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:

Change the Yarn- Tips for Yarn Substitutions

We have all done it, and sometimes it goes well, others it does not. I am talking about yarn substitution.

Honestly, I never really thought about the yarn I was substituting. I would find a yarn I loved then pick out a pattern I liked and just begin working up my stitches. I never looked at gauge, I never paid attention the fiber or even the weight of the yarn.

In some cases things worked out fine, in others I found myself with items smaller, or firmer, or just plain awkward looking. So I have learned, and it is time to share some insights.

First realize that the pattern you find was designed in a specific yarn. The way it looks in the photo is because of this specific yarn. Changing the yarn will change the effect, maybe the drape, maybe even the size.

Now what to compare to make the change.

Check the weight of the yarn. The weight is in essence the diameter of the strand of yarn, it can be assigned a number (from 0 lace-7 super chunky) or given a name such as lace, thread, sock, fingering, baby, sport, DK, worsted, Aran, chunky, craft, bulky, roving.  These numbers or names are assigned by the manufacture and finding matching yarns at least get you in the ball park that the yarns are similar.

However there are times that you pick up a yarn and it doesn’t have a weight listing by number of name, but it does have a knitting gauge listed. This gauge can help you make the weight comparison too. Yarns that have the same gauge, using the same size needles, will be also be compatible in weight. If the yarns are using the same size needles in the gauge but the stitch and row counts are not the same, the yarn with the higher number of stitches in the gauge will be thinner than the other.

Another way many compare the weight, is to compare the yard/meters and the ounces/grams of the skein. If a skein states that it is 400yrd/366m and 1.75oz/50g it would be compatible with a yarn of 425rds/388m and 1.75oz/50g, but not compatible with a yarn that was listed as 600yd/549m and 1.75oz/50g, as the latter yarn is much thinner. It is a comparison of yards/meters and comparison if ounces/grams that help you see if things are in the same ball park.

The next thing to consider when comparing yarns if the fiber content. In some cases it may not make much of a difference, but a few fibers act completely different from one another. For instance if you are substituting a wool yarn with a lot of bounce or springiness, with a 100% silk you fabric will not even resemble each other. The silk tends to have a lot of drape, it flows, and in comparison to the wool will be limper. Whereas the wool will have some stretch and spring back into place.

Yarns with similar fiber content will behave similarly, so use caution if the labels vary greatly.

Now that you have found a yarn to substitute, if you want to ensure that you will be happy with the outcome of your project, make a gauge swatch. If you make gauge and are happy with how the fabric feels and looks, make your project.

 

Tissue Paper Yarn Dyeing

Dyeing yarn with tissue paper? Yeah, it sounds a bit unusual, however I have been busy playing with all kinds of dyeing approaches this last week as I get ready for a class I am teaching in two weeks at the Crochet Guild of America’s Chainlink Conference.

I have been working with food coloring and Easter egg dyes, while dabbling with Kool Aid. I have been playing with multiple protein based fibers (yarns that are made from animal fibers, like wool, alpaca, silk, mohair, etc.), but it was trying to find something in my closet that sparked me in a little different direction.

I tend to be a person that doesn’t really throw much out, if I can find another purpose for it I will hold on to it to use it in the future, so tissue paper from gifts gets saved. When digging through the closet I found a stack of this saved tissue paper and I began to wonder….Can I dye with this?

The answer…YES!

I began by soaking the yarn in a bath of water and citric acid (1 teaspoon citric acid to 4 cups of water), you can use white vinegar instead of citric acid if you like (1/4 cup white vinegar to 4 cups of water), then I wrapped various pieces of colored tissue around the yarn. After covering the yarn with paper I placed it in a microwavable bowl and added some of the water/acid solution. I placed it in the microwave for 2 minutes, took it out and waited.

I have to wait after removing it from the microwave, frankly because I do not like to burn myself. After it cooled down a bit I removed the tissue paper and rinsed out the yarn. I was impressed. Some colors bonded to the yarn better than others, but that could be because I had some different quality papers. There was some white space, and different colors in different patches. Offering a bit of a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

I am continuing to play with this technique, and currently find a vast amount of ideas just bubbling to the surface. I am sure that by the time my workshop comes around in a few weeks I will have a very contagious attitude to share with my students!

More Than One Alpaca- Suri Yarn

Several years ago I learned to spin yarn, indirectly this lead to my now working in crochet. However I digress, during my time spinning I visited a local alpaca farm that sold fibers for spinning. The farm was filled with those cute little teddy bear like animals that I learned were a breed called Huacaya. I only thought that these were the standard alpaca, until the farm owner showed me a fleece of another breed of alpaca, one known as Suri.

The Suri fleece was smooth and silky and in ringlets like a young Shirley Temple. It only resembled the Huacaya in size and shape…the same body but very different fleeces. I was mesmerized by the Suri, probably because it is not commonly found in the United States, and I definitely get drawn to something a bit out of the ordinary.

Researching a bit about these different breeds I learned that almost all alpaca yarns found are created from Huacaya fleece. Huacaya is a much more common breed in the US, and the yarn is warm and soft, really an affordable luxury. The Suri is much less common, and until recently I had not found a commercially available yarn made of this fleece.

At a trade show this summer I found Salt River Mills, Simply Suri yarn. I admit it drew me in. I was fascinated to find a Suri yarn, it is produced by the North American Suri Company that purchases fleeces from breeders across North America and is helping to create a market for this fiber.

I have been playing with a skein lately and have enjoyed how it works up in the hand. I have been using Simply Suri, an 85% Suri, 15% wool yarn. It is very common for all alpaca yarns to have a blend with wool, as wool adds a bit of structural integrity to the yarn that alpaca by itself does not have.

I have found the yarn soft and smooth, with a nice sheen that makes me think of a silk blend. It is light and airy, but it is easy to feel that it is warm as well. It has nice drape and stitch definition. It is a three ply yarn with a soft twist, that lends itself to standard stitches, however I would not personally try to much textual stitches, like cables or popcorns as the yarn does not seem strong enough to give it a bold definition. I am currently envisioning a shawl….I hope to have the pattern available soon….but this yarn will definitely have me playing with it more in the future.

 

Patons Decore -Has Memory

There are times when I try to make a yarn do something it is not in the mood for. I had this experience with Patons Décor.

Décor is a fairly standard type of yarn, it is 75% acrylic and 25% wool, it typically does not felt, or shrink and the skeins are a typical 208 yard/190 meters of 3.5 ounces/ 100 grams, medium weight, set up in a ready to use pull skein. But what surprised me with this yarn is its ability to spring back into shape.

I really should not have been surprised in this, I guess I really wasn’t paying attention. Acrylic typically has a very strong memory, so strong that it is sometimes pointless to even attempt blocking. Some minor draw backs to acrylic is that it cannot take high heat well, so this should only be used in a low heat dryer and never be pressed or ironed. High heat caused acrylic to break down and it will lose its “life” or “body”. It is often referred to as “killing acrylic” or “the acrylic was killed”, and it does appeared to be killed and limp.

I have worked this yarn in an open lace approach and because of this strong memory of the acrylic yarn, it does not block to open up the stitches as well as I would have liked, or experienced with a yarn that has a higher wool content.

Even with that in mind, this is a good everyday yarn. It is pretty soft, and feels really nice

in the hand. It does a nice job of fluffing up and filling the stitch gaps, hence why it did not agree with me in lace work. I can easily use this yarn for afghans, blankets and throws. It would do well for pillows, and outerwear, like sweaters or cardigans. It has a nice array of colors and a nice durability, a nice go-to yarn.