Could I Be Allergic to Yarn!?

By Caissa "Cami" McClinton – 28 Comments

Before you start writing me supportive notes of encouragement during my time of struggle, I feel I should mention that I am not actually allergic to yarn. However, allergies or sensitivities to certain types of fiber do happen. In fact, I have a good friend who is an avid crocheter and she is so allergic to wool, she can’t even work with wool yarn unless it’s no more than a 20% wool blend! She can crochet with it if her finished product is for someone else, that is, because she is so allergic to wool, that she can not wear the final product!

Clearly this girl just found out she can no longer crochet with wool!  Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf via flickr under license:

Clearly this girl just found out she can no longer crochet with wool! Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf via flickr under license:

Can you imagine? It wasn’t always this way for my friend. She actually developed the allergy over time. Now, when I say allergy, I am not talking about an itchy sweater scenario. My friend actually breaks out. Apparently the genuine allergy is pretty rare: approximately 1.7%, according to one study. Even so, I suspect a lot more people are sensitive to wool than have that allergy. What brought this up?

Well, I very recently had the chance to do an awesomely intense, impromptu yarn crawl across New England. (Yarn heaven!) While I was in a gorgeous Connecticut yarn store, I spied so many captivating, hand-painted, and kettle dyed beauties that my head was spinning. I was in there with a friend who doesn’t yarn craft and she told me she doesn’t do well with wool and that it irritates her skin. Booo! Well half of the gifts I had just mentally created for her just fell through. That got me thinking about wool allergies and led to this blog post.

I wanted to take a moment to list (and link to) some fabulous wool alternatives for those who are allergic, sensitive, vegan, or those who just want something different! I’m going to skip the obvious acrylic and cottons and go for the really different stuff, and just for fun – handspun! Warning: the price tags may be a bit of a shock, but just look for fun unless you want to splurge!

Reclaimed Vegan Linen

Handspun Vegan Bamboo in Precious Purple

Hand-dyed, Handspun, Single-ply Vegan Rayon Yarn

La Sirena-Handspun Bamboo Yarn

Faux Cashmere Handspun Vegan Yarn, Bora Bora

So what about you? Do you know anyone who has a wool sensitivity or allergy? If you have this allergy, how do you deal with it and how does it affect your crocheting habits? What do you think of these vegan yarns? What is your favorite wool alternative? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Pam says:

    I am so allergic i blow up like a balloon, my lips get so swollen i can not describe, but let me say this a straw becomes my only freind, the whites of my eyes swell out of my lids, no closing eyes for sleep, and my nose closes i end up breathing through a friendly straw.. this all happened when my niece got a rabbit and i played with it.. it first started with the itch…. if i put yarn against my arm and it turns red in a minute i will not use it.. not now not ever and people tell me it is in my head.. i am only sentive to the lanolin — lol like that saves me from all the grief i mentioned above.. oh by the way my mom took a picture of me like that and i destroyed the photo now i wish i had kept it..

    • Ann says:

      I am allergic to cats and dogs, I got allergy hives from some yarn, I think a cat had its way with it. It is not in your head, when you blow up and itch from something. I like to touch and smell yarn before I use it. There is a cat living in a yarn store in my area, I can’t use yarn from there.

    • Wow! What an incredible story. I have seen people swell up quite a bit for different allergy reasons, but this sounds exceptional.

    • MsKat says:

      You should see an allergist and get a prescription for an epi-pen. The reaction you had was anaphylaxis, and could have been deadly. Your airways can swell completely shut and you suffocate. The reason I say get the epi pen is because often when there is a reaction severe enough to need it, there are only seconds to minutes to use it. Once you have reacted to something you always will, and cross-contamination can be an issue as well. What if a yarn manufacturer mislabels their fiber content on some yarn, and you buy some to make a project? Or, you could encounter your allergens anywhere, even attached to something you are not allergic to; What if you go somewhere and try on a garment, not knowing an allergen has been tangled with it or rubbed all over it, as in the case of shoppers bundling things together and casting them aside when they decide not to buy them. Please, get the epi-pen and keep it with you, and each time it expires and you have to replace it, count yourself fortunate you didn’t have to use it. Best wishes.

    • Pat says:

      I have a suggestion for you. I had developed watery, itchy eyes after knit/crochet for a brief time with any kind of yarn.
      I was able to get some relief by wearing a mask that covers nose and mouth; this cuts out having a reaction to the tiny fiber bits that come off the yarn when you are handling it. At least that’s how it worked for me.
      You could try using close fitting gloves for knit/crochet to avoid a contact exposure; putting a clean towel in your lap should help keep the fibers off your clothes.
      You might also want to try cotten threads.
      Good luck!

  2. Donna S says:

    I have a sensitivity to wool. I get a mild rash. I also have to avoid metal crochet hooks because my skin breaks down from extensive contact. I actually crocheted in gloves and covered myself with a sheet when working on a wool afghan for a friend. She chose the yarn, not realizing I had a problem. She loved the yarn and had spent so much; I didn’t want to ask her to change.

  3. K-eM says:

    Is she allergic to sheep’s wool or all animal hair? That’s an important clarification.

    Based on your post, she’s allergic to sheep’s wool like I am. I’m part of that small percent who have an actual allergy and it makes my eyes run, I sneeze and cough, and if I persist I start having skin problems around the eyes.

    However, and this is important, I am not allergic to alpaca, llama, silk, cashmere, bison, or any other animal fiber. So having a wool allergy doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use animal fibers of any kind.

    Another important thing: Those of us with a sheep’s wool allergy aren’t necessarily allergic to every breed and some reactions to wool might be the chemicals used in the processing.

    For example, I have found through experimentation that I am not allergic to Blue Faced Leicester, Merino, or Churro…unless it’s superwash or still has the processing chemicals in it.

    Since finding out that I’m not allergic to one breed, I have cautiously tried handling other breeds. As a hand spinner this is a lot easier than with commercial yarn since most wool yarns don’t list breed unless it’s merino.

  4. Erica says:

    I’m slightly allergic to yarn that is 100% wool. How did I find this out? Well, a year or so ago, I bought three skeins of Cascade 220 and aimed to make them into squares for “Knit a Square” (the charity). Alas, I ended up feeling itchy while using it. I can use yarn that has wool in it, but only up to 30% or so.

  5. Pre says:

    If it is straight wool I often have a big issue both with breaking out and with breathing (and with fibers in my eyes if I’m working with the wool). I’m okay with more refined wools, though – such as good quality merinos where the wool has a longer strand and a softer hand. I do have severe allergies to other fibers including mohair, rabbit, angora, camel… so I definitely need to watch my fiber contents.

    While I do work with merino, I also use bamboo, cotton, silk, linen, hemp, corn, soy, alpaca (if refined, soft, and not too much haze), cashmere, and I’m sure others that I’m just not thinking of off the top of my head. The handspuns you linked to were on the pricey side (they are handspun, after all), however there really are a lot of high quality affordable non-wool options out there. And you can often find a good sale or even sometimes a closeout just because a color is discontinued.

  6. Sue DiMartino says:

    When I walk through a store that has wool sweaters on display, my eyes begin to water. Before I figured out my allergy to woo (as a kid)l, I would break out in hives if I wore any wool. I haven’t attempted to crochet with wool, although some of the wool yarns are positively gorgeous!

    Thank you for the links to alternatives – what a great idea!

  7. Diane West says:

    Alpaca yarn!!! Compared more to cashmere than wool in texture and it is naturally hypoallergenic. It has now been named the #1 fiber by the Textile Industry.

    I’ve worked with several individuals who have severe allergies to wool and they have been able to wear alpaca garments.

    It’s also water resistant and fire retardant.

    • Ella says:

      I rather unwisely bought some chunky wool in an alpaca/wool mix recently. I say unwisely because I was aware I had a problem with wool. I thought it would be fine as it was 2/3 alpaca. Anyway I made a scarf and noticed I was slightly itchy while wearing it for around an hour. Then I looked in the mirror and saw the red rash that had come up on my neck… I’ll be giving away the scarf, but now I don’t know if it was solely the 1/3 sheep’s wool content causing the problem or the alpaca as well. I may just stick to cotton or bamboo.

  8. pat m says:

    I thought I had a wool allergy and possibly an acrylic one as well: after knitting or crocheting for about 15 to 30 min, I would begin to sneeze.
    I discovered that the problem was with yarns that “shed” fibers as you use them!

    I wear a face mask so I don’t breathe them in, but still can get eye irritations.
    Check you yarns by running a length thru your hands a couple of times–also true if they are difficult to “unknit”. hope this is helpful!

  9. jan C says:

    My mother is allergic to one of the bulky yarn brands and cannot crochet with it. If she wants a heavier material, she just uses 2 strands now. Her eyes run and her hands and arms get very itchy. I am allergic to wool and nylon, but since I don’t knit or crochet with either I am safe. I couldn’t wear nylon stockings, my legs would break out with all little bumps. Since they started making stockings with everything but nylon, I could go back to wearing stockings.

  10. Peggy D says:

    Great topic. I’m in a Facebook crochet group where we make squares that our leader or others assembles into afghan. We use acrylics for ease of care … and because she has a nasty wool allergy. So far, none for me, but my sister has one too.

  11. Peggy Smith says:

    I am extremely allergic to (sheep’s) wool and a lot of animal hair as well — can’t wear it, touch it, or work with it. I crochet almost exclusively with acrylics (I like Caron), but I like bamboo, too.

  12. Naomi says:

    My daughter is a violinist and she wanted a cloth to use under her chin, against her chin rest. I bought a beautifully soft Bamboo yarn with a “touch of silk” in it. She loves it, but after one day’s use she has a nasty red rash on her chin where the swatch touched her skin… 🙁 Is it the bamboo or the silk? Do you think? Has anyone heard of that before?

    • K-eM says:

      It could be either, but I would guess the bamboo is the culprit. Most of what I’ve seen on the internet has been what you describe, a skin irritation. Most people who are allergic to silk experience the kind that come from inhaling the fiber. Runny nose, sneezing, etc.

  13. Stephanie Greene says:

    I need some help or suggestions.. I have just started knitting and crocheting after many years.. I started crocheting a baby afghan made of 100 % Polyester made in china by Bernat by Isaac Mizrahi. Also started to knit a scarf made of 77% Acrylic 15 % Metallic, 8 % Polyamide. Both broke my hands and arms out in a very itchy red rash.. I had to go to the Doctor and be put on Prednisone to make it go away. Then I tried buying a different cloth yarn made of 100% cotton made in Canada. Peaches and crème. This also made me itch and break out.. Does anyone have any suggestions to help me so I can knit and Crochet… I love to do it and want to learn to make many more things.. I am a dog groomer and have been for 25 years no problem with pet hair at all. Do you think it could be the dyes in the yarn? I have thought about trying to wash the yarn before I use it… Any help you have would be wonderful…

  14. Debbie K says:

    I was browsing through the search engine on allergies and yarn. I started working on an afghan for my grandson and noticed my arms turning red. I didn’t think anything about it at first. Now that I’m in a hotel and working to finish, my arms really broke out. The difference with my story is that the yarn is acrylic and not wool. It has to be the dye as I’ve recently finished and afghan for my granddaughter and I had no problems with it. It was totally different in color. I’m just hoping my poor little grand baby isn’t allergic as well!!!!

  15. Sam says:

    Acrylic yarns I react to and I found that out at 17 while working at michaels. Fast forward to now as a long time wool lovers and having my own wool yarn company. I’m a spinner knitter weaver and dyer and specialise in wool. But now it seems I may be developing an allergy. Shirts that never gave me any issues I can’t wear for more than a few minutes. Spinning or knitting with wool causes my eyes to itch and water and breathing becomes more difficult. Wool is my full time job and passion. Now I have to rethink everything.

    • Lauran says:

      My passion has been knitting and weaving, I had a yarn shop for 2 years and after closing my store now have $20,000 worth of yarn I may not be able to use. I believe I may have an allergy to Sheep yarn, breaking out constantly with hives and welts for no apparent reason. I moved all my yarn to a room I am sleeping in and now suspect I am allergic to the sheep wool, likely due to the lanolin but not positive. Now I need to find out how to sell my yarn without handling it or having in my house. It is such a treasured investment I am devastated. L. All your comments about allergies are confirming my suspicion and I will go and get tested then if its is the yarn, I must find a way to have someone else sell it so I don’t lose everything financially. Any suggestions on how you discovered what exactly you were allergic to?

  16. Nicola says:

    Hi there, I also have breathing problems with working with wool, I have been tested and I do have an allergy… before going anywhere with a lot of yarn I take an antihistamine, I made a huge afghan for my mother at Christmas out of 100% wool and by the end I was wheezing like an 80 year old who’d smoked 40 cigarettes a day for her whole life!

    I’ve been thinking about getting a face mask, so I’m glad to see that these seem to work. I bought lots of lovely alpaca recently and the wheezing is back, but it was gorgeous and such a bargain that I bought enough of three large cardigans!

    The worst fibre I’ve found so far though is possum… I crocheted one square and everything started running… it was lovely apart from that!

    The worst thing is that everyone seems to find it hilarious that I’m such an avid knitter/crocheter and allergic to my hobby!

    • Lauran says:

      I am one person who completely understands. My hands itch constantly but latex gloves bother me as well. I cannot stop knitting and weaving but need to find a way to do it without being ill.

      • Cindy says:

        Lauren, I began doing a lot of crocheting earlier this year, nearly every night, and after about a month or less I started developing numbness and tingling in my hands that would last for quite a while. Thought from all the hand/wrist activity it was a muscle or circulation issue or carpal tunnel ‘like’. Fast forward 10 months and I happened to strike up a conversation with an elderly woman at my yarn store and she suggests it’s the yarn I’m using, (a chenille type) 100% polyester, that contains “iron” (which I’m thinking is more petrol related). To prove it, I happened to be on a week long break from crocheting noticing that my hands returned to near normal. She had me hold a skein of cotton yarn, no problem; then held my chenille yarn and sure ’nuff, redness and some tingling started in my hands. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve found much relief now from hydracortisone cream and by wearing all-cotton gloves (from medical supply store that comes in sizes; $2/pair) and painted on a thin layer of fabric paint onto finger and palm areas to help with needed friction contact. To avoid using the paint, I may also try sometime putting fitted latex-free gloves over the cotton ones. As long as the gloves are per your hand size, vs one size fits all, I haven’t had any problems doing my crocheting and seem to be able to maintain the same speed. Good luck.

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