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What is Acrylic Yarn?

Updated on December 1, 2012
My stash of Red Heart Super Saver yarns.
My stash of Red Heart Super Saver yarns. | Source

Whenever I browse online sites for yarns, I find myself wondering whether or not the fibers really matter in a crochet project or not. Acrylic yarns are cheaper and have more yardage for every dollar spent on it. But, then again, how come there are other fibers available, like cotton, wool or silk?

This hub discusses what an acrylic yarn is, its properties, benefits, and uses in knitting and crochet.

What is Acrylic Yarn?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, acrylic is defined as "a manufactured fiber in which the fiber forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85% by weight of acrylonitrile units". In layman's terms, acrylic is a man-made fiber made from a form of plastic.

This means that acrylic yarns do not contain any natural animal hair (like sheep or camel) or cotton materials. Unlike other fibers, acrylic yarns are not spun. Instead, they are twisted together to form long lengths of material.

What is 100% Virgin Acrylic?

Much like the definition of 100% virgin wool, a label with 100% virgin acrylic means that it has only been twisted once and has never been recycled to make into a different project other than its current state. By law, once you wore a knitted or crocheted item with this label and resell it, you should cut off the label that says "virgin" before doing so.

Properties of Acrylic Yarn

  • Variety of colors easily available;
  • Comes in all weights and sizes;
  • Inexpensive;
  • Machine washable;
  • Has good elasticity (stretch capability and memory);
  • Not as strong as other synthetic fibers (e.g. nylon and polyester);
  • Some are made lightweight and soft; some are stiff and scratchy;
  • Resistant to moths, mildew damage, oils, chemicals, deterioration from sunlight;
  • Can be made to copy other fibers;
  • Hypoallergenic;
  • Wicks moisture away;
  • Does not stain;
  • Requires heat to block; and
  • Not as warm as other alternatives, like wool.

Benefits of Acrylic Yarn

Whenever you want to give a handmade item to someone, you have to make sure they are not allergic to the material you used. Some people are allergic to wool or any other natural fiber. Acrylic yarns will be your go-to material as it is hypoallergenic and comes in a whole array of colors.

Not to mention the fact that it is machine washable and is quite low maintenance compared to other fibers. Just tell the receiver to not iron your handmade gift and they will be all set. It is also quite durable and should last as heirloom pieces for their kids and grandchildren.

The most important benefit of using acrylic yarn, in my opinion, is that it is very inexpensive. When you are just starting out with crochet or knitting, you want to start making small, easy projects and acrylic is the cheapest way to go about creating simple, durable items.

Uses of Acrylic Yarn

While some might not like its stiffness, if you have no intention of wearing the project or putting it against your skin, its toughness can be a good thing, as it is known to be tougher than other natural fibers. There are several brands out there that sell soft yarns made with 100% acrylic that are indeed soft to put against your skin. While these yarns tend to be more expensive than the normal ones, you will find that they are still cheaper than natural fibers.

Acrylic yarns will not felt or shrink when you put them in the washing machine. Because it is low maintenance, items that need frequent washing (e.g. children's clothes or blankets) are usually made with this material. Due to the need for hypoallergenic things, especially when it comes to newborns, baby yarns made from 100% acrylic are very popular.

Acrylic is lighter than other fibers, like cotton. This makes acrylic a good material for making afghans or blankets, providing warmth without being heavy.

Due to some of its properties, acrylic is a popular material for blending with other fibers. Love the feel of wool but hate that it splits while you work? Why not use two strands at the same time, one wool, one acrylic, to make the best of both worlds? You get the property of warmth from the wool with the durability from the acrylic. Yarns made from natural fiber blended with acrylic are good alternatives if you are on a tight budget.

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    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I love acrylic for my afghans and scarves. It makes caring for the items so much easier than wool or cotton, for example. And I love that it's so inexpensive!

      Great hub. Voted up and useful!