Wool or Synthetic? that’s the question

PicMonkey Collage2

When I first learned to crochet and knit I used acrylic yarn and as I progressed with my craft I started sourcing what some would call the “luxury” yarns, such as pure wool etc.  Recently we celebrated granny square day and the Hellohart team decided to replicate a granny square blanket that my Grandmother Wally made.  In doing so we all three had to go back to using acrylic yarn.  It has been a very interesting and humbling experience for all of us.

Below are a few photos of Cornel’s beautiful acrylic granny square blanket



Yarn is made from many different fibers – animal, plant and vegetable. Animal fibers include wool, mohair, angora, silk, cashmere, llama, alpaca and qiviut (musk ox) and are made of mostly protein. Cotton, linen and ramie are vegetable fibers.  Synthetic (man-made) fibers include acrylic, nylon, polyester, metallic’s and microfibers.

Each fiber has its own qualities, and they are often blended to take advantage of the best properties of each.

And so that’s how I got thinking about the whole concept of wool versus synthetic yarns.   Immediately Dalena White came to mind.  Dalena works for Cape Wools SA and understands the finer nuances of wool and all that is luxury about yarn.

Dalena then referred me to Odette Wright who is Operations Manager at the Wool Testing Bureau of South Africa.  So that’s how I got to learn about some fascinating differences between the real deal and the synthetic yarn option, polyester.  Odette shared the following fascinating information with me.

Lets start by exploring the difference between Polyester and Acrylic yarns

both are synthetic fibers, but acrylic is more frequently spun instead of extruded, so would produce a softer “hand” or how it feels.  The material type listed on the tag really doesn’t tell you how the yarn or fiber if constructed so the most accurate answer without knowing about a specific type of yarn to compare to another specific yarn is: it depends.  Acrylics are synthetic fibers made from cellulose, and polyester is a synthetic made from petrochemicals, and if you need something to last a very long time in rough conditions, polyesters are going to hold up longer than acrylics.

Wool versus Polyester

It is difficult to make a comparison between the two fibres as wool is an animal fibre and polyester is petrochemical fibre or plastic.

PicMonkey Collage1


All animal fibres such as wool, mohair and cashmere, to name a couple, have unique properties that cannot be replicated by man.  There are many different sheep breeds and the wool from these different sheep are used for different purposes.  The coarser types of wool are used for furnishing and carpets whereas the finer types such as Merino are used for clothing.

PicMonkey Collage

(photos courtesy of Cape Wools SA)

Merino has evolved across millions of years to provide natural protection. Created by nature to protect against harsh environments and extremes of weather, Merino is the natural choice for clothing babies and young children.  It is soft, fine and smooth on sensitive skin, and is safe to wear too. And because Merino is both renewable and biodegradable, it is also gentle on the environment.

An efficient temperature regulator

Merino wool is naturally breathable making it a very efficient temperature regulator.  In particularly hot or cold situations, babies can struggle to regulate their own body temperature. Merino helps overcome this problem, making it an ideal choice for sleep and bed wear.  It works by absorbing moisture vapour next to the skin, keeping babies dry and less clammy. The vapour then moves away and evaporates, helping maintain a constant, comfortable temperature.

Healthier and safer

Parents can rest assured that Merino is one of the safest fibres for children. Merino is naturally fire resistant, won’t melt and stick to the skin, and even puts itself out when the source of the flame is removed. This makes it a safer choice for both clothing and bedding. And being a natural fibre evolved to protect against the elements, Merino provides better protection from UV radiation than most synthetics and cotton, so your whole family will be safer wearing it on sunny days.

Watch this fascinating video illustrating the natural fire resistant characteristics of wool.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKuAl_HzCjs

Synthetic bedding often prevents your baby’s skin from breathing naturally, making them feel uncomfortable.  However, thanks to wool’s natural miracle properties, wool cot bed duvets, mattress enhancers and wool pillows can all manage your baby’s personal micro-climate in bed.  This keeps your baby cosy and warm, but also ensures he or she does not overheat. It also helps give them 25% more stage 4 regenerative sleep, recharging their energy for the day ahead.

Merino has the capacity to remove large amounts (up to 35% of its own weight) of moisture from the skin surface before the fibre even begins to feel wet.  The ability to absorb moisture is an important function and attribute of Merino fibre. Equally important is its ability to release moisture. In contrast to most synthetic fibres.

Cape Wools has recently approved a sponsorship  of Cobus Oosthuizen.  Cobus is an extreme athlete and will be running in the desert in pure wool – a testament to wool

Easy to care for

Raising children can be a messy business, but keeping their Merino wool clothing clean is surprisingly easy. Every Merino fibre has a natural protective outer layer that resists dirt and prevents stains being absorbed, so clothing and bed wear is easy to clean. Merino is naturally odour resistant too, keeping your children’s clothes fresher for longer and requiring less frequent washing. And when they do need washing, many Merino clothes can be safely machine washed and tumble-dried for even more easy-care convenience.

Dalena shared some really interesting insights and reading with me.  The following links are a fascinating read:



Some amazing studies have been done on wool and the quality of your sleep.  The facts are fascinating.  http://www.woolmark.com/globalassets/inspiration/interiors/sleep-on-wool/sleep_better_with_wool_flyer.pdf/

Cape Wools are investing in some amazing sustainability projects.  One such project is the work that they are doing with the Olive Leaf Foundation  where they are looking at rectifying the problem of over grazing in the Western Cape.  Watch this amazing Ted Talks video of Allan Savory.  He’s a grassland ecosystem pioneer who has devoted his life to stopping desertification.

Read this insightful blog post on synthetic fibres.  A gentle warning though, you may find yourself a little appalled at its content.  https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/category/fibers/synthetic/polymer-chemistry/

Some of my very first crochet and knitted blankets were made from acrylic. I love them as much today as I did when I made them some years ago!



I’m of the opinion that whether you use pure wool or synthetic yarns it’s a personal preference.  I do believe each product has its place and at the end of the day it very much depends on what you are trying to achieve with the end product.  I must confess though when I am making something that I will be wearing I do prefer the luxury yarns that are so readily available to us today.  But then again my granny square blanket is truly special and beautiful in all its acrylic glory.

At the end of the day the choice remains yours!

anisa signature

8 thoughts on “Wool or Synthetic? that’s the question

  1. Thank you for sharing this fascinating information, I think your path from acrylic to luxury blened yarns is similar to that of many of us. I have just finished a Charity project where we were making items from donated yarn much of which was not luxury, I must confess to I am enjoying the return to my own stash of lovely soft pure wool yarns.


  2. Anisa that is a great article well written great information I am keeping this article as it is a very good article to use as a school project . Now yarn/wool has a great deal of uses!!!!!!!!!!!!! Proud of you then I am your mother and I am bliased


  3. Really interesting, thanks for sharing! Like you, I knitted a lot of my first projects with acrylic yarns, then switched to natural fibres later on… I find natural yarns so much nicer to work with. But I still love the things I made when I started out 😃


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