There are certain things to look for when selecting a “hackable” yarn:
Low twist: The entire reason why yarn hacking works is that most commercial yarn is spun with the absolute minimum twist needed to produce the desired end product. The primary reason for this is that every twist added to yarn wears down the mill equipment that much more. So min twist means longer lifespan for very not-cheap mill equipment. It’s also much easier to produce a soft feeling yarn (with average grade fibers) if you spin to a low twist.
And after many years of this being the default commercial standard, it’s what most users and pattern designers are aiming at. Which means it’s what sells best, so they make more of it and… feedback loop.
Minimum of inclusions that you will need to extract: Sometimes this is a learn as you go process. Many commercial worsted weight “singles” type yarn are actually corespun to give added strength to the finished product. If you brush out this yarn you will need to remove the thin cord at the center as you go. Same thing goes for commercial singles that are plied up with a thread like Lion Brand Homespun.
Basically, your ideal hacking yarn is boring. 3-5 ply worsted weight, no inclusions, solid color. (Self striping worsted yarn can be hacked too, the physical process is the same, you are just playing around with more colors from the beginning.)
So… what yarn should you buy to get started on this? Unless noted, these are all yarns I have used for fiber hacking and had good results. You can get them at almost any big box craft store like Michaels, Jo-ann’s, or Hobby Lobby (HL is an assumption – we don’t have them out here in NJ) or in most Wallmarts. But keep in mind that this is just a starter’s guide – if you see a neat yarn you want to try hacking for fiber, go for it!
Easy to hack yarn brands (Acrylic):
Carron Simply Soft: Lots of standard colors available. Fibers come out smooth with low crimp, easy to comb out but very fine and so can be tricky to spin for a beginner unless blended with something with a bit more tooth.
Red Heart Super Saver: Even more standard colors then Simply Soft. Doesn’t comb out quite as easy as Simply Soft but the fibers have a moderate crimp to them that makes them a little easier to spin & you get a slightly loftier result.
Lion Brand Hometown USA: Acrylic, good selection of colors. Very easy to brush out. Fiber is smooth and low crimp. I’ve spun it up by itself with nice results, but it works better paired with one or more other fibers, similar to Simply Soft.
Big Twist Rainbow Classic: I have not tried this line out but it has all the hallmarks of a yarn that would work well. Soft hand, very loose twist. The colors are vibrant. Especially the purple. And the skeins are huge – 11 oz., so you’re getting very good bang for your buck.
Vanna’s Choice: This is on my to-try list. I expect it would brush out as well as Red Heart Super Saver and have a similar crimp. The color choices are on the muted, “classy” side for the most part.
Easy to hack yarn brands (Wool and Other):
Patons Classic Wool Roving: This is not a wool blend, it is 100% wool. Super low twist, it brushes out easy as anything. The grade and staple length are mid-range quality at best, (Spun into a thin singe it has the possibility of coming out scratchy, so it’s not a great option for next to skin items, although I’ve blended it with acrylic and Alpaca with very satisfactory results.) so this is not a substitution for good wool top or proper roving, but if you want a cheap fiber option for historical recreation events this is a possible win. Or if you just want to play with cheap wool. The colors are not as wide ranging as the acrylic lines
Patons Classic Wool Bulky: This is a 3 ply version of the Wool Roving above. I have not tried it yet, but I expect it would behave almost as well as the roving line. Slightly wider color selection then the roving line.
Patons Silk Bamboo: This stuff is awesome. A 70% bamboo and 30% silk blend in some very nice colors. Lighter weight then most of the other yarns on this list and a little more expensive, but it goes a surprisingly long way, especially as it works best blended up with wool or acrylic – it’s kind of slippery and can be tough to spin consistently on its’ own.
Not quite as easy but still hackable yarns:
Lion Brand homespun: Acrylic. These fibers are super loosely twisted and practically unspin themselves, but you do have to remove the outer plying thread and the inner core the single is corespun on. Also, the fibers are fine even for acrylic, and so will pill up faster than average (as anyone who has tried to knit with this stuff straight will doubtless already know) But it comes in some very nice colors and it’s a good bang for your buck pricewise.
Lion Brand Scarfie: This is on my to-do list. It's a 2 tone line in some nice combos if you want 2 colors that are guaranteed to work together (red/black, tan/cream, etc). It’s a corespun single, so you will need to remove the center cord while brushing out.
Yarns I would suggest you avoid:
Anything cotton: cotton is a fine, short fiber and requires high twist no matter what. Do not attempt unless you enjoy wasting your time.
Thin/light weight yarn: the lighter a yarn weight the more twist is required, and the less likely you will be able to comb it out useably. Also, you will get less fiber per combed inch and so will be putting in more work for less result.
Any novelty yarn: does it have sparkles? Sequins? Fur? Is it thick and thin? It will not work well for hacking.
Yes, some (many) fiber artists are snooty about acrylic fiber. But fiber artists can be snooty about a lot of things. This is what it comes down to:
Advantages of acrylic:
- easy to get
- easy to experiment with
- Superwash by default (no felting ever)
Disadvantages of acrylic:
- It. Will. Pill. Even if you spin with a hard, high twist. The fibers are just too delicate to do otherwise.
- Static magnet
- Anything else you don’t like about acrylic (scent, handfeel, etc) will still be present. If you are one of those folks who just can’t stand the feel of working with cheap acrylic, I won’t try to convert you. And you can still try this out on a skein of wool or bamboo if you want!