All About Cotton Yarn – Your FAQs Answered
When I first started crocheting, over 7 years ago now, I didn’t enjoy working with cotton yarn. It was stiff and rough causing yarn-burn (like rug burn, but with yarn) on my fingers. I couldn’t find rhythm working cotton yarn, that is, until I find a little yarn shop in the next little town over and I discovered …not all 100% cotton yarn is the same. l feel cotton yarn is a necessary tool in any hardcore yarn addicts toolkit. So without further ado, here is a Lesson in Cotton…..
Cotton is a cellulose fiber, meaning that its fibers are derived from the naturally occurring cellulose in plants. Cotton, hemp, and linen are all cellulose fibers, of which, cotton has the highest percentage of cellulose, and is, therefore, the densest of the three. Cellulose fibers tend to pull heat away from the body, making them perfect for warm weather garments.
Cotton, like the other cellulose fibers, relaxes and stretches out with wear and use, and has very little elasticity, which is needed for a garment to bounce back into its original shape. To combat this problem you can wash and reblock your items, but the more use and wash and wear an item gets, the quicker it will wear out.
It is also one of the strongest fibers, not quite the strength of silk, but stronger than wool. It is even stronger when wet and can absorb more than 20 times its weight in water, and quickly releases through evaporation. These qualities make it a great choice for projects that will be used around water, when wet, and for clothing in hot climates. Keep in mind though, that cotton’s biggest enemies are mold and mildew.
There are a variety of things that will affect the softness of cotton yarn, how the yarn is prepared, the tightness of the spin, and the variety of cotton used and special treatments.
There are two methods of preparing raw cotton fibers to be spun into yarn, carding and combed.
- Carding is when fibers are brushed, untangling the fibers while removing very short fibers, vegetable material, and any other debris that could negatively impact the yarn spun from the cotton. Carded yarn will have a fuzzier feel than combed yarn, and will pill more quickly, partly because not carded yarn pulled into more of a weave or web of fibers, and partly because it will have some shorter fibers than combed cotton.
- Combed cotton is a technique where cotton fibers are passed through a series of straight metal teeth, aligning the fiber all in one direction, while removing short fibers, untangling and removing any foreign debris. Combed cotton fiber will produce a cleaner, smoother, firm yarn with few pills. The downside to combed cotton is that during the process you lose roughly 20% of the fiber, causing it to be a little more expensive than carded yarn.
- The tightness of the spin on cotton yarn can greatly affect the texture of the yarn as well. A tightly spun cotton yarn will be more firm and dense, but it will have a longer wear. A loosely spun cotton yarn, on the other hand, will be softer and more relaxed, but it will pill and show wear quickly.
There are five major varieties of yarn being used commercially: American upland, Egyptian, Sea-Island, Asiatic and American Pima.
American Upland and Asiatic cotton are both commercially grown short-staple fiber, meaning that the cotton fibers are shorter. Yarns made with these fibers are weaker, pill more easily, and wear out quicker. Egyptian, Sea-Island, and American Pima are long-staple cotton fibers, which makes them stronger, softer, smoother and more expensive.
There are two different “special treatments” cotton yarn can receive; mercerized and ring-spun. Mercerized cotton is also known as “pearl”, or “pearle” cotton, and this process increases luster, strength, susceptibility to dye, resistance to mildew and shrinkage. The ringspun yarn is completely different, it creates a very fine, soft, and strong rope like yarn, by twisting, pulling and thinning the fibers.
Swatch & Wash
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when picking out the right pattern for your next cotton yarn project. I would recommend not only to create a swatch before starting a project with cotton but that you also wash your swatch as well. This is for a couple reasons:
- Textured stitches can be stunning in cotton yarn, but they can create a much heavier garment/item than expected.
- The tightness of the spin on the yarn can create a bias that will cause your fabric to bias and tilt, and sometimes that bias won’t reveal itself until after it has been washed. If your swatch does bias, I just suggest using a mix of stitch to break it up.
- Cotton fibers in elasticity may cause a garment not to fit properly. Ribbing type stitches, designed for a snugger fit, aren’t as effective as they would be other fibers. This can be combated by using a cotton blend yarn.
Some of cotton’s best characteristics are that it is, strong and durable (even more so when wet), which make it wonderful for items that will see a lot of use, wear, and water. These characteristics make it great for projects like dishcloths, washcloths, scrubbies, mop covers, coasters, placemats, table runners, rugs, market bags, cozies, pet blankets, baby toys, and amigurumi, just to name a few.
Unlike acrylic, cotton doesn’t melt under heat, that makes it perfect for items that need to hold up to high temperatures such as pot holders, trivets, flat iron/curling iron cozies, kitchen cloths, and so much more.
Cotton is also very breathable, has minimal insulation qualities, and is moisture wicking. These are the conditions that make cotton yarn great for summer and hot/warm weather climates, such as tops, dresses, skirts, baby clothes/blankets, swimwear, and cover-ups.
My Top 3 Cotton Yarn Brands
- I Love This Cotton – This was the first brand of cotton I ever enjoyed using. Before finding this yarn in Hobby Lobby, I hadn’t ever like using 100% cotton worsted weight yarn, I found it too stiff and rough. This one is different, It’s soft and creates smooth nearly effortless stitches. I have used this yarn for a wide variety of uses, the most common being dishcloths, and baby toys.
- Yarn Bee Sugarwheel Cotton Yarn – This a super soft, luxurious, self-striping, worsted weight cotton yarn. It comes in 12 beautiful color combinations that I have been having a lot of fun playing with. The soft, luxurious texture of this yarn makes it perfect for washcloths, face scrubbies, baby garments, and anything that will be touching sensitive skin. It also helps highlight and enhances beautifully textured stitches.
- Patons Grace Yarn – This is a strong, silky dk weight yarn, that I love using for summer garments, baby items, and amigurumi toys. It works wonderfully for these types of projects for a few reasons; it creates fairly light, and breathe-able fabrics for summer garments, and it’s strength and silky texture create stunning, and durable baby items, and amigurumi toys.
I will have individual and more thorough reviews of these and more cotton yarns, coming soon.
I hope I have answered all your questions about cotton yarn. If there are any questions I may have missed, please leave them in the comments below and I would be happy answer them. I would love to hear from you and see some beautiful things you are creating!