Wool of the Andes, Some Thoughts


There are many different yarns in the world. Many different textures, and ply, many different fibers, and qualities, and Knit Picks Wool of the Andes is an interesting yarn.

It is listed as a medium/worsted weight yarn, to me it seems to be on the lighter side of this definition and I would probably treat it as a light/DK weight yarn. It is comprised of 100% Peruvian Highland Wool, which essentially just tells that the sheep that produced this fiber lived in an area of higher elevation in Peru. However with a little more research into this yarn, aside from what the ball wrap says, apparently the Peruvian Sheep are a cross breed of Corriedale and Merino, however they are not a recognized breed in themselves. This cross breeding for to create a stable hardy wool that has a more fine texture, and thus a little softer.

Understand wool. Www.lindadeancrochet.com

Pre-felted swatch of Knit Picks Wool of the Andes

It is not overly soft, actually it seems utilitarian to me, but it is stable. It has a little springiness, and average drape. I feel this yarn fits most practical purposes, it could make a nice throw, or dabble in home décor with rugs or pillows. A nice hat could be created, but not for charities that are offering hats to chemotherapy patients. I do not feel that there is enough loft, or softness for garment wear that rests on the skin, and it has a little scratch to the soft skin under the chin, so it rules out a scarf or shawl for me.

It is a great felting yarn, meaning that if you intend to have all of your stitches disappear and create completely solid fabric (with a bit of shrinkage), then this yarn can fit the build. However this does then limit ability to care for any item created with this yarn, as it will need to be hand washed and laid flat to dry. When I felted with it, I ended up with a fabric that felted really easy, and quickly. I simply placed my swatch in with a load of denim jeans in the washing machine, and the washer and dryer did the work. I would suggest that if you are planning a felting project, like slippers or a handbag, crochet it about twice the finished size, and then felt.

Understanding wool. Www.lindadeancrochet.com

The same swatch felted (box indicates original size).

I know that there are many that love this yarn, but for me it is not a go-to. I see some purposes for it, but those purposes are not in my everyday uses.

The Smaller Size of Wool- Felting

ScannedImageWool shrinks, wool is scratchy, and wool is expensive. These are just a few of the comments I have heard from people as to why they have never worked with a yarn other than acrylic. I will admit, I use to feel that way too, until I learned more about it.

Let us address why wool shrinks. The shrinking process is called felting, it occurs when the individual fibers attach together. Each strand of fiber has scales, similar to the images that you have seen on hair conditioner commercials, where is shows a strand of hair with overlapping scales down the shaft, this is the same with wool. When wool fibers are rubbed together these scales will catch on each other and pull closed together, I think of it as holding hands, and this causes the individual fibers to pull closer together. As each individual strand does this, the overall size of the piece will shrink, because all of the individual strands are closer together.


Felted handbags… If you can still see the stitches, there is definitely more felting that can be done.

However, just because it can be simply stated does not mean that it happens easily, or equally. Some sheep breeds result in wool that felts much easier than others, but as the yarn ball usually only says “wool” it is hard to know exactly how that yarn will behave.

Many believe that getting wool wet, or getting it hot causes it to felt, when in reality it is agitation. By rubbing the fibers together you can cause them to felt, in a sense, the little “pills” you sometimes find after wearing are small versions of felting. These are fibers that have been rubbed together and have worked free of the yarn and formed a matted group that does not come apart. Water and heat can ease the felting process as they both help the scales open up, so it is easier for them the catch hold of one another, adding soap to this process can facilitate it even more, but without rubbing the scales will not felt.

Simply placing an item in the dryer will not cause it to felt, it really already felted in the washing machine as the drum agitated the clothing, the dryer just sped up the visual process by drying it. Unfortunately though, once wool has felted, it cannot be undone.

Felting though is not necessarily a bad thing. If you plan on intentionally felting your creation, such as a handbag, you can create a fabric so dense that you do not need to line it, and yet nothing will fall out. There are even patterns that create slippers by felting your original work. When creating or working with patterns such as these, they will be created larger than the desired outcome, to know how much you need to know how much your wool will shrink. You begin by making a swatch, measure it, then wash it or treat it in the manner you are planning on felting it (personally I just throw it in the washing machine with some denim to give it the most agitation, and then the dryer. This process may give you inconsistent outcomes, but I kind of like surprises). After it has felted, measure the swatch again, and then compare these measurements to the original, the difference in the amount of surface area is the amount it shrinks, now adjust the end desired size upward accordingly.

Note that the felting process never really ends, you can continue to felt a wool item many times over, and it will continue to shrink, not usually as drastically as the first time, but the fibers can continue to get closer and closer after each agitation.

Uncovering the Wool from Over My Eyes

ScannedImageI will admit, as a long time crocheter, I used acrylic yarns almost exclusively for years. I do not say this as a negative thing, acrylic yarns have many practical purposes and companies are creating new textures of yarn with them daily, but there are other practical mediums out there that deserve attention too. However there were several reasons for my long term use of acrylic.

First, availability. In years past I could actually pick up Super Saver in the grocery store while my mom got milk and eggs. Since it was already at hand it was easier to use more regularly. However times have changed, even finding the box stores with Super Saver are getting harder to locate (or involve quite a drive to get to). However box store yarns have become more diversified and I can find fibers that would have been seen only in small local yarn stores in the past.

Secondly, I knew how to use it. A pull skein is a simple concept that involves no extra work on my part. I could pick up a skein and a hook and go right to work, with a hank I was at a loss. I did not want to look like I was confused or unskilled, so I never really picked them up. I guess I figured that if the yarn could confuse me as to how to actually start using it, things would not go well. But after meeting some local spinners and learning how yarn is created at a wheel, I learned how to handle a hank (Here is a past post that shares the explanation).

Vineyard at Dawn Shawl (back), Crochet! Magazine Spring 2013 Photo courtesy of Annie's

Vineyard at Dawn Shawl (back), Crochet! Magazine Spring 2013
Photo courtesy of Annie’s

Finally, thirdly, cost. I like to think of myself as spend conscience. I always looked at the cost per yard to find my best value (I admit I still am very aware of this even today). However, over the years I have come to realize that quality can make a really difference in my end product. Often the yarn can make or break a design. I use my Vineyard at Dawn Shawl (pattern in Spring 2013 Crochet! Magazine) as an example (created with a Blue Heron Rayon/Metallic), it has great drape, and is just striking, but if it were worked up in a chunky yarn it would have a very different effect, imagine it in soft, fuzzy mohair, which would be a different effect as well.

So, while these three obstacle where in place, I never tried luxury yarns or even wools for that matter until the last decade or so. When I first attempted wools, using my value shopping method, I found fibers that were not the most ideal. It worked up like I expected wool to, scratchy, itchy, and somewhat stiff. It played into all my negative preconceptions, but the more I learn out fiber the more I realized that not all wool is created equal.

Basically saying “wool”, is like saying bouquet, while terms like Merino, Shetland, and Romney are names of the flowers. These “flowers” have different properties that offer a different quality to the yarn. They have different degrees of softness, of loftiness, of felting ability, of amount of twist in the end yarn, and of durability. I won’t pretend to be an expert in know all the differing qualities of wool breeds, but I do know that the differences are there and can really make a difference in the end quality of my work.  

New Born LambOne of the first grading areas is the diameter of the individual fiber. The smaller the measurement in microns the finer the yarn, for example Superfine Merino might have a range of 15.6-18.5 microns, while carpet wool can have a measurement of 35-45 microns. This is before they are spun into yarns, so basically the larger the individual fiber the courser it will be. This alone can create many differing yarns out of wool, but then there are other properties such as crimp and staple length that play into a yarns texture. So you cannot take the term “wool” on face value, different wool breeds react differently (even to felting, some felt very little and others felt just by looking at a washing machine). I guess like most of us, there is more than meets the eye.