The scientific word for natural plant fibers is Cellulose. Cotton, hemp, bamboo, and other natural plant fibers are created from the cellulose that naturally occurs in yarn. Most natural plant fiber yarns are created from either the seed pod hairs (cotton) or the stems of the plant (hemp, bamboo). They have been picking up more popularity over that last few years the main for this being that plant fibers are hypoallergenic, making them great for sensitive skin.
Let’s start with a little history.
- The art of spinning plant fibers into yarn is so ancient that its origins are lost to the sands of time.
- The oldest known artifacts created using “yarn” are the string skirts from the bronze age, dating over 20,000 years old.
- Cellulose was discovered the French chemist Anselme Payen, who isolated it from the plant matter and determined its chemical composition.
- The production of rayon (artificial silk) from cellulose began in the 1890s.
Natural plant fiber yarns are hypoallergenic, and that makes them perfect for sensitive skin types, but they are not the right choice for every pattern or project. There are a few things you should keep in mind when you are picking the right pattern for your next natural plant fiber yarn project.
Natural plant fibers pull heat and moisture away, versus protein fiber that holds heat close to the body. The fact that it draws heat and moisture away makes natural plant fibers great for summer garments, towels, washcloths, and so much more. However, it’s not suitable for an item to keep you warm on your next snowmobiling adventure.
Natural plant fibers can be dense and heavy, and they soak up moisture making them thicker and more substantial. A bulky, dense yarn and elaborate stitchwork, like cables, will create a heavier garment that will stretch and wear out more quickly.
Natural plant fiber also has very little “memory” or bounce back. The lack of bounce back can be a big problem with some patterns because once it been stretched out, it gets harder and harder to get it back to its original shape. Try using tighter stitch patterns and taking its lack of memory into account can help you prevent this from being a problem.
The two significant enemies of natural plant fibers are mold and mildew. I have found that it is essential to ensure that the projects, especially sweaters, need to be dry completely before being placed in storage or with other items. Otherwise, everything ends up stinky, and the article is getting mildewy
Commonly Used Types
- Bamboo – Bamboo yarn is produced from bamboo grass. It is weaker when wet, and not suited to items that need to be washed frequently, and it needs to be hand washed.
- Cotton – Cotton has the highest percentage of cellulose and is the most widely used and dominated natural plant yarn fiber. It is stronger when wet, and very durable. An excellent choice for items that will need to handle heavy use and a lot of washing. For more information head over to my post A Lesson in Cotton.
- Flax – Flax, also known as linen, is nature’s strongest natural plant fiber, and among the first fibers to be spun into yarn. It is twice as strong as cotton and garments made with flax will keep you cooler than cotton as well.
- Hemp – Long history similar to cotton and flax. Most commonly used for clothing but has a wide variety of uses. Its three times stronger than cotton, resistant to mold, mildew, and rot, and it softens with each wash without out damaging the fibers. However, it wrinkles very quickly and does not drape well.
Each of these different types of natural plant fiber yarns will be getting it post, with more detail about each one and a few of brands of each that I have tried, and how they turned out.
Choosing the right yarns for the right projects can sometimes be so frustrating, and I hope that I have been able to help understand this fiber a little better, making those choices a little easier for you.
I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions.