Loida Knit-Along: Choosing yarn for lace knitting

Posted on October 02, 2012 by knittingpatterns4you | 0 Comments

Hi all, and welcome to the first installment of the Loida Knit-Along!

Today I'd like to talk about yarn choice and how it affects your lace knitting.

For each type of fiber I'm going to talk about 3 things:

  1. How lace stitches look
  2. How easy it is to knit lace
  3. How blocking is affected

To me those 3 things are the most important elements to consider when choosing a yarn for lace knitting, and they're in order from most important to least important.


I happen to be a complete wool nerd and try to use 100% wool as often as possible, so it's probably no surprise that Loida is done in 100% laceweight wool.

How lace looks in wool:

Here's a closeup of the lace fabric done in the laceweight wool:

See how the stitches are nice and clear, and the overall look is flat and even? That's what you get when you use a smooth 100% wool. I like this look because it shows off the lace stitches well enough but still feels cozy and warm, the way I want my knitting to (almost always!) feel.

How easy it is to knit with wool:

I love the act of actually knitting with wool because it's springy and easy on my hands.

If you're a beginner, I highly recommend choosing a similar smooth wool (or mostly-wool) yarn for your Loida. The springiness of the yarn will help you keep your stitches even (and on your needle!) and the smoothness of the yarn will let you see what you're doing. Stay away from any fuzzy or hairy wools and wool blends though, as they make it hard to see your stitches and really hard to rip out mistakes.

Blocking wool lace:

The great thing about wool when it comes to blocking is that it's fairly fool-proof: you dunk the shawl in water and lay it out to dry, spreading out the lace (and pinning if desired).

But wool isn't without its negatives though.

One downside is that because wool is springy, it won't stay blocked as well as a non-elastic fiber would. That means that you'll periodically need to reblock your wool shawl. I usually wash and reblock my wool shawls about once a year, either when they're visibly dirty or when they've lost the "crisp" look of the lace.

One more thing: All wool is not the same.

You'll find that different wools and wool breeds behave differently (as you probably already knew!). Here's a quick rundown of some important differences I've noticed:

  • Superwash wool doesn't block well. It wants to be machine washed and dried, so it tends to stretch way out when wet and does go back to its original proportions its machine dried. I don't recommended it.
  • Merino wool is softer and smoother than other wools, which means it will more closely resemble superwash than other wools. You'll find that Merino lace will need to be reblocked more often than some of the hardier wools out there.
  • The highest quality Merino is extra-fine Merino, which is so stretchy and smooth that it almost doesn't feel like wool at all. You'll find that it behaves similarly to superwash when you try to block it. I don't recommend it.
  • Shetland wool has a "stickier" hand that makes it great for complicated knitting as the stitches will stay put. It also is less stretchy than other wools, so it blocks beautifully and will need to be reblocked less often.


How lace looks in cashmere:

In comparison to wool, lace knit in cashmere will have a more subtle, softer look. Your lace stitches won't be as crisply defined. Cashmere also has less of a "sheen" than wool does, so you'll get more of a matte look in cashmere than in wool. The photo below is actually of a cashmere/silk blend, which explains why it's so shiny: it's the silk!

Cashmere also drapes more softly and smoothly than wool, so your finished shawl will be cozy and lay beautifully around your shoulders.

How easy it is to knit with cashmere:

In terms of knitting, cashmere is less springy than wool, so it may be a little bit harder to knit lace in because of that. However the difference is pretty marginal and I doubt most people would notice.

Blocking cashmere lace:

Blocking cashmere is about as easy as blocking wool, and as a bonus, cashmere will stay blocked longer than wool will (because it's less elastic). So you'll need to reblock less often if you use cashmere than if you use wool.


Disclaimer: I don't like to knit with alpaca because it's not elastic enough for my taste, so it's likely that I'll be more negative about it than others might be. If you already know that you enjoy knitting with alpaca, take the below with a grain of salt!

How lace looks in alpaca:

I realize that not all alpaca is fuzzy, but most of it is, so that's why I'm focusing on fuzzy alpaca in this section.

As you can see in the photo above, the fuzziness of alpaca obscures the lace a bit, but the yarn overs are quite prominent. This is because alpaca isn't very stretchy, so it behaves a bit like silk does in settling into the lace stitches. Many people like the look of alpaca lace because the fuzziness adds a softness to the lace pattern.

How easy it is to knit with alpaca:

Because alpaca is not stretchy, it is harder to knit with it than to knit with wool or cashmere. You may find your yarn overs popping off your needle even! I'd recommend using a stickier needle, like a plastic or bamboo needle, if you're going to knit lace with alpaca.

In the case of fuzzy alpaca yarns, you'll also have a harder time seeing your work and ripping out to correct mistakes. An alpaca/wool blend may give you better results than a 100% alpaca yarn, as the wool will temper some of alpaca's less desireable qualities.

Blocking alpaca lace:

Alpaca blocks very similarly to cashmere in that it will hold its shape longer than wool and therefore needs to be reblocked less often.


How lace looks in silk:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] Note: this is not my image, it's from Ravelry. Click to go to the project.[/caption]

Silk stitches are perhaps the most clear and beautiful of all lace stitches. As you can see above, even complicated and delicate details can shine through when you use 100% silk yarn. And the sheen! It's lovely, and adds dimension and interest to the lace patterning. The resulting shawl will be very elegant and lightweight, and may bring the word "cobweb" to mind when you wear it!

How easy it is to knit with silk:

In one word: challenging. Silk isn't stretchy at all, and to add insult to injury, it's very slippery. I pretty much can't knit with silk at all because my hands just won't do it. Definitely stay away from slick metal needles if you're going to knit lace in silk yarn!

For beginners, I advise not using 100% silk yarns for Loida. Go for a wool/silk or cashmere/silk blend instead so that you can get some of the benefits of silk without having all the negatives.

Blocking silk lace:

Silk blocks, and stays blocked, beautifully. If you want to "hard block" your lace (meaning pull it really tight and pin it way out, to make the lace as stretched out and clear as possible), you can't do any better than choosing silk. One negative about blocking lace is it tends to smell weird when wet . . . but that's just a minor thing that I'm probably more sensitive to than most!

Other fibers

The above four fibers are obviously not the only ones you can work with, but they're the most common and likely to be used for lace. I've knit lace in a few others though and will give a quick rundown of why some of the other fibers are not good for lace work:

  • Acrylic is not fun to knit with (for me!) so knitting anything complicated or time-consuming with it isn't ideal. If you do decide to knit lace with it, you'll find that blocking doesn't do much to the fabric. Instead you can "kill" the acrylic with a steam iron, and it'll stay blocked forever (and by forever I mean way past our lifetimes, acrylic doesn't biodegrade!).
  • Tencel/bamboo/milk/other new fibers will behave a lot like silk, so they can be a good choice for lace . . . except that many of them stretch and keep on stretching. If you love a yarn made of these fibers and already know it won't stretch forever, go ahead and use it! The finished shawl will be drapey and light.
  • Angora is like alpaca's less-stretchy, more fuzzy cousin. Definitely not a good choice for lace, unless maybe it's used sparingly with wool or something. Then it could add a pretty, subtle halo to your shawl.
  • Cotton/hemp/linen are like silk's poor cousin, and aren't a bad choice for lace if you want the look of silk but need a more affordable alternative. They will behave very similarly to silk with the exception of the blocking: you'll find that they will need to be reblocked more often than silk does.


Use a smooth wool. =)

What yarn are you using?

Please leave a comment telling everyone what yarn you're going to use! I'll be doing a poll on the KAL list later today too!

Questions? Comments? Disagree with me?

Please leave a comment, email the list, or email me directly at ivete [at] chiagu.com


* That's a little nerd lingo for you. It stands for "Too long; didn't read." Ha!

Posted in Loida Knit Along

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