Wearing comfort has more aspects to it than just thermal comfort, and breathability. Read this post to learn why acrylic is more cozy than wool, and why the fashion industry often favors wool/acrylic blends for high-end brands’ garments.
- Knit Wear’s Coziness Varies with the Yarn Material
- What Determines the Wearing Comfort of a Knit?
- Why Is Acrylic Softer than Wool?
- Why the Textile Industry Blends Wool and Acrylics
- January Stylish Monday – Cozy Sweaters
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Knit Wear’s Coziness Varies with the Yarn Material
My late Mom started my love for knitwear. She knitted a pink-white mélange cardigan, a bottle green dress with white shoulder section and orange embellishments when I was a toddler. I recall a citrus A-line knit-dress I wore all thru 2nd and 4th grade as well as a matching skirt-and-cardigan ensemble in red with green and black stripes. She created these super soft, cozy pieces with acrylic yarn, and I loved to wear them.
Her girlfriend Lizzy knitted a lot for her son who was a couple of years older than I was. Therefore, I received a lot of his former sweaters as hand-me-downs. They were beautiful, a perfect fit with ease to move, gender neutral, and made from 100% high quality woolen or worsted wool. Consequently, my Mom insisted on me wearing them, especially, because wool is expensive. However, I disliked these sweaters for their wearing comfort because they were so itchy.
One day I even made a deal with my mom to only wear them when I also were allowed to wear the jeans that were also a hand-me-down from Lizzy’s son. Read more about how I fought a fashion battle for my first jeans.
What Determines the Wearing Comfort of a Knit?
Comfort has thermal-physiological, psychological, and sensorial aspects. We can describe these by the physical processes and the physical properties that govern the wearing comfort. Of course, which properties are wanted for best comfort depends on the weather for which you dress.
For example, when living in a region with cold winters, a sweater should provide great insulation from the cold, and feel warm upon contact. On the contrary, in a region with hot summers, your knitwear should be moisture-wicking, and feel cool upon contact. Mild, cool, rainy, windy winters like in West-Europe or the Pacific Northwest dressing for comfort require fabrics that are water-proof on the outside, but let moisture (aka evaporated sweat) travel from your skin to the outside. In addition, it should provide appropriate insulation, while being wind-proof.
Why Is Acrylic Softer than Wool?
Wool like all animal and even human hair has little scales. The higher the scale, the more scratchy the resulting fabric feels. Fabrics knitted from angora feel the softest because the Angora rabbit’s hair has the smallest scales. The fabric is also light because the hairs are hollow which means good insulation properties. On the other hand, the small scales make spinning difficult and the garment pills easily.
Acrylic is a synthetic material. Instead of scales, it has small filaments (see black dots in photo below). Depending on the yarn configuration (flat, twisted, textured, intermingled) its filaments can freely spread into free spaces to different degrees. This means the choice of yarn configuration (besides the knit structure) affects the sensation to touch (cool or warm), moisture permeability, and the thermal conductivity of the garment. The lower the thermal conductivity, the better the insulation. In other words, the higher the thermal conductivity value, the faster excess body heat can be removed. Consequently, acrylic is the most used material in knit wear.
Why the Textile Industry Blends Wool and Acrylics
This sweater dress was a thrift store find for less than $20. It showed no pillage, was in perfect shape, and looked like brand-new. Upon contact, I immediately thought it’s a wool blend. I searched for the material and care instruction tags, but the previous owner had taken them and the size tag out, leaving only the brand tag inside.
To check whether there is wool inside, I folded a section to create a wrinkle. I held the fabric folded between my fingers and thumb for a while. Then I released the pressure. A short time later, the wrinkle vanished. Because of this behavior of the fabric, I concluded that my first guess was right. A major advantage of wool namely is being wrinkle resistant. And wool keeps this property when in blended fabrics.
Acrylic has the property to hold its shape. Therefore, designers often like to blend luxury wools with acrylic. As a result, knitwear from a wool/acrylic blends keeps its shape longer, and is wrinkle resistant. Furthermore, a wool/acrylic blend feels more cozy than 100% pure sheep wool.
Mölders, Nicole, 2019. Outdoor Universal Thermal Comfort Index Climatology for Alaska, Atmosphere and Climate Sciences, DOI: 10.4236/acs.2019.94036
Mölders, N., 2022. Fashion and the Physics of Clothes. Book in Perp.
Oğlakcioğlu, N., Marmarali, A., 2007. Thermal Comfort Properties of Some Knitted Structures. Fibres & Textiles in Eastern Europe, 15, 64 – 65.
January Stylish Monday – Cozy Sweaters
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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