Once we want to take up the knitting craft, there are basics to know about buying yarn by fiber type. It matters because if you want to knit a warm hat or pair of mittens, you will want to use a soft, yet cosy, yarn for the project. Also fibers have varying thickness, or weights.
Worsted wool is great for knitting hats, scarves and mittens. Worsted wool is what I began knitting with. Wool is of course good for keeping warm, but often it is scratchy. Merino wool is very popular, and so is alpaca. Or choose combinations of wool with other fibers like cashmere or silk for extra softness.
Most of the really nice wool is hand-wash only. But there is washable wool also, like Mrs. Crosby’s Steamer Trunk washable wool yarn, and the Hat Box yarn line (shown below) which is “machine wash cold”. Delicate knits should be washed carefully, even if the yarn says machine wash. Hand washing is my preference, but keep this in mind when knitting for someone who may not like that idea! Baby items should be easy to care for.
There are too many yarn types to really mention, but basically there is synthetic (man-made) cheap types that can be purchased at Walmart, and the real deal which came from an animal. This is called natural fiber yarn and includes alpaca, sheep, cashmere (goats) and rabbits (angora yarn). There are also blended yarns which combine various types together. See this page at Knitting 101 for a more inclusive list of yarn fibers and their pros and cons. Also, where you can, read reviews left by knitters who have worked with the yarn. The Webs yarn site often has reviews listed at the bottom of the page.
Beginners may want to buy cheap synthetics to start with, but honestly I would use something better like cotton. Some great beginner projects are facecloths and dishcloths. They are small and will accommodate mistakes well. They are also perfect for trying out various stitches. My dishcloths don’t follow any pattern. They are made up of whatever stitches I feel like trying. Buy washable yarn such as Purl Soho’s Cotton Pure, which will provide enough yarn for a few projects, or Lily’s Sugar and Cream which is available in many colors, and can be purchased at Amazon.
In closing, I would like to say that in my knitting experience I have found that if I plan to put a lot of work (and time) into a special project, I want to use a nice, natural fiber, hand-dyed yarn. I like to think I am supporting a farm somewhere in the process.