You've decided to take up knitting or crochet, you've watched the YouTube videos, you've read all the tutorials, you've even bought a pair of knitting needles and now you are stood in the local haberdashery or charity shop eyeing up gigantic balls of acrylic. Because, if you are going to try something new you might as well get the cheap stuff because then you haven't wasted your money, right? While I don't advocate a new knitter splashes out on some fine, hand-dyed yarn I also advise people learning to give acrylic a miss too.
Acrylic has its place and its uses. I'm not a yarn-snob. I've made some lovely baby cardigans out of acrylics because I know that by the time I get around the finishing them my kids will have them on for 3 weeks before they need the next sizing. I didn't really have time to knit in the early days of motherhood, let alone frog and re-knit. It was more for my sanity than anything else.
And here's a bit of a confession: one of my all time favourite, slobbing about the house jumpers is a £15 acrylic mis-shapen grotty old thing I bought years ago. Yes, I get electric shocks from it, yes it feels like nails on a blackboard squeaky but I love it nonetheless. It is my yarny guilty pleasure.
But learning to knit and crochet with acrylic? Please just don't and here's why:
When you first learn to knit you will drop stitches like a rapper dropping rhymes. It will happen A LOT. You need a yarn that will not only stick to your needles but will move in a more fluid way to help you get used to all the fiddly things you have to do with your hands and fingers which at the moment seem wholly unnatural.
If you are learning to crochet you need to get that yarn held in the right way. You are again going to be dropping it at all manner of irritating places while you make your first granny square or ball. You don't need the distraction of acrylic squeaking against itself.
You don't have to splash out a lot on practise yarn. A wool mixed with acrylic will still be a justifiable investment if the craft isn't for you but will move through your fingers much smoother.
Acrylic feels rough and squeaky. I met a lovely woman at our market stall who was learning to crochet with her son. They were complaining that they found yarn too rough and had thought it would be much softer to use. I asked them where they were buying their yarn and if they knew what it was made from. They weren't sure but I suggested they have a good feel of some of the skeins we were selling. I talked them through why oe yarn was way softer than another and gave them some affordable options to give crochet another chance.
I hope that they have not given up on trying to crochet and that having a 100% wool yarn to work with has made all the difference to the feel. Knitting and crochet are incredibly tactile so give your hands something soft to feel while they figure out just the what hell it is you're expecting of them.
You have the picture of what you want to make and when you are starting out it is hard enough getting the thing you are making to look like the thing in the picture. The person who made the picture-thing has years of experience and may well have pulled it out and tweaked something here or there to make it look just right.
I've never found acrylic to shape particularly well. Even with all the swatching in the world. I've made some decent acrylic projects but after a few washes they've not really held up.
As a newbie, the last thing you want when you've finished your first ever project is for it to not meet your expectations after a few washes. When you get more experienced you start washing your swatches so you know how the fabric will react when washed but right now, you are getting the hang of the basics. You could have done everything exacting and it still not react the way you want it to.
Like all skills, knitting and crochet take time and practise to get right so that means you need to make things that boost your confidence and make the time spent worthwhile. Working with the right wool will make or break your learning experience. Unless, of course, you have steely determination to master this before going up a yarn-price level.
That being said lots of people did learn to knit and crochet with acrylic. Lots of people have only used acrylic to make projects and are perfectly happy with it. BUT to really give yourself the best chance at understanding what all the knitting fuss is about, use a product that you like the feel of and the look of - be it from size or colour.
How I Learned to Knit
I picked up some cheap wool and cheap needles. I learned on great big plastic things and with acrylic. I made curly edged scarves that were hardly ever worn. Then I discovered bamboo needles and affordable balls of 100% wool. It changed everything. Scarves turned into snoods, lace and cable became part of my skill set, shawls and socks started appearing and I finally braved a cardigan for my son. With Intarsia.
I then picked up an amigurumi book and learned to crochet but this time I made sure to do it with 100% wool. It was a whole different experience.
I no longer like the feel of acrylic, even on my baggy, comfy old jumper. It has a place, for certain but just not for beginnners.