Sheep Dreamzzz has been making hand-knitted baby blankets for four years now. We've trained women in a very poor part of Nicaragua to knit, and now they are excellent knitters. They receive all of the profits so they can feed their families.
We realize that our yarn experience may not be of extreme interest to most of you, but perhaps someone else deciding what type of yarn they want to use will benefit from the experiences that we related here.
Where We Began
We started out wanting cotton in all of our yarns. Wool was out due to itchy experiences with knitted winter items from childhood.
We were really spoiled by our initial yarn choice: Angel from Fair Isle. This yarn was 57% cotton, 28% nylon, 15% polyester. A nice solid weight and really soft. But the company got bought by a Chinese outfit, quality plummeted, and now they seem to be out of the yarn business.
Capri yarn from Michaels had the exact same content mix, so we think it may have been from the same factory, but they only sold it twice a year and eventually not at all. Our Angel Soft blankets use Angel and Capri, and once they're gone that's it.
Incidentally we've liked any yarn we've tried that has some nylon in it. Not 100% certain why, but it's a fact.
Careful with Cotton
In the early days we never stopped trying new yarns, since we didn't want to depend on just one supplier and were often searching for specific colors. At times we tried 100% cotton, but found out that despite popular assumptions, 100% cotton is usually not soft at all. In fact it's the opposite and easily loses its shape, not to mention what a hot dryer can do to it.
That said, most of our softest, most luxurious blankets have cotton in them, from 45% to 60%. One 60% yarn, Cascade Sarasota Chunky, knitted up very well but was not terribly soft. However our Cotton Elegance blankets use 60% pima cotton from Berroco (image here) and they are really soft and elegant. We also tried and will be using more 100% pima cotton yarn (all mentioned in this section are worsted) as that knitted up with almost the exact same feel as the 60% pima.
So based on this admittedly limited sample size, pima cotton is a winner, although for easy care best not risk it with 100%.
Back to Wool
There definitely is wool that is old-style itchy, but we haven't come across much of it. And it doesn't have to be heavy either, in fact our Organic-ish blankets with 45% Organic Cotton, 45% Organic Wool, 10% Nylon were the most lightweight blankets we've ever made. The baby here (one of our granddaughters, is wrapped on one of those blankets). Sadly that yarn from Berroco was discontinued, so we've moved on to 100% organic cotton blankets.
We've tried a number of yarns that are 25% wool, 75% acrylic like our Warm & Silky blankets, and those have always turned out well, with a bit of a sheen to them and quite soft. We've always done those with a chunky-weight yarn like Ella Rae Cozy Soft Chunky (which has since dropped all of the multicolor options that we chose it for) as well as some from Mighty Stitch which now seems to be selling their final colors. Discontinuations aplenty in the yarn industry!
Our one going-forward wool-based blanket (Snug as a Bug) uses Berroco Vintage Chunky, which is 52% acrylic, 40% wool, 8% nylon, so it has plenty of wool in it, and to us it looks like a wool blanket. It's solid and plenty soft and it definitely washable. Really nice if you're looking for extra warmth. There's a worsted version of Berroco Vintage as well, but we haven't tried it.
You might be able to see from this green blanket that it looks like a real wool blanket.
Here's a phenomenon that surprised us. On some of the yarns we've used, especially the 45% cotton, 55% acrylic yarns from Euro (Babesoft), the solid-color blankets come out very soft but when the yarn has multiple colors running through it, it is definitely less soft. Not the case for the 25% wool yarns mentioned in the previous section. The softness difference was more pronounced in the chunky-weight yarns.
Worsted or Chunky?
Our knitters feed their families for about a week with the income they earn making a single baby blanket, so we've never used a really thin yarn like a DK since with all the extra stitching it would take them much longer to finish. We already see that difference when people have moved from chunky to worsted.
So here's another anomaly. When people use the thinner yarns they use less yarn. The exact opposite of our original assumption. Our blankets are roughly 25 inches by 25 inches, and with 100-gram chunky balls or hanks we need about 3-1/2 whereas the women who use worsted take up just over 2. Since we pay them all that we possibly can (with nothing for us), that's important since it means another $6-9 is available for pay. It also opens up more possibilities for wholesale pricing on our blankets.
So while it takes our knitters longer to make a blanket with worsted yarn than it does with chunky, our yarn cost is lower.
We feel it's important to offer organic options for those who really want that. We found a wonderful yarn from Berroco called Vibe that is 45% Organic Cotton, 45% Organic Wool, 10% Nylon - a really interesting mix and extremely lightweight (an entire blanket weighs about 7 ounces). Again the nylon - we assume it's there to add strength.
And once again, the yarn got discontinued. So we're checking out other options and this time shooting for a 100% organic blankets. We're trying out some interesting options. One is Bud from Juniper Farms, a rare 100% organic chunky yarn. There's another from Lana Grossa in Germany that we made a test blanket from, but the yarn cost is too high for us. Nice blanket but Lana Grossa won't respond to our inquiry and their US distributor barely budged on the cost. But for a 100% organic cotton worsted blanket, it knitted up nicely.
We're also trying out a 100% organic cotton worsted yarn that you can find at Knitpicks. It's undyed. We'll add the results of these tests here in a few weeks.
Organic definitely costs more, which should surprise no one.
Fluffy Sheep Yarn
Of course Sheep Dreamzzz blankets have 24 fluffy sheep on them. Luckily we began with a great option, Pipsqueak from Bernat (actually Spinrite, a Canadian company; Bernat is one of their brands). The yarn is 100% polyester, which is the reason the labels we put on include polyester in the content listing (our new organic blankets will be 100% organic even in the sheep).
While Bernat has a number of colors (the number has shrunk), we've needed more colors and have tried many options for colorful fluffy yarn. Adore from Plymouth is a nice one and is the only good Tennessee orange yarn that we found. I won't go into more except to say that we tried fluffy yarn from China that we found on Amazon. This included coffee-colored yarn for the sheep on our earlier vanilla-colored blankets, and an oatmeal one that looks nice. But some of the brighter colors like orange and red bled when washed and even at times during knitting. Be careful with colorful yarns from China.
Cotton or Wool?
For the longest time we wanted either cotton or wool in our blankets, and in the case of Berroco Vibe, we got both. But it would be to foolish not to say that we've never felt all-synthetic yarns in stores that felt wonderful to the touch.
Since we have a relationship with Berroco and needed a chunky yarn to replace Angel/Capri as well as Euro Babesoft Chunky, we tried out Berroco Comfort Chunky, which is 50% Super Fine Acrylic, 50% Super Fine Nylon. And we really liked it. But we found that when someone like Berroco has a bunch of colors in the chunky version of a yarn, if they also offer a worsted version of the same yarn, it has even more colors. And remember it takes fewer hanks to make a blanket from a thinner yarn. So we've tried the worsted version, called Comfort, and we like it. And it's thin enough for our loveys as well, so we expect to use it more.
We still plan to keep one knitter turning out wool-based blankets, and will probably have one making 100% pima cotton versions and another whatever organic we settle on, but as for the rest, they could end up focusing on the acylic & nylon blankets, which feel wonderful and wash well.
You have to be flexible.
What's the Best Baby Blanket Yarn?
That's not really the question we were driving toward, and it's such a personal decision. But we can answer it for ourselves, i.e. if we want to make a baby blanket for a new grandchild, with a little bit of input from the parents, here's where we would probably end up.
Cotton-Based Chunky: Euro Babesoft, but a solid color. Salmon seems to be the softest of all of the solid colors.
Cotton-Based Worsted: Berroco Modern Cotton. Very elegant feel and quite soft but not what we would call fluffy. For a 100% pima cotton option that is very similar, try Berroco Pima 100.
Warm Blanket with Wool: Berroco Vintage (worsted or chunky)
Synthetic (you really won't be able to tell the difference): Berroco Comfort or Comfort Chunky
Organic: The only 100% organic cotton yarn we found in a chunky weight is Bud from Juniper Moon Farms. For worsted that is undyed and this comes in one color only, Simply Cotton Organic Worsted from Knit Picks.