Acrylic - A Very Versatile Fiber

Acrylic is a very commonly used fiber. It's often used for yarns because of its soft, warm, comfortable feel. It's usually a very inexpensive yarn if it's a basic plied yarn (2 or more strands twisted together). Fancy versions with knops or slubs, or brushed versions tend to be more expensive. Price depends on the processes each yarn needs to be formed.

Acrylic is known as a filament yarn. They make it by mixing chemicals, heating them to melting point and then forcing the liquid mix through tiny holes (like in a showerhead). When it drops through the holes it falls into air chambers where it cools and goes solid again.

After the filaments have cooled, they are either processed some more, or twisted into yarns and wound onto spools. The strength of the yarn is determined by the amount of twist put into the yarn, as with other fibers.

Have you noticed that some acrylic yarns you can break with your fingers? Others you have to use scissors as they almost cut your fingers when you try to snap them. It's all in the twist and whether or not the strands have been cut to shorter lengths before spinning.

Generally acrylic yarns are...

  • fairly strong
  • fairly resistant to wear and tear
  • not very stretchy
  • very resilient - will spring back to shape easily after being crushed
  • not very absorbent - don't soak up water easily
  • usually easy to care for and wash
  • resistant to degradation by light - usually will not yellow
  • resistant to mildew
  • resistant to perspiration
  • colorfast - will not bleed or leak colors when washed

Acrylics usually...

  • lose about 20% of their strength when wet - so treat them gently
  • will drape fairly well - depends on type
  • are quite lightweight, but you can make very warm fabrics with them
  • will not shrink when washed
  • melt at high temperatures - over 500 Fahrenheit
  • do not attract moths - but - can be damaged by moths if in a blend with natural fibers
  • melt and shrink away from a flame - burning leaves a black, brittle bead

Acrylic is often blended with cotton, nylon, polyester, wool or silk. All of these blends give different characteristics to the yarn.

Acrylic is a very versatile and useable fiber. It can be made into so many types of yarn - too many to mention.

Next time you're in a yarn store - check the labels of all the yarns you pick up (could take you quite some time if you're anything like me). You might be surprised at how many contain at least some acrylic.

One more thing - many of the acrylics these days have been treated so that they can be machine washed and dried. BUT be warned - you can still find some that are NOT machine washable and dryable.

If you do machine wash and dry these acrylics, they will lose their shape and can stretch quite considerably. In other words the heat will "kill" the fibers and instead of a nice fitting cozy sweater you could end up with a sweater which is now floppy and hanging around your knees. So you MUST pay attention to the care instructions on the skein - just in case.

Now - on the other hand - it might be desirable to have a yarn like that if you're making fine lace-weight acrylic scarves or something. Then, once the scarf is made you can steam it with a regular steam iron to purposely "kill" the fibers and your scarf will be nice and soft and drapable.

So, now you have a little bit more knowledge about a very popular and much used and loved fiber - acrylic.

Check out the interesting info about silk, cotton and linen too.

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