What Are the Different Types of Yarn Fiber?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

There are dozens of types of yarn, but yarn fiber can be broken down into two basic categories: natural and synthetic. Natural year fiber includes yarn that is made from cotton, wool, silk, and alpaca fibers. There are also yarns that are made from silk and bamboo yarn fibers. There are even natural yarns made from llama hair and dog hair.


On the other hand, there are yarns made from synthetic materials such as rayon, nylon, and acrylic. Yarns made with natural fibers are usually more expensive than yarns made with synthetic fibers. This is especially true if the fibers are produced in an organic fashion.


Of the categories listed above, there are still many variations within the kinds of yarn. One of the key variations is the way in which the yarn is colored. In some cases, yarn is given no color at all and is used in its natural state. In other cases, fiber is tinted with one of a number of kinds of dyes. Some people who prefer to use all-natural products will chose yarn that is made of yarn that has been dyed with natural vegetable dyes. Other people are fine with using yarn fiber that has been colored with synthetic or chemical dyes.

Silk, which can be used to make yarn, comes from the cocoon of the silkworm.
Silk, which can be used to make yarn, comes from the cocoon of the silkworm.

Another way to color yarn is to hand-paint or hand-dip it. These kinds of yarns are specialty yarns that are tinted to create a very specific effect. The effects usually create variations in the color of the yarn or simply different tones within a single color. These sorts of specialty yarns are usually much more expensive than yarns that are mechanically dyed.

Eyelash yarn is commonly made from polyester.
Eyelash yarn is commonly made from polyester.

Some yarn fiber is hand spun into yarn while other fiber is spun using machines. Hand-spun yarn, like hand-dyed or painted yarn, is more expensive than the kind that is spun using machines. This is simply because it takes far more human working hours to do these sorts of things by hand than it does to have a machine do the work.

Yarn is often made from acrylic or other synthetic materials.
Yarn is often made from acrylic or other synthetic materials.

While most yarn fiber comes from plants and animals, there are some speciality kinds of yarn fiber that are actually made with metal. In some cases, silver is used to create a fiber. When silver is used, it is often woven in small amounts into fiber that comes from plants or animals. It can give a wonderful shimmer to a garment and is sometimes even used in fine knitwear.

Yarn can be made from other natural or synthetic materials.
Yarn can be made from other natural or synthetic materials.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


Has anyone out there tried some of the lesser known yarns, like the one’s made from corn fiber? If so, how about giving us a few details, please!

I’m curious to know the best places to buy them and what kinds of prices we are looking at. Also, I’m wondering if people have common allergies to them.

You see, I live in a very small area, and about the only place to go buy yarn is Wal-Mart unless I drive an hour or more. I would just go online, but I really like to see and feel what I’m getting.

So, what say you, fellow knitters of the more experienced variety?


Knitting is a passion of mine! Everyone knows that they will get at least one handmade gift from me at Christmas time, but I don’t want to be the crazy cat lady who makes reindeer sweaters.

I want people to actually enjoy and wear what I make them. That is why I try to always be careful and only buy yarn that isn’t going to shrink. Who wants a hat that they can’t wash or else it will fit their infant?

Some synthetics are better about this, but if you’re bent on going natural, you might want to try one that has been pre-washed.


I usually try really hard to keep track of the types of yarn in my stash. However, I do have one pink yarn that I can't identify. I think it's cotton, because it is lightweight and soft, but I don't know. This is why usually, I try to save yarn labels of different varieties in case I want to buy them again.


@sunnyskys- I tend to like blends too, because they are often very good quality while still really inexpensive.

One of my favorite blends, though, is a mix of acrylic and wool, something like 85% acrylic and 15% wool- it's all you need to get wool's warmth with the softness of acrylic yarn.I find it works well for things like hats and sweaters especially.


@ceilingcat - Cotton and acrylic are two classic yarn fibers, no doubt about that. They definitely have a place in any knitters yarn collection! Lately though, I've been working with more specialty fibers.

I discovered this yarn that is a blend of silk and tencel made from sea weed. It just sounded too interesting to pass up! Also, the yarn comes in many different hand dyed colorways, which I love.

Honestly, I can't really tell the different between the silk/seaweed blend and just regular silk. They both behave and look pretty much the same. However, when I'm knitting with it I know it's no ordinary yarn!


@sunnySkys - I knit too, and I find that the kind of yarn I prefer varies by project. Each yarn made from different fibers behaves differently, so which one you choose depends on what you want it to do!

For example, I need durability and absorbency in a dish towel. So, when I make dish towels I use 100% cotton. But when I make a scarf, I usually use a synthetic. Synthetics are warm and hold up well to the outdoors. When I make a sweater or another type of garment, I prefer a natural fiber or a blend.


When I knit, I prefer to work with yarns that are a mix of natural and synthetic fibers. My favorite blend is 50% cotton and 50% acrylic.

The yarn still has all the great qualities of cotton, but the acrylic makes it even better! The fabric produced by knitting with this yarn is breathable like a 100% cotton, but machine washable and dryable like a synthetic.

I have a ton of sweaters knit in my favorite blend, and they've all stood the test of time.

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