This question of softness vs durability in yarns (this false dichotomy, really) is a bit of a motif for me this week. I talked earlier this week about choosing the camel yarn for my upcoming cardigan because it manages to be both incredibly soft and extremely hard-wearing. I’m also working on tomorrow’s post about my finished black Anna Vest, which I knitted in Terra because I wanted it to be black and I happened to have the right amount of black Terra in my stash. Terra is not a yarn I would have considered for my vest, if not for that happenstance. Being a single-ply blend of baby alpaca, merino and silk, it’s what I would categorize as “too soft” for me (and also “too warm” and “too drapey”). I have a prejudice against soft yarns.
There, I said it!
It’s a silly prejudice. While one could make a sweeping generalization that gooey-soft yarns don’t wear well, not all soft yarns are tender or prone to pilling. There are merinos with extremely long staple lengths that don’t pill the way other merinos do. There are blends and hybridizations that balance softness and ruggedness in the same fiber or yarn. There’s how it’s spun, how it’s knitted. And so on. But when it comes to picking out yarns for anything I’m going to spend more than an evening knitting, my number one concern is not how soft it is, but how it will wear. My least favorite thing in the world is to knit something, block it, love it, and have it quickly start looking shabby. Plus, as I’m always saying, I like yarn that feels like it came from an animal, not a lab, and the softer a yarn is, the more it feels fake to me. Which is just me being weird. (And then there’s superwash — natural fiber processed into fakeness.) I like minimally processed yarns, “sticky” yarns, yarns that splice, yarns that smell and feel like sheep. If they’re plenty soft enough to wear but not pillowy, marshmallowy soft, I’m totally fine with that. Not to say I’m not thrilled every time I find a yarn that manages to be both (like the Thirteen Mile recommended in the Anna pattern), but I’ll always prioritize durability over softness. And that may be to my own detriment — Terra wound up being absolutely perfect for the vest, in a completely different way than Thirteen Mile, and I might never have known it.
Here’s the thing — there is no such thing as a straight continuum between cuddliness and ruggedness. It’s just not that simple. It’s more like an XY quadrant chart, with all sorts of factors (breed, ply, milling, etc) playing into where any given yarn would fall in the four quadrants. But I’m proposing we pretend it’s a continuum for the sake of discussion. And that’s my Q for You: Which is most important to you, softness or durability? And what’s your definition of soft?
PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What gauge are you?