Knitting and Crochet Blog Week 2011: In Defense of Acrylic Yarn

All this week my postings are a part of the 2nd Annual Knitting & Crochet Blog Week. To learn more about it, just click here.

Let me first start off by saying that I am an equal opportunity yarn user. I strongly believe in giving ever yarn a chance. There is no such thing to me as ‘bad’ yarn.

With that being said, I find offense in those who persist in putting down acrylic yarns. I can understand personal preferences for one yarn type over the other, put to dismiss acrylic to the point of wanting to excommunicate it from the church of yarn is just going to far.

Acrylic has had a history of being hard and stiff, but no more so then wool being equated with smelly and itchy. Yet, like wool, acrylic has improved in quality over the years. Please, before you turn up your nose at this step-child of the knitting and crochet world, why not allow me to enlighten you on why you should take a second look at acrylic.

Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that was developed by the DuPont Corporation in 1941. It is in the same family is nylon, polyester and micro fiber. (That’s for those of you who look down your nose at acrylic while picking up four skeins of cotton/micro fiber blend for your next project.)

Considered ’cheap’ yarn, by many, I believe its low coast is one of the things that makes acrylic so popular. Personally speaking, I find it hard to pay $35.00 for a skein of yarn- even if it is made of cashmere, handspun and hand dyed. For many crafters, especially just starting out, it is difficult to justify spending large amounts of money like that. Acrylic gives you that chance to make something beautiful with little financial investment. And most people can agree that seeing a sweater you tried to knit turn into a multi-armed glob feels less heart-wrenching having paid $8.50 for the yarn then if you had dished out $85.00 for it.

A professional chameleon, acrylic can be whatever you want it to be. Praised for its properties that are so similar to that of wool, acrylic has the ability to mimic such yarns as the highly revered cashmere. Pashmina and cashmina are the acrylic versions. (Yes, those are acrylics, not cashmere from some other exotic breed of goat.) Fun fur and eyelash can give credit to acrylic for making them a fashion craze. And lets not forget how acrylic brought the words ’novelty yarns’ into the vocabulary of every crafter with such offerings as Chenille and Lame. An acrylic yarn I recently worked with has the look and feel of handspun felted wool. From super bulky to spider web lace- acrylic yarn’s versatility is endless.

Within acrylic’s durability lies its greatest strength. How many yarns can hold up to multiple machine washings in various water temperatures? Show me a yarn that can withstand the constant pull and strain from the tight tension of new knitters just learning to knit and purl. Give me a yarn that has been able to stand up to continuous household wear and abuse. I don’t believe we have ever asked any other yarn to work as a kitchen accessory, outdoor rug, sweater, purse, slipper, coat, toy, bathroom accessory, sock, rag, table runner, bedspread, baby blanket and various other items- while expecting it to perform to the same high standard in each area. Acrylic is resistant to moths, oil, chemicals and is very resistant to deterioration from being exposed to sunlight. This is why, like Twinkies and cockroaches, acrylic will be around long after we are gone.

Now, here is where I usually hear from people about the fact that acrylic is man made and the chemicals used to make it is poisoning our waters, polluting our air, threatening our eco system and sending our world into utter self destruction. Yes, acrylic is a man made chemical based product. But compared to how many items currently in every home, school and hospital around the world that is made from and/or depends on acrylic, its yarn form is in no way making that big of a carbon footprint on our world.

So, before you dismiss acrylic yarn as some dark shameful part of needlecraft history that should never be spoken of again, entertain me with this little experiment. Go to your local yarn store, pick up a soft yarn like Lion Brand Homespun, cast on and see if acrylic doesn’t stitch its way back into a respectable place in your heart.