Thursday, December 16, 2010

Acrylic - it doesn't melt babies

Enjoying her acrylic blankie.
I have never heard so much hate for a fiber as I have for acrylic.  I am going to have to break this down if I want to come out even remotely coherent.  So, the main complaints about acrylic are:
  • it doesn't breathe.
  • it doesn't actually insulate you, it just makes you sweaty. 
  • it melts when it gets hot.
  • it feels like plastic.
  • it is really staticy.
  • it is impossible to block, at all. 
Now, the idea that acrylic doesn't breathe is kind of silly.  It is not like wrapping yourself in plastic wrap, as some have claimed.  Look at any knit fabric -- there are holes!  It just doesn't breathe as well as wool or cotton do.  Which brings me to point two -- acrylic does so insulate you.  Just, again, not as well as wool does.  Acrylic does in fact melt, but only when it is very, VERY hot... if you are hot enough that your acrylic sweater/baby blanket/whatever is melting, you have bigger problems than melty plastic stuff.  The feel of acrylic is a little more involved.  Some of it does indeed feel plasticy.  Some of it is scratchy.  But some wool is scratchy and unpleasant, too, and there are MANY textures of acrylic.  To pick two at random, Bernat Softee Baby is soft enough for premies... Red Heart Super Saver is, shall we say, NOT.  As for the static, it depends, really.  Man made fiber + man made fiber does indeed generate a ton of static.  But it's not going to set off sparks against your cotton sheets.

Blocking acrylic gets it's own paragraph.  You CAN block it.  To do it, you have to get it hot enough that it JUST begins to melt.  I do this by shooting it with jets of steam with my iron.  Blocking acrylic is irrevocable.  Because you are actually changing the structure of the fibers, it will never go back the way wool does.  This can be a good thing (you never have to block it again) or a bad thing (if you screw up, you're stuck with it).

Advantages of acrylic?  It is incredibly easy care.  The only way I've figured out to ruin it by washing is to put it in the "sanitize" cycle on my washing machine, which basically blocked it for me.  Would have been nice if it were a shawl, baby blankets not so much.  Because of this, it's GREAT for baby stuff.  Seriously, babies have gooey stuff coming out from all ends, and it's nice to just be able to throw it in the washing machine and not worry about it.  It is fairly hypoallergenic, as well, and comes in a wide range of textures to suit just about anybody's preference.  But for me, the biggest advantage is it's general indestructibility.  As an example, I have an afghan that was made by my great-grandmother when acrylic was the hot new thing.  It is in PERFECT condition, in spite of years of use followed by years in an attic in California.  Wool would have attracted moths or carpet beetles, or simply succumbed to the temperature extremes, years ago.

So, do I like acrylic as much as I do wool?  Personally, no.  But I will always craft with acrylic and acrylic blends.  The unique properties of the fiber mean that there are some things that are just better made from a nice acrylic.  There are also some things that are just better made from Red Heart Super Saver (seriously, it is FAB for toys).  All yarn has a place!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article, I thought I was the only one that liked acrylic. I actually find wool to be scratchy and the acrylic works best for the toys/critters that I make. Great article.