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Drape and elasticity are at opposite ends of a teeter-totter in the yarn world. There are reasons you want one or the other—for a shawl that hugs your shoulders or a pair of socks that stay up. You know a drapey or elastic yarn when you knit with one, but what makes a yarn languorous or snappy?

I swatched four yarns to answer this question:

Gleem Lace in Burnished, Nomade in Happy, Mohonk in Frosted Moss, and Atlas in Skyline

The answer to all yarn and fiber questions (and probably all questions in life) is: “It depends”—on what a knitter wants and needs (it is all about you, after all), and on the particular make-up of the yarns in consideration. All aspects of a yarn’s construction contribute to the elasticity or drape of a yarn, but the big three are: the fiber(s), the spin, and the ply. There’s the gauge the knitter chooses too.

Fiber: Weight and Crimp

All fibers have different weights. When we’re talking about wool, usually the finer the fiber the lighter it is. The heavier a fiber or yarn, the more tendency it has to drape.

And the more crimp in a fiber, the more elastic it is. Crimp can range from intense zig zags all the way to waves. Crimp acts just like a spring, the more crimp the more elasticity. Rambouillet is a very crimpy fiber, and Blue Faced Leicester has more of a wavy crimp.

Crimp comes in crinkle-cut french-fry style or in waves.

Blending fibers can help push a fiber toward either end of the teeter-totter. You can see how light, massively-crimped Atlas (100% Rambouillet) doesn’t really want to bend over the arms of my able assistant, but weightier, wavy Gleem (55% Blue Faced Leicester/45% silk) wants to swing and sway:

Spin: Worsted or Woolen

How a yarn is spun affects a yarn’s weight and crimp. A worsted spun yarn—where fibers are smoothed and air is squeezed out while it’s twisted into yarn—makes a heavier yarn, since the crimp doesn’t have much space to move around.

A woolen spun yarn—where fibers are spun with no smoothing and air is allowed to enter the fiber while it’s twisted into yarn—makes a lighter yarn, with the airiness allowing the crimp to spring as much as it wants.

A worsted spun yarn drapes better and a woolen spun yarn is springier. Gleem, Nomade, and Atlas are all worsted spun. Jill Draper’s Mohonk is woolen spun.


There are of course different ways to manipulate yarns in spinning to get different effects, one of them is ply.

Ply is an easy way to move toward drape or elasticity, both in the number of plies and the amount of ply twist. Fewer plies and a lighter twist make for a drapier yarn. More plies make a yarn heavier, and more twist in the plies makes a yarn more elastic.

I found working with Gleem and Nomade a fascinating study on ply. Gleem is a 2-ply, lightly-plied yarn, and drapes the most of all of the yarns. Nomade has the basic make up for an elastic yarn, it’s Merino and worsted spun. Nomade is a 4-ply yarn, which logically adds weight and should drape a bit. But, there is a lot of ply twist in this yarn, you can see it compared to Gleem in the photo. Nomade is one of the most beautifully elastic yarns I’ve ever knit (this is my first time). When I unpinned the lace swatch after blocking, it sprang back by at least a third—an incredible sock yarn.

In the MDK Shop
Gleem Lace and Nomade are now 20% off on MDK’s super-juicy SALE! page.

You might have noticed in the photo of all of the swatches, that Mohonk, which is woolen spun seems to drape more than most of the others. It’s not your imagination. When designing this yarn Jill Draper used very little ply twist, giving it more drape than a typical woolen spun yarn.

Gauge: Another Reason to Swatch

The gauge you use (and the stitch pattern) helps any yarn relax or spring. A tighter gauge, and an elastic stitch pattern help your knitting spring back into shape, and a looser gauge, and an open stitch pattern give you more languid knitting. I knit the stockinette swatches close to each yarn’s recommended gauge. For the lace swatches I went up 2-3 needle sizes, and chose an open lace pattern, and they all are doing their best to drape.

The TL;DR for Drapiness

When you are looking for a yarn to audition, keep fiber/blend and yarn construction in mind. If you don’t want to think too deeply in the heat of a shopping moment, think like this if you’re looking for drape:

  • If a yarn really springs back when you gently pull on it (like sock yarns), it is elastic and won’t drape well. (If you make a lace shawl with a beautiful but elastic yarn, you might find yourself reblocking it a lot.)
  • A yarn that looks and feels fluffy also won’t drape well.
  • Look for the addition of silk in a blend—it adds weight, and has no elasticity.
  • A yarn that is smooth, and lightly twisted in the ply also helps to make a great draping yarn.

And then there’s Atlas

Atlas is soft, springy, and 3-ply, but it’s spun with low twist, which gives it outstanding cushiness. After knitting the lace swatch with Atlas, I’m dying to make a lace sweater with it (more on that in a future post!). I go deeper into Atlas here.

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About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at


  • THIS would be a fantastic Shakerag-ish workshop topic. Jillian supplies sample yarns and we bring our favorites as well.

    • I agree; would love to attend a workshop on this topic!

  • Wow, thorough, well-written, extremely informative article. Thank you

    • Love ur articles

  • Thank you for this superb article. It is wonderful to have so much information in one place….right at our fingertips. I know I will refer to this many times in the future.

  • I enjoyed this informative article. On a different topic, what type of yarn is most likely to pill and conversely which yarn isn’t likely to pill?

    • I was told by my LYS years ago “the softer the yarn the more it pills”. This after I made 12 pair of fingerless mitts for gifts from a Churchmouse pattern using Rowan’s Finest as called for (not sure if still made). Saw one pair a few months later, looked like a cat shredded them but happened only from wear, in & out of pockets, very depressing. Still love the pattern but now only use sock yarn for mitts! Possibly all the things Jillian talks about also effects pilling (or not), perhaps she could address sometime. I’ve read the longer the fiber the less it pills but hard to know that at a glance or feel. Another example, I use Shibui Cima in scarves & shawls (sadly now discontinued), soft yet doesn’t pill from many wearings & a go-to fav, but Shibui Staccato very disappointing in a shawl I love so never bought again. Since mitt fiasco feel I must test a yarn for myself for durability on something before making a gift for someone which is ridiculously time consuming, not practical. Yarn is too expensive in time & materials for disappointing wear so if I find a yarn I love I stick with it (then it gets discontinued).

  • I can attest to the drape of Gleem Lace (big fan of BFL), but I was appalled by the pilling due, I think, to the silk component, Even the most careful tinking produced heartache.

  • The spectrum of drape to not drapey in fabrics is drape/body. I totally see and understand the factors here that are giving the yarns more and less drape. In machine made knits, drapey does not necessarily mean inelastic (in fact, there’s often a lot of stretch). Machine knits with body are often fairly inelastic, but could be.

    My mind is churning over whether for natural hand knitting fibers it’s sort of universal that elastic yarns will always have to be knit at loose gauge to be drapey. And that yarns with no stretch will be drapey.

    Thanks for these columns, I love them.

  • So much good information! For those of us who cannot, for the life of us, keep these variables in our heads, is there a chart or a matrix we could pull out when shopping? I’m just sayin that there might be someone who would need help remembering.

    • Yes, please!

  • Wonderful article with so much information for me as a hand spinner. Would love to know the name of the lace stitch pattern used in the samples. Thanks!

  • Jillian,
    Thank you very much for another super helpful article. You are truly the Yarn Detective Extraordinaire!

  • It seems to me that the stitch is English Mesh Lace. See:
    and find the “swatch photos” link further down the page.
    It is a simple, but attractive lace – I agree… ;-))

  • Such a useful article… Thanks!

  • Thanks. Brilliant use of your assistants, especially as they like tiny swatches.

  • How can you tell how tightly twisted the yarn is?

    • Look at the ply angle on the yarn. Holding the yarn vertically, looser is closer to vertical, tight ply closer to horizontal. Try it on some yarns in your stash.

  • Wonderfully detailed explanation. I have never seen worsted vs. woolen spun noted on a ball band. Where would one find this information?

    • Hi Janet,

      Woolen or worsted spun is not usually on the ball band. Sometimes you can find it by looking at the yarn on the maker’s website, sometimes not. I’ve learned the difference from Jillian’s article on it here:

      I’m still not 100 percent accurate when looking at a yarn! We try to include this information for yarns when we know it, and we’re happy to answer the question for any yarns we sell in the MDK Shop.

  • I’m currently knitting socks with Nomade and I can attest that is delightfully springy, cushy, and an overall dream for socks. I love this yarn!
    I’m saving up for an an SQ of Atlas this fall- it will be my fall sweater this year.

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