The fuzzums! They're everywhere!
July 10, 2008 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a yarn that won't make me feel sick?

It seems that every time I knit, a bunch of tiny fiber fuzzums fly off the yarn, directly into my face. As a result, my eyes and cheeks itch, bits get inhaled and choked on, and my day is pretty much ruined. I have worked with exactly one yarn that has not caused this reaction and it was Moda Dea's Bamboo Wool, which did not shed at all for some unknown reason. I guess acrylic yarn doesn't bother me, but what I have tried has left this weird sticky residue on my fingers, and that's just gross.

I was thinking that maybe I was allergic to wool or something, but a soy/cotton blend did the same exact thing to me a few days ago. Google seems to think that I could be allergic to whatever the yarn is being treated with, which doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Oddly enough, I can wear knitted things once they're done, it's just actively working with the yarn that bothers me for some reason. Knitting with a bandana over my mouth and nose stopped the inhalation problems, but still made my exposed face itchy (and made me worry that someone would mistake me for a train robber).

So, 1) can you recommend specific yarns that will not go all fuzzy on me? and 2) can you teach me how to figure out if a yarn is going to make me sick before I buy it? The soy/cotton yarn seemed perfectly innocuous and solid until I started working with it. I would like to figure out how to make cables without condemning myself to an itchy, fuzzy grave.
posted by giraffe to Shopping (16 answers total)
Best answer: This can happen for a variety of reasons:

1) spin. Loosely-twisted yarns are very soft, but give up flyaway fibers easily. Yarns bound with a thin core will do this. Shoddy spinning will also do this.
2) fiber. Very short fibers (merino, cashmere, cotton) will tend to work their way free. Very slippery fibers, like angora and mohair, will also do this.
3) vegetable matter and other debris. A lot of yarns are marketed as being natural; they might have bits of dirt and plant stuff in them . That's fine, but they can break fibers and cause them to come free.
4) weird blends. Some fibers just don't match well together, in terms of overall fiber length and properties. Not that they can't be used together, but that they need to be really well-constructed to work well. Protein/plant blends are especially bad in this regard.
4) overall quality. Low-quality yarns will have fibers of different lengths, crappy spinning, poor design.

So. Cabled merinos and other wools are good candidates (they're plied out of many ends, so there's more twist, trapping individual fibers better). Worsted-style yarns with very smooth surfaces are good candidates. Try picking a strand off the surface of a ball and untwisting it by grasping it with fingers an inch apart and twisting in opposite directions. The strands will be kinked, but you'll get an idea of how many there are and how tightly they're spun - the more strands and the tighter they are, the better (for you). Avoid: Singles yarns (just one fat ply), angoras, mohairs, and some alpacas.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:21 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I guess acrylic yarn doesn't bother me, but what I have tried has left this weird sticky residue on my fingers, and that's just gross.

What acrylic yarn was that?! I'm an avid knitter and, not being loaded, have worked with lots of inexpensive acrylic yarns and I've never once had any of them leave a sticky residue on my fingers.

Despite all of my experience with yarn, I've never had these problems and so I'm at a loss to what to suggest. You might try joining and starting a forum discussion about this issue. With all the rabid knitters and crocheters there surely someone will have run into this problem. (Friend me while you're at itl I'm OrangeSwan on there;-))

The only other suggestion I have is that you continue finding out which yarns bother you by trial and error. Buy the smallest possible amount of something and make baby booties or something very small. (There's some charity organization that collects hand knitted items for preemie babies if you need a place to give your experiments.) If the yarn doesn't bother you, you'll be able to embark on a larger product and not be out much time or money, or have experienced much discomfort.
posted by orange swan at 9:22 AM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: 1) I know that many 100% cotton yarns don't shed. I'd suggest yarns along the lines of Sugar & Cream or Peaches & Cream.
In terms of acrylics, I've noticed that Caron's Simply Soft has minimal fuzzing and is incredibly soft. I'd recommend using metal needles with any acrylic to making knitting much smoother.
There are many higher end yarns that also have similar properties but I'm not sure what your spending range is.
A yarn store near my house sells corn yarn, you might want to give that a try as well.

2) Look for tightly plied yarns. I'd suggest staying at yarns that are below a worsted weight. I've noticed that the thicker the yarn the looser it is spun and the easier it is for individual fibers to come loose.
Also look for yarns with multiple plies; singles have a tendency to pill and if there's pilling there's probably fuzzies in the air as well.
Definitely stay away from yarns containing alpaca or mohair as those are notorious for their shedding capabilities.
One way to test the yarn is by seeing how easy it is to pinch a bit of yarn from the side and pull it. If the fibers (not the individual plies) separate easily then it's safe to assume that the yarn won't be your friend.
posted by simplethings at 9:33 AM on July 10, 2008

This is a little off the wall but could you pop one of these neck fans on and blow the fuzzies away? Or something similar in the blow them away vein.
posted by zeoslap at 9:44 AM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: I can't help you with your specific problem, but are you looking for yarn at big-box craft stores or at smaller local yarn stores? (Moda Dea is a craft store brand.) Yarn-exclusive stores often have much nicer product, and the staff is much more knowledgeable about fiber and chemical sensitivies. Judging by your location, maybe this store would be good? Wherever you go, I'd recommend striking up a conversation with the owner/staff.

Local yarn stores will also usually understand when you rub individual skeins on your inner arm or neck, which is a good way to check for sensitivity.

As for craft-store yarns, I'm seconding Simply Soft as an acrylic you might want to check out. Lion Brand Microspun is a microfiber acrylic which is very soft and doesn't fuzz.

I have heard that some people are sensitive to modal (which is a form of rayon) and it feels prickly; it doesn't sound like that's the offending fiber, but it's something to think about.

Definitely join us at Ravelry - it's a fantastic site and community, and you'll probably find tons of knitters and crocheters with similar sensitivities who will help with recommendation. The Knitter's Book of Yarn might help you too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:47 AM on July 10, 2008

This is also a little off the wall but what if you did something to humidify the yarn before working with it? I guess misting it would make it hard to work with, but what if you did something like storing it in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator, with a damp washcloth in the bag but somehow not touching the yarn? I'm sure you can think of something more clever, that's just the first thing that pops into my head. It seems like the less dry the yarn, the less likely the little fibers would be to float off.
posted by HotToddy at 9:59 AM on July 10, 2008

Response by poster: Hi all. Thanks for the suggestions so far. I guess I'll be groping yarn until I get kicked out of the store.

The sticky acrylic yarn I remember using was TLC (I think made by Red Heart?). It had a cat on the front, anyway. I needed a lot of cheap yarn so I could learn to increase/decrease and it felt awful after a couple of rows. I guess that's why it was on sale.

I've tried smaller yarn stores (Newbury Yarns, Loom with a View in Newburyport) and places like AC Moore. I loved the feel and color of this skein of Manos del Uruguay I used, but I had a hairball in the back of my throat for days after I finished my project. And I have a skein of Malabrigo yarn in this gorgeous pink that I can't seem to work with for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

I signed up for Ravelry beta but never really got around to using it. Guess I'll have to check it out. I've got a friend who lives near Porter who knits, so I'll check out Mind's Eye with her soonish.
posted by giraffe at 10:05 AM on July 10, 2008

If you had luck with bamboo wool you might try Southwest Trading Company Bamboo. It's very smooth and drapey and I'd not heard of it being particularly sheddy.

But yea, Ravelry is the place to ask. I'm cabingirl over there too.
posted by cabingirl at 10:25 AM on July 10, 2008

Ribbon yarns would probably work all right for you, but they're usually so specific to a project and not really great for everyday knitting. Other yarns with nylon would maybe work? Right now, I'm using a Fiesta Socorro (wool/nylon blend) and it's been great (I'm pretty sure have a wool allergy, but I've had no irritation from it). The only problem: WAY too expensive to work with everyday. I got it half-off and never would have bought it at full price.

I've not used it before but maybe try Knitter's Review. They review yarns, among other knitterly things, and may give the detail you want.

Like everyone else has said, come on Ravelry and pose your question on the boards. People are super-helpful there and could probably tell you what yarns would be good to use. Alternately, you could probably get a useful thread going on fuzzy yarns NOT to use. I can tell you that Bernat Bamboo, although lovely, gives off ridiculous amounts of fuzzies.
posted by pised at 10:41 AM on July 10, 2008

One more thing: sock yarns tend not to be fuzzy. Crystal Palace Panda Cotton is a cotton/bamboo/elastic blend that I love. The super-soft Panda Silk and Panda Wool might be good choices. Once you get used to all the dinky little needles, sock knitting is pretty simple and fun.

A yarn store near me hosts a seasonal "yarn tasting" where you get about a dozen samples of various fun yarns and knit mini swatches with them to get a feel for the yarn. It wouldn't hurt to request something similar from a friendly yarn store owner near you - ask if it's possible to get a ten-foot sample of different yarns so you can feel what works for you. They might not say yes, but then again, they might.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:14 AM on July 10, 2008

Hm, I've got a random idea for you: do you have any IRL friends who will say, loan you skeins of their yarn so you can do some practice and see ahead of money-spending what will irritate you?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:42 AM on July 10, 2008

i've knit with all types of yarn, and only had this type of problem with things like mohair or alpaca--things that are obviously fuzzy. for instance, malabrigo (love!): some fluffy bits may come out, but there's certainly no explosion of fuzz when i knit with it. perhaps it's something in your technique? or perhaps i'm just picturing the problem wrong, but my knit friends and i don't experience a face full of fuzz when knitting.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:07 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: misanthropic sarah: You'd be surprised. Knit with some Malabrigo with a contrasting cloth spread across your lap - it'll be covered with hairs after an hour or so. Manos, is especially bad, too, as is anything with cashmere. It doesn't bother me the way it does the OP (except that I always look like I'm covered in blue cat hair), but a lot of stuff's coming out!

Generally, I try to avoid yarns that shed anyway...those same short fibers often work their way out and become pills on the finished fabric, especially with wear.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:13 PM on July 10, 2008

Yeah, malabrigo (love) does tend to fuzz. Depending on what you're working on, a mercerized cotton or a kitchen cotton might be good.'s the deal on alpaca. According to sources, alpaca is hypo-allergenic since the hairs are not scaled and dander does not get trapped in the scales (like in wool and cashmere) and does not contain lanolin (very allergenic). So you may want to test out some Blue Sky or Misti Alpaca (yummy).

Good luck!
posted by Sophie1 at 3:28 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: You definitely need something tightly wound. Malabrigo and Manos will both shed all over you; I'm not particularly sensitive to that, and they make me sneeze!
The yarns I thought of right away as least likely to shed are: Phildar Phil Bambou, Garnstudio Muskat (a mercerized cotton; the chemical process that makes it shiny also makes it very smooth), superwash, tightly-wound yarns like Filtes King Extra or Filatura di Crosa Zara; Fleece Artist Sea Wool is also a very smooth blend. Does silk do this to you? You could try a silk-viscose blend, like Hand Maiden Sea Silk.

Buying yarn in hanks and then having someone at the store wind it for you also takes off a lot of the fuzz; at the store I work at, we usually let customers do it on their own, but the owners would probably do it for you if you explained! Anything that would fly into the air while you're knitting it would come right off the skein while it's being wound.
posted by OLechat at 8:22 PM on July 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone. Amazon just shipped the Knitters Book of Yarn this morning and I'm feeling cautiously optimistic. I guess "tightly wound" is the magical phrase to use!
posted by giraffe at 6:41 AM on July 11, 2008

« Older Should i wait until he is ready??   |   Looking for alternative rubber stamps Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.