Is Wool Yarn the Best Choice for Knitters?

Why use wool knitting yarn?  In the midst of a heat wave, it’s hard to imagine why knitting with wool would be a good choice.  But wool has many benefits.

What is wool yarn good for?

When I started this post, I knew that yarn has the unique quality of being able to keep you warm even if it gets wet. That’s what make wool yarn so great for outdoor wear.

Then I started doing some research and discovered a whole bunch of other benefits.

  • wearing superfine Merino wool next to the skin is beneficial for eczema sufferers,
  • wool is not an allergen
  • wearing wool to bed increases the quality and onset of the wearers’ sleep (
  • wool doesn’t retain odors
  • Superfine and ultrafine Merino wool do NOT cause skin irritation and itchiness

Wool is made from the insulating undercoat of several different animals.  Over millennia, these special hairs adapted to help protect these animals from the temperature extremes of their environment.  Being able to stay warm even while wet was, and is, essential for survival when you live outdoors.

The hair that becomes wool retains these unique characteristics even after it’s been removed from their producer.  [Note:  Shearing, the process of removing the wool coat, aka fleece, from wool producing animals, is necessary for the animals’ health and well-being.  Without shearing, their fleece can cause health problems leading to death.]

What does wool yarn feel like?

Wool has a reputation for itchiness.  It’s probably the main reason so many are reluctant to use it.  But again, research has shown that wool can actually be good for your skin and won’t cause itching, if you get the right wool.

While it might seem that wool is wool is wool, that’s not exactly the case.  Some wools are coarser.  Each individual hair/fiber is larger, while some, especially superfine and ultrafine merino wool, have much smaller diameter.  As the description implies, these wool hairs are much finer and do not cause itchiness.  (A review of some of the wool yarn in my stash revealed that most of my wool yarns do NOT claim to be superfine or ultrafine, so be careful in your yarn shopping!)

This doesn’t mean you can’t use these less fine wools.  They are still suitable for a wide variety of outdoor wear and other projects that don’t come into direct contact with your skin.  If you aren’t prone to skin sensitivity, you may not even need to worry about this.  But you might want to test it by spending some time with the yarn ball against your skin before you knit.

The other potential cause of itchiness is an allergy to wool or the chemicals commonly used in wool processing.  This study shows that wool products from modern wool processing isn’t likely to cause skin problems.  In fact, superfine and ultrafine merino wool may help eczema sufferers!

Knit with Wool to Sleep Better

This one was a bit shocking to me.  It turns out that wool is really good at moderating humidity.  It doesn’t just keep you warm even when wet, it slowly releases and absorbs humidity in a way that can make you more comfortable.

It seems obvious how this would make you more comfortable while you’re awake and active, but it turns out this helps you fall asleep and sleep better as well.

Can’t find just the right wool yarn for your nightie or pjs?  You don’t have to wear wool nightclothes.  It turns out that wool bedding will also help you sleep better.

The researchers specifically tested wool bedding and nightclothes against cotton ones at “ambient temperatures,” which I think means normal indoor temperatures, not too cold or too hot.  Cotton may well win out in the heat of summer, but otherwise, keep your woolens on your bed!

As my daughter put it, “Why count sheep when you can just wear their wool?”

Knitting for Soldiers

Military forces around the world have long used wool for their uniforms.  I’m always surprised by how much research armed forces do into a wide variety of subjects, things that I would never think were related to national security.  Getting the right fiber for soldiers’ uniforms seems to be one of those things.

In addition to the protection form cold and humidity, it turns out that wool is naturally fire resistant – no funny chemicals needed!  This is one reason that wool is recommended for anyone who wants to help soldiers out by knitting helmet liners.  A helmet liner pattern and info on how to donate your knitted liner are here.

If you are going to make helmet liners, make sure the yarn is 100% wool, no synthetics!  Synthetics are NOT fire resistant and will melt into the skin and catch fire.


Wow!  As an eczema and insomnia sufferer, I really wish I’d known about this sooner!

I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about wool.  I knew that it would keep you warm even if it was wet, so wool yarn is great for outdoor wear.  I knew it was fire resistant, which makes wool great for insulation, home decor, mattresses, and bedding.

I even knew there are different grades of wool, depending on the diameter of their hairs.  It seemed obvious that coarser wool yarn, such as rug yarn, for example, shouldn’t be used for clothing because it would feel terrible, but I had no idea wool could actually be good for your skin!

I was especially surprised that wool doesn’t retain odors, and that synthetic fibers do.  Which means wool garments need less laundering. Huh.  (Do clean your woolens before storage to keep the moths away!)

Elizabeth Zimmerman always felt that wool yarn was the best way to go.  It seems she was right.

I’ve learned my lesson.  My next knitting project is definitely going to be a nightshirt. Without sleeves. (Would that be a nightgown?)  Maybe a wool/cotton blend yarn. And lace, simple lace, because I don’t want to have a heat stroke while I sleep and I want to finish it this year.

Is any of this news to you?  Will you be making different yarn choices because of it?  Do you have a good pattern for knitted nightwear?


“Wool and Fire Resistance”

“Debunking the Myth of Wool Allergy”

International Wool Textile Organisation

Australian Wool Innovation Limited


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