Natural fibres are obtained from either animal or plant origin. Traditionally, wool has been the most popular yarn for hand knitting because of its ability to keep out the cold and wet. Advances in textile technology have made it possible to apply a shrink-resist treatment to wool yarn, making it machine washable. Untreated wool shrinks or 'felts' when machine washed, and this can be used to advantage because the fabric produced is durable and can be cut without unravelling. Alpaca and angora fibres tend to be long and create a fluffy fabric with a very soft feel when knitted. Cashmere and silk are beautifully soft but are comparatively expensive because they are regarded as luxury yarns.
Natural fibres of plant origin include cotton, linen, hemp and ramie/jute. These do not have the same natural elasticity as wool but are ideal for warmer temperatures because they are cool to wear. Cotton is available either combed or with a mercerized coating that gives the yarn a lustre that makes it particularly good for showing up stitch detail. When knitted, either type washes well and is cool to wear.
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