Man-Made Fibers: Acrylic

Acrylic yarns are often regarded with an upturned nose and considered “cheap” yarns by those who have experienced the wonderful world of wool, but there’s more to it.

Du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc is an American company which first created acrylic fiber in the mid 40s and started commercial production in 1950.  It is made via a chemical process that involves coal, water, petroleum and limestone.  Additional chemicals are added to improve the fiber’s ability to absorb dyes.

One of the unique factors about acrylics is that they can be modified to give the fibers different characteristics, making it suitable for a number of different uses.  Acrylic is still one of the most used man-made textiles in the United States.  Go through your closet and look at the tags.  How many items have acrylic listed as part of the textile?

Some fiber artists tend to shy away from acrylics.  Acrylics are sometimes relegated to “cheap” handmade textiles.  Acrylics have also come under fire in the last decade due to the chemical process used to make them and because of synthetic fiber waste that has been found in the ocean and along the coast lines.

  • Acrylics are affordable.  They open the door for new fiber artists.  I remember getting Super Saver skeins for $0.79 as a teenager.  Imagine if I’d never had access to those yarns!
  • Acrylics hold up to wear and tear in  a way that most natural fibers don’t.  They are perfect for large projects that require a lot of yardage.
  • Today, more than ever, acrylics are available in a huge variety of types of yarns, from eyelet to boucle to velvet to traditional multi-ply yarns.  The technology has developed at an incredible speed, especially since the 70s, and many of the qualities we associate with acrylic yarns — scratchy, icky, sheddy — are no longer true.

While we don’t usually rely on acrylics for hand spinning, in part because we are usually looking for different qualities in the fiber or because we are concerned with environmental impact, there are a few exceptions. There are some specialty blending fibers, such as glow-in-the dark acrylics, which can be blended with wools and other fibers.


Man-Made Fibers Fact Book, , Man-Made Fiber. Producers Association, Inc. 1978.

Single clothes wash may release 700,000 microplastic fibres, study finds | EnvironmentThe Guardian (2016-09-27). Retrieved on 2018-10-14.

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