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I have been a Rowan fan for as long as I’ve been knitting.  I have a copy of issue number 1 of Rowan Magazine. The shop where I learned to knit a sweater that fit had an entire wall of Rowan yarns, and it was love at first sight. I have Rowan yarns in my stash that are older than my kids or my marriage.

Big Wool was the first super bulky yarn that the knitting world went nuts for. It was giant and soft, and didn’t pill as quickly as other bulky yarns of the day.  (Single-ply, merino bulkies, I’m looking at you.)

Big Wool is a special yarn, a magical yarn as far as bulky yarns go. I think whoever designed this yarn is a genius and could teach other yarn folks a thing or two about making a soft, light, bulky yarn. It’s next-to-the-skin soft, and surprising light and durable for a super bulky yarn.

Let’s swatch it up, and take a closer look at Big Wool.

In the MDK Shop
Get your Big Wool right here. And enter code MAINSQUEEZE at checkout for 10% off!
By Rowan

The Fiber

On the Rowan website, Big Wool’s description says merino, but the label says 100% wool, which usually is code for wool pool. If it is merino, it is a longer stapled merino, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a little something else in the mix.

It is buttery soft, but doesn’t insta-pill like most bulky merino yarns.

The Draft

Big Wool is drafted worsted, but with none of that workhorse, sock-level twisting. The draft smoothes and compresses the yarn, but with a very light twist.

The worsted drafting helps to make it durable, and the light twist keeps it airy.

The Ply

Big Wool is a 3-ply with regular ply twist, not under-plied like many bulky yarns. This makes it have stitch definition, really helps with durability, and gives the yarn and fabric a little bit of heft—the good kind.


Here’s where trade-offs happen in making yarn. You want a fat, light, soft yarn? It’s not going to be as durable as finer, more tightly twisted, tougher yarns.

Here are the things Rowan did to give this marvelous yarn a little more durability:

Fiber. Merino, all the soft. Either it’s not the super-duper finest merino, or there’s a little something extra, a tiny bit of another breed, in the mix.

Draft. Less twist in the draft makes Big Wool airy and light, but it’s drafted worsted to smooth and compress it a little. Smoother yarns don’t have as much surface fuzz just hanging out, waiting to pill.

Ply. The ply is where many yarn makers try to make their yarn lighter and softer, by using a light twist and keeping the number of plies down. Rowan went a different route with lighter twist in the singles. That allows them to have three plies, and to use a regular amount of ply twist, the type found in most sweater yarns. These two things really help protect the individual strand of yarn from the assault of day-to-day use.

Like all butter-soft yarns, Big Wool is not immune to pilling. But its construction means it pills less than other skin-soft yarns.

Let’s Go to the Swatches

The extra ply gives great stitch definition to an airy yarn, even when it is knitted at a looser gauge. The fabric is so smooth and squooshy, you’ll be petting yourself all day.

Lace wants to show off her decreases with this yarn, but I kind of dig it. That third ply makes the yarn round, pushing stitches together, rather than rolling out like a 2-ply yarn. It’s just a different beast of lace. The size of the yarn already makes lace toothy, and the added stitch definition makes it pretty fierce. I get the most questions from knitters and non-knitters alike when I wear Big Wool lace—”what is that?”

Jen Geigley knew exactly what to do with Big Wool in MDK Field Guide No. 12:  texture stitches. This yarn is so happy as texture. It yields big fat stitches that look cast, and pop all over the place. Lightly spun 3-ply makes a giant statement without weighing 5 pounds. Texture stitches in Big Wool cause other people to pet you (with consent, of course).


I’m sneaking this one in here—I am the Fairy Gristmother, after all.

Big Wool gets about 25 yards to the ounce. Knitted up in Big Wool, my size of the Main Squeeze Cardigan takes 1,044 yards, and weighs 2.6 lbs.

A yarn some may substitute for Big Wool is Malabrigo Rasta, which is 17 yards per ounce. In Rasta, my Main Squeeze Cardigan would weigh 3.8lbs.

Why is Big Wool so much lighter? Rasta is a single-ply yarn, which by its construction is heavier than a multiple-ply yarn. A single-ply yarn doesn’t have that little bit of air in between the plies to lighten the yarn. Rasta is also slightly felted in the finish, for stability and durability. Felting  constricts the fibers in the yarn, making the yarn denser and heavier. Know before you sub!

A Hot Tip for Big Wool

I have a tip for weaving in the rope-like ends of Big Wool: simply un-ply the yarn and weave each ply in separately.

If you weave in the yarn as is (pink arrow), it’s snaky and bulge-y on the on the back. If you un-ply the yarn and weave in each ply individually (blue arrows),  they pretty much disappear, especially because Big Wool is so loosely spun.

I’m happy to do a little extra weaving to have ends that disappear into my fabric, rather than having a giant 3-ply sand worm on the private side of my knitting.

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


  • thank you, never thought about air in the yarn before makes perfect sense once you’re in the know. Can’t wait to work with this now that we’re getting ready for the winter blast

  • Another excellent article! The concept of Grist continues to fascinate me, and the tip for weaving in the ends on the Big Wool is aces. Thank you, Jillian!

  • Wow! That was fascinating!! Thank you sooo much!

  • I tend to like finer yarns and was a little afraid of Big Wool. This article helped a lot! I feel much better about using it, even as lace! Who would have thought? And not nearly as heavy as I was imagining. I love Jill’s sense of humor too – great article! She should review all your yarns! Thanks!

    • Thank you for the weaving idea…very clever and less visible.
      Suggest weaving ends of yarn together when adding a new ball will eliminate loose ends. Rowan will work perfectly doing this.
      So glad I joined your group…so helpful.//joy

      • I soaked my Grace Pullover made from Big Wool and it GREW. Soaked in warm water. Blocked. Is there a way to shrink it? Soak in very hot water? Love the sweater but nearly twice the size.

        • I have knitted several pieces using Big Wool and was also amazed at how much it “grew”, lengthened, stretched after soaking. I usually simply leave the pieces to dry flat and put up with the change in size (not too much of a problem for a scarf). Today I soaked a sweater and it ended up as long as a minidress… :0 So I took a deep breath, gave it a gentle spinning in the washing machine (400 RPM, 13 minutes), and (gasp) put it in the dryer, normal cycle. I frantically opened the door every 5 minutes to check the sweater and everything was FINE . After over an hour, once the sweater was completely dry, it started to go back to a more normal shape. Phew. Hope this helps – but make sure you frequently open the door and take a look.

          • Rowan Big Wool is a disaster as far as I’m concerned. My daughter, who knits quite well, made a black sweater – turtleneck out of Big Wool.
            It was sagging and pilling somewhat while being knitted, but it sagged all over the place, unbelievable how bad it was, when it was washed.
            I’ve been washing wool carefully by hand all my life, as my mother was an expert knitter who made all our sweaters when we lived in England, used wool, and washed it all by hand.
            I have never seen wool behave that way. This is warm water, no squeezing or twisting, carefully laying the garment across sticks to let it drain before removing it from the sink. Then flat drying. It lost all semblance of shape.
            I don’t understand how people excuse this as acceptable for an expensive yarn. It’s as if they’ll fit the facts into the Rowan Is Fantastic narrative.

            It was a bit of a heartbreak to do all that work, and have the sweater become so much of a disaster that it could not be worn. The Rowan store accepted no responsibility for it. As for the pilling – out of this world.
            I wouldn’t touch it again. Absolute garbage.

        • I just knitted Grace and the hat Cara – just soaked the hat and quite alarmed at what happened (it is still drying so I’m waiting to see what happens). Considering damp blocking or steam blocking Grace. Curious to know if anyone else has advice – your comment has convinced me not to soak Grace! Thank you.

    • What a great idea [wink]!

      • That would be awesome! I’ve been knitting for a few years now but I still learn something new from all of Jillian’s yarn articles. As someone without a LYS, learning more about how yarns behave has helped me order new yarns without as much worry that I’ll be stuck with something I hate.

  • I love your coining of the phrase “private side of my knitting” – so to the point. Thank you x

  • Worth the price of admission, that tip about unplying to weave in ends!

  • Another super post from Jillian!! Always informative, and humours 😉 Fairy Gristmother! Luv it, lol

  • really interesting article.

  • My jaw LITERALLY dropped for that weaving-in tip. WOW. Thank you!

    • Yes! It reminded me that this is the way to deal with the ends of slippery yarns, too, provided they are plied. For example: linen.

      • Yes, I do this with plant based yarns too!

  • WHOA! What is the lace pattern in your swatch? I have just finished the sleeves for my Main Squeeze cardigan and am about to start the body and I’ve just had a flash of inspiration….what if I make the body with LACE instead of sand stitch?? OMGOSH…it will be PERFECT for Texas winter!!!

    • Genius!!!!!!

  • Very instructive! Thank you!

    • Love the tip for weaving in the ends on big wool

      • ❤️ I agree

  • I found your article well written, so very informative, and I read every word. Being a plus size woman, I avoid bulky yarns, and bug projects that would take forever. Your beautifully written article has talked me into Big Wool. And I can even explain why! Thank you!

  • I have a pre 71 knitting machine and vintage yarn for sale 720-621-3587 please call or text if interested.

  • I agree with you. I also love Cascade Magnum…same weight, similar composition
    I’d love to see your comparison between the two.

  • More excellent info! I’m going to share this with a student who doesn’t understand when I tell her that a top down raglan in Rasta isn’t the best idea.

  • I have never thought of un-plying a yarn and weaving in the ends separately. That is genius! I love this article and will have to try Rowan Big Wool. I haven’t knit Rowan in a while!

  • Where is Rowan Big Wool sourced from? Country? I am careful where I buy my wool from and non-mulesing yarn.
    Thank you.
    Informative article!

  • This is a very interesting article and I’ll be reading again to digest all of the info provided. I’m just finishing a sweater in Rowan Little Big Wool and I’m wondering if you know how it differs from Big Wool. I find it to be very scratchy compared to other yarns I’ve been working with. I have several light blue skeins which are just beautiful and some brown left over so I hope I can find good use for them. It appears Little Big Wool has been discontinued. Thanks again for your helpful information.

  • I took a proper knitting class in 1983 and I have never stopped because there is always so much more to learn something that you had never thought of before and the greatest thing is the incredible yarns that have been created ! This is a wonderful time to be able to knit and learn

  • Hi, I’m trying to figure out the best kind of yarn to use in making a chunky V-neck sweater, similar to that the v neck chunky sweater bye I love Mr. mittens. I’m trying to figure out which bulky yarn would be the best to use. Not sure if it’s a bulky or a super bulky. I’m worried about the pilling and I would like it to also be soft, and it looks like the one you’re describing above might be a good yarn, so I’m wondering if you would recommend the Rowan or the malabregio Rasta

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