Not Your Classic Hand Knitting Yarns

woven raffia yarn samples
Woven Raffia Yarn Samples

“Textile Fiber: any material capable of being woven, knit or otherwise made into fabrics.”

In recent years “new” fiber sources have hit the yarn scene. Most of the ones described below have a plant or animal source, but require a synthetic process to break down the cellulose or protein to form filament fibers that are then spun into yarn. Other sources such as paper, metal, and recycled textile products can also be made into a yarn. These newer sources are not necessarily eco-friendly, but have properties that are suitable for certain knitting projects.


The trademark name for lyocell is Tencel, and is a relatively new fiber in the rayon family, made from wood pulp. It’s processed with techniques that use less toxic chemicals than those used to make rayon. Tencel is considered more eco-friendly because the wood is harvested sustainably, and the processing chemicals are recovered and used again – closed loop system. Lyocell has high moisture absorption, as well as higher strength and durability than regular rayon. The hand knitting yarn construction is often in a tape. Wool and The Gang claims that their Tina Tape (100% lyocell) is made from eucalyptus trees, softer than silk and cooler than linen.


Raffia is a type of straw or long wood fiber, commonly used in basket weaving and millinery. The yarns produced are coarse and stiff, and are best used to make summer hats, bags, and home accessories. They are biodegradable and water repellent. They can be rough on the hands, and the knit or crochet stitches can be uneven. I’ve seen a few suppliers of raffia such as Wool and The Gang’s Ra-Ra Raffia, a good seller over the last few years. They also offer espadrille and hat patterns or kits using raffia yarn.

Recycled Yarns

A number of textile products can be made into a yarn including T-shirt offcuts (textile waste), denim and other fabric scraps or remnants. These remnants are cut into strips and tied or stitched together to form lengths of yarn. You can even make your own interesting fabric lengths to work with. T-shirt fabric remnants are popular in yarns. The properties of the yarn will have similar properties as the source material, typically cotton. No two balls/cones of these yarns are alike, varying in colour and thickness. Common uses are bags and other accessories. Again, Wool and The Gang manufactures Jersey Be Good.


Soy fiber was invented around 1937 by Henry Ford (yes the car manufacturer). He used it in car upholstery, and soy was also used in clothing. Soy yarns are made from the by-products of soybean processing. Soybean fiber fell out of favour during World War II. It was reinvented around 1998 providing many advantages, particularly when blended with other fibers. Soy fiber is lustrous, strong, soft, absorbent, and comfortable to wear. It’s light weight, drapes well, is antibacterial, and colourfast, which refers to a textile’s ability to resist fading and colour bleeding.


Milk fibers from casein were invented in the 1930s, but its manufacturing collapsed during World War II, because of the availability of inexpensive synthetic fibers like nylon. Newer modifications have improved its properties, and manufacturers are incorporating milk fibers in hand knitting yarn collections.

Milk fiber is considered a “green” product, as it doesn’t require toxic chemicals during production. Although natural milk protein is the main material, it is manufactured like a synthetic. Milk fiber has superior strength and is anti-bacterial. The hand is smooth and slippery.


The trademark for this fiber is SeaCell. SeaCell fiber is composed of ground natural seaweed combined with wood cellulose. The manufacturing process is the same as for the production of Tencel. SeaCell has high strength, high absorbency, breathable, and is comfortable to wear. It also maintains its size stability through multiple washings, and possesses antibacterial properties.


The production of pearl fiber is a highly refined process. Pearls are ground to a powder that is added to cellulose fiber during spinning. The finished yarn has a smooth, luxurious velvet texture. Pearl fiber is breathable, highly absorbent, comfortable, durable, and is naturally UV protective. The lingerie piece in the image below was made from a bamboo pearls DK yarn.

camisole made from bamboo pearls DK yarn

Except for raffia and the recycled fabric yarns, the others described above have a similar hand, smooth and slippery. Although fun to work with, these newer sources have limited use as compared to their natural, classic counterparts.