Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres, suitable for use in the production of textiles, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, embroidery, or ropemaking. Thread is a type of yarn intended for sewing by hand or machine. Modern manufactured sewing threads may be finished with wax or other lubricants to withstand the stresses involved in sewing. Embroidery threads are yarns specifically designed for needlework.
Cotton and polyester are the most commonly spun fibers in the world. Cotton is grown throughout the world. After harvesting it is ginned and prepared for yarn spinning. Polyester is extruded from polymers derived from natural gas and oil. Synthetic fibers are generally extruded in continuous strands of gel-state materials. These strands are drawn (stretched), annealed (hardened), and cured to obtain properties desirable for later processing.
Other animal fibers used include alpaca, angora, mohair, llama, cashmere, and silk. More rarely, yarn may be spun from camel, yak, possum, musk ox, vicuņa, cat, dog, wolf, rabbit, or bison hair, and even chinchilla as well as turkey or ostrich feathers. Natural fibers such as these have the advantage of being slightly elastic and very breathable, while trapping a great deal of air, making for some of the warmest fabrics in existence.
In general, natural fibers tend to require more careful handling than synthetics because they can shrink, felt, stain, shed, fade, stretch, wrinkle, or be eaten by moths more readily, unless special treatments such as mercerization or superwashing are performed to strengthen, fix color, or otherwise enhance the fiber's own properties.
When natural hair-type fibers are burned, they tend to singe and have a smell of burnt hair; this is because many, as human hair, are protein-derived. Cotton and viscose (rayon) yarns burn as a wick. Synthetic yarns generally tend to melt though some synthetics are inherently flame-retardant. Noting how an unidentified fiber strand burns and smells can assist in determining if it is natural or synthetic, and what the fiber content is.
Spun yarn is made by twisting staple fibres together to make a cohesive thread, or "single." Twisting fibres into yarn in the process called spinning can be dated back to the Upper Paleolithic, and yarn spinning was one of the very first processes to be industrialized. Spun yarns may contain a single type of fibre, or be a blend of various types. Combining synthetic fibres (which can have high strength, lustre, and fire retardant qualities) with natural fibres (which have good water absorbency and skin comforting qualities) is very common. The most widely used blends are cotton-polyester and wool-acrylic fibre blends. Blends of different natural fibres are common too, especially with more expensive fibres such as alpaca, angora and cashmere.
Yarn quantities for handcrafts are usually measured and sold by weight in ounces or grams. Common sizes include 25 g, 50 g, and 100 g skeins. Some companies also primarily measure in ounces with common sizes being three-ounce, four-ounce, six-ounce, and eight-ounce skeins. Textile measurements are taken at a standard temperature and humidity, because fibers can absorb moisture from the air. The actual length of the yarn contained in a ball or skein can vary due to the inherent heaviness of the fibre and the thickness of the strand; for instance, a 50 g skein of lace weight mohair may contain several hundred metres, while a 50 g skein of bulky wool may contain only 60 metres.