Cotton Yarn is not Created Equally

The weather is changing and I want to crochet with cotton, but not all cotton is created equally.

When going through the craft store aisle of yarn, finding a cotton yarn for you project can be a bit challenging. The mainstream market seems to only have room for cotton crochet thread and a medium weight cotton that is often associated with dish towels. (Need to know more about yarn weight? Here is some info)

As I venture into my small local yarn store I do find a finer weight yarn of cotton, but it states “Mercerized”. It has a nice sheen, but is this what I need for my project?

Knowing a bit about cotton, can really help you to avoid any mistakes with projects in the future.

What is Cotton?

Cotton is a plant based fiber, well it is actually a cellulous based fiber that protects a plants seeds in what is referred to as a boll. The fiber has a short staple, meaning a short length. Due to the short nature of the fiber it is spun together more times than might be necessary for a wool yarn. This is strictly due to its length.

When long fibers are twisted together they have more points of contact when lying next to each other, so just a few twists can hold them together. With cotton being short, however, the fibers do not have as many points of contact, and thus have to be twisted together more times to ensure that they stay twisted together.

It is this high amount of twist that can cause cotton to shrink on its first wash. When water finally makes contact with the spun cotton, the cotton actually relaxes and while it softens up, it also can be less stretched and thus “shrink”. Unlike wool this reaction will only occur once, and for any use forward the cotton will remain completely stable.

What is Mercerized?

Many like to use cotton yarns for dish clothes, however this is where you need to understand the term “mercerized”. Cotton when spun can have a soft, fuzzy, halo around it. You find this in most medium weight cotton yarns available on the market today. The term mercerized is a process in which the cotton yarn is essentially singed and the fuzzy halo is removed, leaving in its place a sleek shiny yarn.

Note the top yarn (pink) has a shine, this yarn is mercerized. The bottom yarn (green) has a softer, slightly fuzzy look, it is not mercerized.

So why is it important to know about mercerized? Well, for started mercerized cotton does not absorb water like un-mercerized yarn. Meaning if you wanted to make a dish towel mercerized cotton will not behave in a manner that you desire. This is a pretty important distinction, and one worth repeating. If you want to make household items that will absorb liquids, do not use mercerized cotton.

Mercerized cotton I find to be lovely in garments and shawls. It has a nice sheen and feels like cotton, but unlike my T-shirt, if you hit me with a water balloon it will not pull dramatically down with the weight as it will not be absorbing the water.

Where Can I Find Cotton Yarn?

You might have to do a bit of looking to find cotton yarns for you project, but it is worth the trouble. Here are a few suggestions:

3 Ways to Begin a Crochet Circle

There essentially are 3 ways to begin a circle in crochet, and in most cases they can be used interchangeably. Each has its pros and cons, and everyone has a method they prefer.

Creating A Ring Method

In this method you create a chain, usually I find that many chain 4, and then you slip stitch to the first change created to form a ring. Then all the stitches of the first round are worked into this newly created ring, working over the chain.

This method is pretty straight forward, creating a stable base for the stitches to be worked. Yet, it can leave a pretty striking hole in the center of the fabric. It can be tightened up a bit when the ends are woven in, but it adds a bit of bulk, even more then the chain being worked over.

Forming a ring to crochet into, by creating a chain and slip stitching to the first chain created
Forming a ring by slip stitching to the beginning of a length of chain.

Working in the Beginning Chain

I admit this is my usual go to method. To begin this method you determine what the first stitch of the first round is, in most cases it is double crochets (UK-treble crochet). You then chain the number that is typically used when turning rows with this stitch, in double crochet’s case that is a chain 3. Then you add 1 more chain, now all the stitches are worked in the first chain created.

I find this method pretty easy and fast, with a minimal hole in the center, but in reality the base for the stitches is not as stable, because I am placing a lot of stitches into just one chain. It places a lot of pressure on the yarn that creates this one chain.

Begin a crochet circle by working all the stitches in the first chain.
Work all the stitches of Round 1 in the first chain.

Magic Ring, Magic Circle, Magic Loop…Method

There tends to be many names to describe this technique that creates a very tight closure. The best way to describe this approach to someone new to it is “fiddly”. Granted it creates a very nice join point that does not have, really any, hole at all in the center, but it takes a bit of practice to feel comfortable with it.

To work this method there are couple of different approaches, yet the outcome is the same, you work over a loop of yarn. All stitches in the first round are worked over this loop of yarn, and then the end of the loop is pulled to close the loop bringing all the stitches to a tight closure.  

Make the Loop

The approach that I find to be the easiest to do for this method is to wrap yarn around my pointer and middle finger of my yarn tension hand. When wrapping I ensure that the end of the yarn nearest the skein is nearest my palm, with the tail of the yarn nearest my nails. I wrap at least twice around my fingers.

Making the Magic Ring, Magic, circle, magic loop in crochet; how to begin
Wrap yarn around fingers twice, with tail of yarn closest to the nails.

Work the Loop

Then I insert the hook over my fingers and under the yarn, yarn over the yarn from the skein and pull through the yarn on the fingers. At this point I usually remove my fingers, keeping the loop of yarn in at loop state, then chain 1. The chain secures the loop, so now you chain to the height of the stitches being worked in round one, and work all the stitches over loops of yarn.

Magic circle, magic ring, magic loop in crochet to create circles; step 2
Insert the hook, yarn over.
Magic ring, magic circle, magic loop in crochet step 3
Pull through a loop
magic ring, magic loop, magic circle in crochet; step 4
Remove from fingers and chain 1 to secure the loops

Close the Loop

When all the stitches of the round are worked, I then pull the tail of the yarn. Since I work over more than one loop, when pulling the tail it might leave a loop hanging out of the stitches. To remove this loop is simple, I simply begin pulling the hanging loop to tight. It is a bit of juggling to pull the yarn tight when it is wrapped more than once, but I find it gives a bit more of a secure base for the stitches to rest on. Since really, no one wants this loop to become unworked. 

Magic loop, magic ring, magic circle in crochet step 5
Work stitches around loops.
Magic circle, magic loop, magic ring in crochet final step
Pull the tail of the yarn to close the loop

Check out some of my free patterns that begin in the round and practice using these techniques.

Patterns like: Beyond Basics Hat, Cented Flowers, Classic Granny Square, Deborah’s Diamond Square, Festive Julie Ann, Small Empress Ornament, and Spokes Tam

Soleil Strips- Perfect for Summer

Perfect for summer the Soleil Strips Tank adds a splash of contrast. I really enjoy this design featured in the June 2019 issue of I Like Crochet Magazine, it feels whimsical yet stylish.

I have heard this design explained as, “Eye catching with a total style, this tank offers flattering partial stripes that demands attention”. I cannot say that I disagree, but I should add that it works up quicker than you might expect.

Soleil Stripes Tank, Photo courtesy of Prime Publishing

Since it is worked vertically this tank is worked with yarn carries, so there are few ends to weave and simple success is easy to achieve. In addition the stripes are only located at the front edge of the neck and the lower edge of the back, so it is not overwhelming with various points to keep straight.

The stitch pattern is a simple combination of single and double crochets, so that the focus really is the color changes.

Soleil Stripes Tank, photo courtesy of Prime Publishing

I was inspired to create this design from the simple image that rested in my mind during some travel. I was walking down a busy city street and the way that the light was playing off the windows and reflecting the adjacent buildings. It created this staggered uneven stripes that stuck in my mind.

So when I was playing with Anzula yarns I was drawn to place this image into a fabric, and hence this tank was created.

I am pretty happy with the results, I hope you are too.

Thermal Stitch in the Round

Some crochet stitches can take on a different feel and appearance if worked in a different direction. One such stitch is the Thermal Stitch.

View of Thermal in the Round from Even Rounds

This stitch creates a dense double layer fabric that has a unique honeycombed or waffled effect, which reminds me of long-johns with little indented squares. To learn the traditional method of this stitch technique check it out in this tutorial.

I pick up this stitch again recently and begun playing with it in the round. This stitch is typically worked at only half the row height increase of the single crochet stitch, working in both its on row stitch and the one adjacent. As a result of this one, stitch stacked upon one stitch approach it takes a bit of thinking to work the flat circular increases.

The first hurdle is to actually begin the round. You really need to work 2 rows of fabric in the same beginning stitches to ensure an even fabric consistency throughout. I have found two approaches to this in the round.

Please note that I worked this fabric as a different color on each side, as it really helped me to keep the process understandable. In doing such I would drop the color, leaving the working loop for the color live and pick up the new color, switching like this between every Round. In addition, I worked the entire fabric in a spiral method, meaning I did not join the rounds when completed, I simply began the next stitches in the next round. This was also so ease of keeping track of my location in the work. I have to play a bit more with the end of the Rounds, as even working in a spiral they appear to easily as the stitches become a bit clustered and dense, but it does allow for the thermal stitch to be created.

Beginning:

Method one: The magic loop/ring/circle. Essentially this technique involves making a loop of yarn and crocheting in this loop, like when crocheting over item (like the demonstration here making holiday wreaths).

Round 1: Work 8 single crochets into the loop (color cream), turn.

Round 2:  Drop color from round one, join new color (color yellow). Working between stitches in between the stitches of Round 1, [insert your from behind the magic ring, and through the top loop closest to you in Round 1….this feels a bit awkward, but essentially what you are doing is inserting your hook into the bottom ring and the loop of the stitch in round 1, yo, pull through a loop, yo, pull through 2 loops] repeat 8 times, turn. -8 sts

Pull ring closed.

Working Round 2 of Magic Circle method, inserting hook behind ring and through top loop closest to you,
Working Round 2 of Magic Circle Method as viewed from the Wrong Side
Thermal in the Round, Completed Round 1 & 2

Method two: Working into a ring. Chain 4, and slip stitching to the first chain to form a ring.

Round 1: Ch 1, 8 sc in ring (color white), turn. -8 sts

Round 2: Drop color from Round 1, join new color (color yellow) to one “leg” of the single crochet stitch, insert hook through same point as join and the top loop closes to you of Round 1, yo, pull through a loop, yo, pull through 2 loops, [insert hook into one “leg” of next single crochet and the top loop of next stitch, yo, pull through a loop, yo, pull through 2 loops] 7 times, turn. -8 sts

Thermal in the Round, Round 2 working in the “through the stitch leg” method. Insert hook through one “leg” of the stitch and the top loop closest to you.

All Subsequent Rounds….Working the Increases

Increases need to happen in each Round, but you are essentially working the same increase for 2 rounds. Meaning that the stitch count for Rounds 3 and 4 will be in same, the same number of stitches are worked in the white, the same number in the yellow….like working two separate fabrics at once. However the increases are slightly different in approach.

Round 3: Dropping yellow and picking up white, insert hook through the front loop of Round 1, and the top loop closest to you in Round 2, yo, pull through, yo, pull through 2 loops, insert hook into same location as stitch just made and rework stitch, this is your increase. Work 2 thermal stitches in each stitch around, turn. -16 sts

Thermal in the Round, Odd Round increase

Round 4: Dropping white and picking up yellow, [insert hook through the front loop of Round 2 and the top loop closest to you in Round 3, yo, pull through, yo, pull through 2 loops, insert hook into the same front loop of Round 2, and next top loop closest to you in Round 3 (note there are already twice as many stitches in Round 3 as there are in Round 2…so there are less front loops to work into then there are completed stitches, as a result you need to increase Round 4 by working 2 stiches in the same Front loop, but do not in the top loop closest to you)] repeat 7 times, turn. -16 sts

Thermal in the Round, Even Round Increase, first stitch
Thermal in the Round, Even Round Increase, second stitch

You work the same formula for a flat circle (you can find that here), in all the rounds going forward. I tend to think of the rounds in sets, a pair of one odd round and one even round (Round 1 & 2, Round 3 & 4, Round 5 & 6, etc.) Working all increases in Odd number rounds by working into the same front loop and the same top loop closest to you. Working all Even Round increases as the same front loop but different top loop closest to you. All non-increase stitches are worked as traditional Thermal Stitch (see tutorial for basic stitch)

This subtle difference in the increases between the rounds is one reason the different colors helped me. I could remember that every time I used the yellow yarn I was doing an even number Round increase.

Thermal in the Round view from Odd Rounds

This process takes a bit of practice, but the resulting fabric has a nice textured look, and the dense nature lends itself nicely to pot holders, trivets, wash scrubby, I could even see a nice warm hat in the future.

Crochet More Alike

For some reason I am finding it difficult to write this post.

The last couple of weeks has reminded me of something quite fundamental within the fiber arts. When you find those that share your hobby, you find your tribe. I have witnessed several examples of how this tribe is a force of good in the world.

The first example was while I was at the DFW Fiber Fest. Just as the vendor market was about to open the rumor had spread that one vendor had not been able to set up. Apparently, the trailer that carried all of their yarns, their samples, their entire booth set up was stolen from a hotel parking lot.

Most vendors are small businesses, the entire family participates in the entire experience. This is the livelihood, and obviously a loss like this is huge set back.

So, what happened next was a true feeling of the tribe. All the other vendors donated items for a raffle drawing, while attendees began taking up donations. After 24 hours all organization came together for one central raffle drawing fundraising event. In just two and a half short days over $12,000 was raised to help offset the losses to this family.

To add to the story, apparently the thieves took approximately a third of the yarn they had stolen and donated it to a Habitat for Humanity store. A crochet loving volunteer thought that this donation looked odd, did a bit of research and was able to return some of the vendors stock to them. The vendor was able to have a small booth to sell these found yarns, in which they had a steady show of support.

This was occurring as a fellow crochet was losing her battle with cancer. By now in life I have been down this path before, it does not become any easier. However there was a bit of a difference with this passing. I know this crocheter from the Crochet Guild of America, I have spent time with her at the annual conference, and followed her life on-line via Facebook.

After her passing, her only living relative, her brother, reached out to her crochet community to inform them of just how much we all meant to her. This tribe was her family, and the simple act of sharing our love for crochet had created an environment in her life that was the world to her. Her tribe was important to her enough that they become a part of her everyday life. There is a void in the crochet community.

There are other instances that have come together this week to remind me that there is so much more we have in common than we have different. Crochet just happens to be one of those tribes that we can easily recognize, we know that if someone plays with yarn we can find a common ground.

I still do not understand why I have had such difficulty putting any of this to words, maybe it is because my tribe is too close to my heart.