assume that it won’t be soft and it’ll feel scratchy and itchy, now this true of some yarn but for the most part if you find a scratchy acrylic yarn it is most likely due to the sizing like you would find in most store bought clothing.
Sizing is added to yarn and other fabrics to help it retain its shape and help it stay clean until purchasing. Just like with clothing, you can normally wash it out. Some people prefer to wash their yarn before starting a project, and others like myself will be the item after finishing the project.
Acrylic is a long wearing or long lasting fiber. It has several qualities that lend to it’s long lasting nature:
- colorfast – not prone to running colors
- greater durability than pure wool
- abrasion resistant
- the longer fibers give the fabric greater strength and durability
- easy to wash and quick drying
- invulnerable to moths and mildew
Best Uses and Warnings:
The best projects for acrylic yarn are garments that are going to need a lot of durability, hold up to frequent washing, but won’t need to absorb moisture.
I think it works wonderfully for cold climate clothing and warmth items like sweaters, hats, gloves/mittens, scarves, blankets, and baby items. It also works well for amigurumi projects because of the durability and being colorfast.
I would be careful using acrylic for items that will need to block. Blocking acrylic can be a little tricky, and is something I am still working mastering. Acrylic needs to be blocked with heat, and once blocked it is permanent. this is because acrylic reacts differently to heat than natural fibers.
- Cellulose fibers – burn
- Protien fibers – extinguish
- Synthetic fibers – Melt and the melting of synthetic fibers can cause chemical burns and toxic fumes. So be careful.
Overall I think that Acrylic yarn is a wonderful fiber, so long as you keep in mind it’s strengths and weakness when picking appropriate projects. It cheap, easy to find and has so many strengths. Plus the variety can be stellar!
I would love to answer any questions that may still have, and hear about some favorite acrylic projects and yarns. If there are any you are hoping I will review, please drop me a line and let me know!