Novelty Yarns – A Perfect Name For These Unusual Yarns

The way that fibers are spun and twisted determines a yarn’s structure. Yarns are grouped into simple and novelty (specialty) yarns. Simple yarns consist of single or plied yarns that are uniform in size, smooth and have an equal number of twists and turns along the strand. These yarns are the knitter’s classic staples. Unlike simple yarns, novelty yarns are created by special spinning, twisting or combining these processes to form yarns that are not of uniform thickness throughout the length of a strand, and have deliberate irregularities along its surface. The beauty of novelty yarns is their aesthetic effect, knitting up into works of art.

These yarns go in and out of fashion very quickly, and some may only be manufactured for a season and gone the next, like eyelash, faux fur and chenille. Most novelty yarns work best in simple patterns like stockinette stitch or garter stitch, so that their innate texture shows through. They give the knitter instant gratification and a break from complex stitchery. This category is continually changing through new types of manufacturing incorporating a variety of fiber types. They are divided into four broad categories.

Chainette or Knit Tubes

These yarns have an I-cord like construction, resulting in an airy, lightweight yarn. This construction makes them incredibly bouncy and elastic. Made in natural fibers like wool, they trap air and keep you warm. Chainette yarns are lovely to work with and provide great stitch definition.

Tapes are flattened knit tubes and tend to be made in slippery fibers like rayon, bamboo and mercerized cotton. Depending on the fibers used, they tend to elongate or stretch, and are best for items like sleeveless tops.

chainette and tape novelty yarns

Irregular Thicknesses

One way of making this type of yarn structure is to vary its thickness at regular intervals, and these are often found in single ply form. Another technique is to mix multiple plies of dissimilar thicknesses, textures or fiber types, or all three can be used to form a yarn.

Other types in this group include flock or yarns with a tweed effect, where small tufts of coloured fiber are inserted at irregular intervals. Slub yarns, usually singles are made by uneven twisting during spinning so that the yarn curls onto itself.

irregular thicknesses - novelty yarn group

Components

This group is composed of a core or base, effect, and a binder yarn. The binder is not always included, and there may be more than one of each component. Bouclé is a common yarn in this category. These gorgeous yarns are made by allowing one strand of yarn (effect) to form loops over another (core), and they are held together by a binder. A drawback of these textured yarns is the difficulty in knitting evenly without gaping areas.

Some nubby types are made by a yarn wrapped around a base yarn several times.

Many mohairs are made by mixing the predominant mohair with wool and a nylon binder. Fine, lace weight mohairs are often made with mohair blended with a small amount of silk as the core, producing an even more lovely halo effect.

component novelty yarns

The Others

The above categories stick around longer as compared to the yarns that fall into this group. This general category of novelty yarns contains all the other types of yarns that don’t fall neatly into the above groups. These include chenille, faux fur, eyelash, ladder, beaded and sequin, raffia; an ever changing list.

Chenille was popular in the 1980s, but has gradually fallen out of favour. It is not actually spun, but is made of soft twisted yarns that are cut to form a “pile” of threads around a binder. They resemble a pipe cleaner, and as with bouclé, chenille is difficult to knit evenly. Chenille can’t be taken apart without breaking the yarn and the pile coming off the binder. It’s also inelastic, and forms a dense fabric that doesn’t breathe well. 

The image below is a shortie jacket I made many years ago out of faux fur. I enjoyed making it in garter stitch, but sewing the seams was tricky because of its texture.

Wool and the Gang makes a raffia yarn, popular for summer projects.

faux fur (novelty yarn) knit into jacket

Novelty yarns are not the essential yarn staples for the knitter, but they provide a fun reprieve from complex stitchery. They are true trends that go in and out of style quickly, but the three main groups that tend to stick around include chainette, irregular thicknesses, and the component yarns. Jazz up a project with some novelty yarn!