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All About Knitting Acrylic Yarn (everything you need to know)
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Acrylic yarn often gets a bad rap in the knitting community. Many people love it, many people hate it (so much that they consider themselves yarn snobs that would never touch it), and many people fall in between – they know when it can actually be a great choice for a project and realize there are times you may not want to use it. We’ll explore knitting with acrylic yarn in this article – and everything you should know about it.

While acrylic yarn has some drawbacks, it does deserve a place in the knitting world – it’s an affordable choice and it can be a great, washable, easy-care yarn with many uses.

In this article we’ll look at some of the important things you need to know about knitting acrylic yarn:

How Acrylic Yarn is Made
Properties of Acrylic Yarn
Knitting with Acrylic Yarn
Choosing Knitting Patterns
Caring for Finished Projects
Buying Acrylic Yarn
More Questions about Knitting Acrylic Yarn
We’ll look at all of these topics in-depth so you’ll know when acrylic is the right choice for your next knitting project.

Some links below are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. See the disclosure policy for more information.

How Acrylic Yarn is Made
Before we dive in to the advantages and disadvantages of knitting acrylic yarn, how to care for your projects, and all of that – let’s take a quick look at how acrylic yarn is actually made.

All fibers for yarn can be divided into four broad categories – animal fibers (like wool yarn, silk, and alpaca), plant fibers (like cotton yarn and linen), biosynthetic fibers (like rayon and bamboo), and synthetic fibers (like acrylic and nylon). Acrylic yarns fall within the synthetic fibers category because it is a petroleum-based product that is engineered and manufactured to be a soft, light, and durable yarn. It is not a natural fiber – it is a man-made fiber.

The process for making acrylic yarn begins by melting and mixing the ‘ingredients’ before extruding them through spinnerets to create filament threads that are bundled together. These threads are then stretched and cut to imitate the staple length of other fibers before being combed and spun into yarn. In the end, that mixture of petroleum-based man-made materials ends up looking and feeling like real, natural fibers.

If you’d like to see the manufacturing process in action, here’s a video about the process for Red Heart Yarns:

Properties of Acrylic Yarn
Acrylic yarn gets a mixed review from knitters – sometimes unfairly. Acrylic yarn actually does have some good advantage that make it useful for knitting. But it does have some drawbacks that you should know about – so you can make the right choices for your knitting projects.

Advantages of Acrylic Yarn
Acrylic yarn actually has a long list of benefits. It’s perfect for hard-wearing projects that need to be tossed in the washing machine. here are some of the benefits of acrylic yarn:

inexpensive
widely-available
wide-range of colors
soft
lightweight
durable
water-resistant
machine-washable
resilient
doesn’t shrink
easily dye-able
Disadvantages of Acrylic Yarn
While acrylic yarn has some really great advantages, there are some drawbacks as well. These include:

can’t be blocked
odor absorbing
not breathable
prone to pilling
not insulating
can be scratchy
heat sensitive
Now that you understand the benefits and the drawbacks of using acrylic, you can choose the right types of knitting projects that it might be best suited for.

Knitting with Acrylic Yarn
Every acrylic yarn is different. Some will feel quite soft while you’re knitting, others might feel scratchy. Some will feels slippery and some will not. It just depends on how the filaments have been cut and spun and what the acrylic is blended with. For this reason, you’ll want to choose your knitting needles with care.

With slippery fibers it might be a better choice to knit with plastic, wood, or bamboo needles – something with some ‘grip’ so your stitches won’t slip and slide off the needles. For less slippery fibers you can use whatever types of needle material you prefer.

Choosing Knitting Patterns
Acrylic cannot be directly substituted for every pattern – it has its own characteristics that need to be considered when choosing an appropriate pattern.

Kids and baby garments and blankets are great for acrylic and acrylic blends because of the durability and easy care.

Acrylic yarn is a great choice for gifts and charity knitting. If you are knitting a gift and you know the recipient wants something easy to care for or you’re just not sure if they are willing to take the time to hand wash and dry, acrylic or acrylic blended yarn that are machine-washable and dry-able are a great choice.

Donation and charity knitting is also a great time to use acrylic because these types of things are often required to be easy-care and machine washable.

Avoid heavily cabled fabrics (especially sweaters) – the weight of the garment (because of those cables) becomes quite heavy. When it’s worked in wool, the wool has resilience, elasticity, and memory so it will hold its shape. Acrylic, on the other hand, does not have the resilience and memory that wool naturally has and it will sag with the weight of the garment.

Lace can also be a problem when knitting with acrylic T-shirt yarns. In many cases you want to use a natural, resilient fiber that can be washed and stretched to expand and open the lace patterns. This is much harder to do with acrylic (though not impossible). You can use steam blocking to ‘kill’ the fiber and make it hold its shape (see the section on blocking for more information).

You’ll also want to avoid acrylic for household items that will be used near heat sources – like potholders or trivets. Because acrylic is sensitive to heat, it can actually melt and the melting fibers can even burn your skin. So definitely avoid these types of projects when using acrylic yarns. I prefer wool or animal fibers for things like this – because they are all self-extinguishing.

While acrylic is a great choice for many types of knitting patterns, choose your projects with care and don’t just assume that acrylic can replace any other type of yarn.

Caring for Finished Projects
Most acrylic yarns are machine-washable and can even be put in the dryer on low heat (but always check the label for your specific yarn, like sock yarn – the care instructions may be different). Be careful of putting acrylic yarns in the dryer on a high-heat setting because acrylic fibers are heat sensitive and can actually melt.

But for the most part, machine washing and drying on a low temperature are perfectly okay for acrylic yarns.

Blocking Acrylic Knits
Acrylic really can’t be blocked in the traditional sense like other plant and animal-based fibers. Instead the fibers can ‘be killed’ by applying heat to relax and set the fibers. But never apply the heat directly to the surface of the fabric – the fibers will melt.

This is not the same as traditional blocking – where the project is soaked, sprayed, or steamed before placing on a flat surface (and possibly pinned or stretched) to dry. If the blocking doesn’t work just as you expected it to, you just get the project wet and try again. This doesn’t work for acrylic fibers – which are actually resistant to water.

With acrylic, when steam heat is applied, the fibers are set and there is no going back. You can’t wash it and try again so this should be done very carefully.

If you want to relax an acrylic garment you certainly can. For example, if the hem or edge of a garment is rolling and you want to make sure it lays flat, you can steam it to relax the yarn. Or perhaps you’ve knit a lace shawl or garment. You can stretch it out to the shape you want it to be and pin it before steam blocking it. This will set the fibers for life so do it carefully.

Steam blocking acrylic yarn: Place the dry garment on a mat or towel. If you need to pin it to shape (especially for something like a lace shawl) do so – slanting the pins outward to make space for the iron or steamer. Heat a steam iron or hand held steamer. When the device is hot, hold it an inch or so above the surface of the project (don’t let the device touch the project – especially the iron, you have a little more leeway with the hand-held steamer), moving it slowly to relax and kill the fibers, pressing the button to release the steam. Continue applying steam until the project is set.

Buying Acrylic Yarn
Acrylic yarn (100% acrylic) is available in many, many places. It’s easily found in most local big-box stores – with brands like Red Heart, Lion Brand, Bernat and Caron. But you can also find it online. Here are a few other acrylic yarns you may not be aware of, and there are also milk cotton yarn:

Knit Picks Brava Worsted (also available in other weights)
Paintbox Yarns Simply DK (also available in other weights)
Stylecraft Special Chunky yarn (also available in other weights)
While 100% acrylic yarns are easy to find, I prefer to use it in a blend where some of the drawbacks are mitigated and you get the benefits of natural fibers.

Acrylic & Wool Blends
Acrylic blended with wool is a great combination of lightweight, resilient fibers. The acrylic adds some durability and makes it easier to care for. Wool will help stitch definition and blocking for an even fabric.
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