The burns!
November 18, 2009 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to teach myself to knit/crochet and have found that one of the major barriers to learning is the yarn - acrylic yarn to be exact. It irritates my skin.

Seriously, it's feels like extra-fine steel wool against my skin and the tips of my fingers are beginning to crack, something they are prone to in wet/cold weather. Since I'm new to the whole knitting/crochet thing, I don't want to invest a whole lot of money into yarn in case it turns out that I don't have the knack for it. Is there any way to make the yarn less irritating to my skin while I learn enough to see if knitting/crocheting and I are meant to be?
posted by echolalia67 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wool shouldn't break your budget. You don't have to buy silk or anything. Acrylic sucks.
posted by kathrineg at 8:37 PM on November 18, 2009

Have you considered cotton? It should be very non-irritating, although of course the texture will be different from wool.

Seriously, if the acrylic yarn irritates your fingers, wouldn't you rather be spending hours making stuff that's likely to be friendly to both you and any other eventual users? I realize you're mainly practicing for now -- but it will be more fun if you spend your practice time also making things that you like!
posted by amtho at 8:39 PM on November 18, 2009

Another option is cotton yarn. A few brands also make acrylic microfiber yarn, which is much smoother than the typical acrylic worsted -- might be gentler on your fingers.
posted by pluckemin at 8:40 PM on November 18, 2009

Best answer: What acrylic are you using? Some acrylic yarns are worse on the hands than others. If you're dead set on buying yarn at big box craft stores or Wal-mart, one thing to do is to skip the Red Heart Supersaver and try something like Wool-ease or Caron Simply Soft. If you've done that and the acrylic yarn is still bothering you, it's probably worth paying a little bit more for fancier yarn.

There are some reasonably inexpensive wool yarns. I use a ton of Cascade 220, which comes in every color imaginable and is about $7-$7.50 a skein. If you go to a local yarn store, you should be able to find a fair amount of stuff in that price range.

Finally, there's Knitpicks. It's not necessarily that much less expensive if you factor in the cost of shipping, although there's free shipping on orders over $50. Also, pay attention to how much yarn is in a ball or skein, because it's generally significantly less than in the stuff that comes from brick and mortar stores. But it is a good way to try out different weights and fibers without making a big investment.
posted by craichead at 8:42 PM on November 18, 2009

I'll nth the wool recommendation! Acrylic isn't slesyd the nicest for learning with anyway—it doesn't have much give to it, so if your tension is uneven or your stitches are a little tight, it'll be tougher to make stitches than it should be. (Some wool yarns have a bit of lanolin left on them, which might even help your poor weather-ravaged fingertips!)
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:45 PM on November 18, 2009

sheesh, learn to type. ALWAYS is what I meant.
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2009

Don't try to learn on cotton yarn. It's extremely unforgiving and inelastic, may make your hands ache, and will show every tiny inconsistency in your still-learning stitches.

Go for an inexpensive wool, instead. The linked yarn is available at craft stores. At a yarn shop, look for something like Cascade 220 or Lamb's Pride Nature Spun.

Don't skimp on materials when you're learning. The tactile pleasure of working with honest yarn can make all the difference, plus, you'll actually want to wear whatever your first project is (NOT a scarf, try a hat instead).
posted by peachfuzz at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I actually find cotton pretty unpleasant to knit with. I think it's because it doesn't have any give. I'd rather knit with a soft acrylic than with cotton. YMMV, of course.
posted by craichead at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2009

Blah. Brown Sheep Nature Spun, of course.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:47 PM on November 18, 2009

Are you using super cheap acrylic? If you are I'm afraid you're going to have to try a different kind of yarn, it will be hard for you to keep your tension if you wear gloves and if you use some kind of cream it will get all over your work. Try using Caron Simply Soft or Bernat Satin. They are still pretty cheap, but feel much nicer.

You can also try using cotton yarn. It doesn't have as much give or stretch as acrylic and wool, but it might be easier on your hands. Plus, washcloths are a nice easy project to practice stitches.

If you want some yarn that is amazing to work with go for bamboo, it is so nice. This is expensive stuff though, so you'll probably want to save it for when you know that you're going to keep at it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:48 PM on November 18, 2009

Go spend some time at a yarn store (or wherever you buy yarn) feeling up the merchandise. There are a gazillion varieties of yarn. You should be able to find something reasonably priced that doesn't bother your skin. Generally natural fibers are easier on the skin (and more expensive), but there are some nice synthetic blends out there that aren't too pricey. Personally, I love cotton, but it probably isn't best for learning to knit.
posted by Dojie at 8:52 PM on November 18, 2009

You could try finger cots (cheap ones) if you don't mind looking... strange. Softer yarns, as previous posters have mentioned, should help but if your hands are really super sensitive, the repetitive motion of a soft yarn could still bother you.
posted by bobobox at 8:54 PM on November 18, 2009

2nding dojie's suggestion to go to a yarn store. In my experience, the ladies (or men) in the stores are super nice, super helpful, and always eager to gain another devotee. You may even be able to score some deals for being a new knitter/crochet-er and you'll DEFINITELY get some free advice. I've gone to my local yarn shop with complicated questions about patterns and they've always been a huge help.

Also, try Malabrigo yarn, it's mostly available at yarn shops, but it's pretty much my favorite yarn, and it's not too expensive (215 yds at 11 bucks, but it's TOTALLY WORTH IT!)
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:01 PM on November 18, 2009

12 replies and nobody mentions

I'm never the first person in a thread to mention it anymore.

But seriously, go get yourself an account over there and you'll find answers to questions you didn't even know could be asked.

Happy knitting!

PS I teach knitting. Encore Worsted, from Plymouth is a pretty common yarn to start with. It's 75% acrylic 25% wool, but is worlds nicer than Red Heart anything. A good wool for learning would be (in my opinion) Malabrigo Worsted. Deliciously soft.
posted by bilabial at 9:01 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

But seriously, go get yourself an account over there and you'll find answers to questions you didn't even know could be asked.
Heh. You're seriously suggesting that someone go to Ravelry and ask a question about whether it's a good idea to knit with acrylic?
posted by craichead at 9:03 PM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

That's like going into Meta and asking what the "." means in the obituary threads. :)

Seconding the suggestion to get cheap wool. I find acrylic really squeaky and it gives me a friction burn on my index finger on the few occasions I've used it. Cotton, as many people have said, doesn't have much stretch so you might need to take more frequent breaks to give your hands a rest.
posted by web-goddess at 9:07 PM on November 18, 2009

That's like going into Meta and asking what the "." means in the obituary threads. :)
I think it's more like going to a parenting board and saying "hey, do you guys think I should breastfeed?"!
posted by craichead at 9:13 PM on November 18, 2009

Michael's and Joann carry Patons Classic Wool. It's nice and smooth, not splitty, and comes in a lot of good colors. And it's very inexpensive.

If you have a good local yarn store, go in and chat with them about it. See if there are any good yarns in the sale bin that won't break your budget but that would be fun to experiment with. Most yarn shops mark down odd balls out of dye lots, or discontinued colors, and it's enough to make a hat or a pair of wristlets with.
posted by padraigin at 9:19 PM on November 18, 2009

I'm allergic to (non-merino) wool so I think Knitpicks shine worsted is an ideal learning yarn. It's cotton but with modal so it has nice give, but it also has sharp focus stitch definition and of course, it's worsted weight so it's a good learning size.
posted by birdie birdington at 9:21 PM on November 18, 2009

Echoing those suggesting an inexpensive wool over acrylic or cotton. Wool has some stretch to it which is helpful for beginners who tend to knit/crochet tightly. It also has some grip to it so it won't slide off your needle/hook. Acrylic and cotton don't have much stretch and bamboo/rayon can be slippery to work with.

You should be able to find Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool or Paton's Classic Wool at your local big box craft store; both are inexpensive 100% wool yarns. From a yarn store, Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport and Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Superwash are good choices along with Cascade 220.
posted by weebil at 9:23 PM on November 18, 2009

In general, handling textiles is really drying to the skin as the fabric or fibres will tend to absorb moisture. You just have to use a lot of moisturizer to compensate- like after washing your hands, apply a good lotion AND a light coat of vaseline to seal the water into your skin. But as others are suggesting, wool is a great option- its natural lanolin content won't suck your hands dry.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:44 PM on November 18, 2009

I'm seconding bilabial's mention. It's a seriously great place to learn! The users there list Cascade Yarns 220 Wool as their #1 yarn in terms of numbers of projects across the board. I've used it and liked it, but it wasn't the softest yarn I've ever used. For that, I'd also recommend the acrylic Bernat Satin or the Patons Silk Bamboo. You might find these a bit slippery, though.

However, I don't know that wool would be any nicer to your fingers, being as it is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture, and therefore could make your hands feel even drier, even with the softest wool out there.

When I was first learning to crochet, I kept a bottle of hand lotion nearby. I didn't notice that it stained the yarn if I rubbed it into my hands well.

I also learned with viscose yarn, from a kit, and still find that it's forgiving on the hands. It is mostly found in mixed-fiber yarns, so anything with viscose or rayon are nice to knit with. Other cellulose fibers like Tencel or Modal, too. Have a look at, they have a few at good prices, along with other mixed-fiber yarns.

More recently, I've really enjoyed Patons Bamboo Baby, for its mix of bamboo and acrylic fibers. It has a string-like texture, and that may sound a little unpleasant, but really isn't.

The time to try all kinds of yarns and fibers is now, as you're still learning and likely will be doing relatively small projects that don't use a ton of yarn. It can be a lot of fun to see and feel the differences as you are working and to feel the fibers in the skein as well as as a fabric.

Best of luck! Have fun!
posted by MelanieL at 9:55 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

one of the softest nicest yarns i have ever worked with was alpaca mixed with silk.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:58 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've heard (on Ravelry) of people being sensitive/allergic to acrylic. I had a problem knitting with Peruvian wool -- I'm sensitive to certain kinds of wool (all good with superwash, but some pure wool is not my friend). I knit a huge blanket out of Peruvian wool and my hands (which are pretty much the only places I get eczema) were destroyed. I knit with cotton spa gloves on which makes it difficult to grip the yarn, but it does protect the hands.

Definitely get on Ravelry though -- it's made me a better knitter and a full-out obsessed knitter.
posted by pised at 9:59 PM on November 18, 2009

I did almost all my early projects with Plymouth Encore yarn, which is a blend of wool and acrylic. It's soft, inexpensive, and great to work with. I bought mine at Kaleidoscope Yarns. It's washable! I agree that cotton is frustrating for beginners.
posted by peep at 10:08 PM on November 18, 2009

I've experienced the same with acrylic yarn. If you *really* can't afford anything other than acrylic, the pastel-coloured baby yarns tend to be softer and easier on your fingers. And maybe take breaks here and there: it's a good idea anyways to stretch and walk around and look out the window to relax your eyes.

You may find later on that it's worth it to buy better quality yarn, because you'll spend so much time working with it that the cost of your time is much greater than the cost of the yarn.
posted by sinderile at 10:52 PM on November 18, 2009

Best answer: I definitely would also nth wool. It has a "stretchy" quality to it, and nice wool conditions your hand with the lanolin in it. Ok that's not the best feeling for everyone, but I like it.

However, I also understand consideration of the budget when you are starting a new hobby so I would say that not all acrylics are equal. Go to Michael's and check out their yarn section. Gravitate toward a color you love and test for softness by placing it on your neck. I would recommend Lion Brand Wool-Ease. I would not recommend cottons as they do not "stretch" like wool and I think they will just hurt your hands because people who are learning how to knit tend to grip quite tightly enough as it is.

Another good source for inexpensive yarn is KnitPicks as others have mentioned above. Of course, the downside is that you can't touch it, but my friend who just started knitting (2 socks and her first sweater done!) swears by them.

Another consideration you may want to think about is your needles. Beginners often go for the aluminum Susan Bates (not that there's anything wrong with that) but I find them kinda heavy and a bit too slick to "grip" the yarn, so you're really concentrating on keeping the loops on. So I would check out some Clover Bamboos which tend to be lighter, warmer, and gripper. Warning: You might find it too "sticky", but I think it should be fine with an acrylic blend yarn.

Hope we didn't just totally overwhelm you! We do this out of love (not because we are trying to amass a pointy stick wielding army)(ok there's a little bit of that too).
posted by like_neon at 12:32 AM on November 19, 2009

If you do have sensitive skin, I would not recommend Cascade 220 or Lamb's Pride. People swear by the stuff but man, Itch City for me. I totally wish they weren't so rough on my skin because they seem like durable, dependable, affordable brands, but just thought I'd warn ya.
posted by like_neon at 12:36 AM on November 19, 2009

That's like going into Meta and asking what the "." means in the obituary threads. :)

I think it's more like going to a parenting board and saying "hey, do you guys think I should breastfeed?"!

Going into Meta...should I declaw my cat?
posted by Lucinda at 5:05 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm thirding (I think that's what we're up to) Knitpicks. The cost of their cheapest wool is the same, if not cheaper, than acryllic (about two bucks a skein for their "Wool of the Andes").

If you're just practicing, though -- as in, you are just buying random skeins and playing around -- you may also want to consider poking your nose into eBay. They have a lot of mixed-lot sales you can find, where someone's clearing out their craft closet or their mom's craft closet or whatever and so they list a box of ten random skeins with a note saying "I don't know what this is but I need to get rid of it, so bidding starts at two bucks". A good deal of these "mixed lots" can be acryllic, or can be fun fur or can be half-used skeins, and the really sexy stuff can go fast; but sometimes you can find a couple pearls in the mud. (Sometimes it's worth getting a whole bag of eight skeins of random crap because one of those skeins was some good high-end stuff; you can trade the other seven crap skeins with someone else sometimes, if they're making a random thing for charity.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:13 AM on November 19, 2009

Oh, you can also get individual skeins on ebay, as well (although this is really only cost-effective if you get a few skeins from the same person so they can save on the shipping charges).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 AM on November 19, 2009

Ok, ya. Definitely don't ask about acrylic vs wool on ravelry, it will get ugly. but go have a good laugh at the back and forth on this question.

The take away: get some feedback and suggestions, but use what you like and don't let anyone make you feel bad about what you prefer.

Next advice, moisturize your hands at night before you sleep. I can't use lotions right before I knit because it makes my hands too slippery.
posted by bilabial at 6:17 AM on November 19, 2009

Depending on what kind of projects you're working on, you might try shopping around for yarn with aloe. There are a couple different brands out there, like this one, but go to your local yarn store and ask whoever's in charge. Even if she doesn't carry a moisturizing yarn, she'll probably have some good recommendations. Yarn shop owners are cool like that.
posted by specialagentwebb at 6:43 AM on November 19, 2009

Echoing everybody else, definitely try some wool. Maybe even go to alpaca. I typically go for the easy-care stuff, but for learning wool has a lot of advantages. One that I didn't see people mention is that wool (and other animal fibers) has a nice stretch to it because of the crimped nature of the fiber. You'll feel it "give" a little, which can be very helpful for people who are still working on their stitch tension. Silk, for example, feels very nice, but (like cotton) it has no give.

If you would prefer something a little more easy-care, the best of the acrylic/wool mixes (of which Wool-Ease is the most readily available) is Plymouth Encore.

Malabrigo is one of the most wonderful yarns ever, but I might not recommend it for someone who's just learning. It's a single-ply yarn that can be a little loosely twisted in places, so if you pull it too tightly it might be more likely to break than other yarns. Not the end of the world. but you could probably save spit-splicing for another day!

Take some time in a real yarn shop (not Michael's -- their stuff is fine when you know what you're looking for, but not great for learners) and pet everything to see what you like best. The owner/staff should be able to help you.

Welcome to the fold!
posted by Madamina at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2009

Nthing Knitpicks. Also, WEBS and Elann are other sources for inexpensive yarn. I check all three regularly for sales and features.

Acrylic is unblockable anyway. Once you start using natural fibres you'll never want to buy it again. Cotton is OK, but your finished products will be very heavy and it tends to absorb water, making it a poor choice for anything you plan on wearing outside in the snow (i.e. hats and mittens - you'll have cold, wet head and hands). Wool is my workhorse fibre and alpaca my luxury fibre. Bamboo yarn is nice for summery knits.
posted by Kurichina at 7:44 AM on November 19, 2009

Nthing to switch to wool. It is so, so, so much nicer. Cascade 220 or Brown Sheep are lovely yarns that aren't expensive. They come in beautiful colors. Like other people have mentioned, I would avoid cotton because it is pretty hard to work with. My hands get sore and tired really fast when I work on cotton.

Ravelry is good for finding local yarn stores, and fantastic for finding patterns when you're ready. They have crochet patterns too.

Also check out Knitty, an online knitting magazine.
posted by apricot at 8:18 AM on November 19, 2009

Sorry, that's Knitty.
posted by apricot at 8:19 AM on November 19, 2009

Oh, another good point: you can felt things you knit with wool. You can't with acryllic.

And felting things is all kinds of fun -- especially if you're still finding your footing, because things knit up quickly (you knit things super-big on purpose, on bigger needles, because the felting process shrinks them down), and the felting process often hides minor mistakes. (Bonus!)

And felting something you knitted can often be achieved just by throwing it in a washing machine along with a pair of jeans and letting the whole thing run through a cycle. You'll see articles say a top-loading washing machine is best, because you can monitor things more closely through the felting process, but I've just used my front-loading machines at my local laundromat and things worked just fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: I will be returning the 3 skeins of Red Heart Classic to the 5 & 10 this morning. I just so happened to pick up two skeins of Wool-ease yesterday and already have had less irritation and more success in getting the yarn to do what I want it too.

Now I'm scared...I few years ago, I picked up scrapbooking, thinking "sticking photos on to paper and putting them in an album - sounds like a cheap, easy hobby." Hundreds of (or maybe even a thousand) dollars later, I own enough product to open my own store. I fear that it just might be the same with the knitting/crocheting.

Thanks for all of the great advice. I'm going to try to pick up some nice worsted wool today.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2009

If you haven't gone already, I'd also suggest Patons Classic Wool. It's not much more expensive than worsted.
This isn't directly related to your question, but if you're working with metal needles, it could be worth it to move to plastic, wood, or bamboo. When I was first learning, I used metal ones and moving to a less slippery material made a huge difference. Now I only use metal for circular needles.
Frankly, Red Heart is awful to knit with, and isn't worth the few dollars it costs unless you're making things that will never touch anyone's skin.
posted by ishotjr at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2009

Knitting and crochet is easy to be additced to, but I think it will be easier on you than the scrapbooking.

First of all, the tools are much simpler. You need needles and yarn and maybe some other small things like cable needles and stitch markers. Then you can use them over and over. There's not some new fangled gadget that comes out every week that you just have to have. You can go nuts buying all the different kinds of yarn, but if you just buy what you need for your project you'll be okay. Also, you can knit for charity. I don't know if any homeless person is going to appreciate a beautifully done scrapbook. A warm hat is another story.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:06 PM on November 20, 2009

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