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:

Cotton & Linen Perfect Zooey for Summer

When the temperature climbs to numbers that have more than two places in them, yarn does not sound like the leisure activity that it usually is. Fortunately there are nice plant based yarns that do not trap the heat like wool or even acrylic does. Juniper Moon Farm creates one such yarn in Zooey.

Zooey is a 60% cotton, 40% linen yarn that feels cool and is durable. I have to admit, I am not always drawn to linen, but the blend with cotton in this yarn makes it softer and less stiff than I have experienced in other yarns. It can take a hardy blocking, and I recommend that you plan on blocking this yarn, it brings an entirely new quality to it. Once it takes water, which it generously absorbs, it blossoms and becomes softer. It then can really open up stitch work and make some beautiful lace work with relatively little effort.

The yarn is listed as a fine weight, also referred to as a 2 weight, but easily works up with larger than expected hooks, even if the yarn is rated for a 3.5-4.5mm (F-G) I like it on a 6mm (J) for a more open effect.

The hank has some decent yardage at 284 yards (260 meters) for a 3.5 ounces (100 gram) ball. Even has a 4 ply yarn, plied with 3 strands of linen and 1 strand of cotton, it does not seem to have a really round nature. It seems a little flat, but that is something to be expected form the fibers. The ply is not real tight, however this did not seem to cause any splitting.

I think this yarn would do well as a market bag, maybe even a cover up for the beach. That also lends me to think that it could pull off a sun hat. It really does make me think of summer projects, this might limit my creative sense, but overall I think it can have some great uses.

 

Subtle Twist- Sets Lotus Apart

There are always subtleties that create a difference in yarn. One is something that is mostly taken for granted, the direction of the ply. This might seem like a moot point for a topic to discuss, as most all yarn is spun in a similar fashion, the individual strands are spun in a counter-clockwise direction, then plied together in a clockwise direction (this opposite direction of spinning creates the tension that makes a yarn stable). However, just because almost every yarn is spun in this manner does it make a difference if you spin in it reverse?

Essentially all yarn is spun in this method, sometimes referred to as “S” twist, I am not sure if there is any real particular reason for this except that it has been done that way. There are a couple of yarns available that are spun opposite of the “S twist”, meaning that the beginning strands are spun clockwise and then plied together counter clockwise, this is known as “Z” twist. Yarns spun this way will indicate this on their labels, as it is a subtlety that differentiates it from others.

Lotus from Designing Vashti www.lindadeancrochet.com

Lotus from Designing Vashti

So why consider a “Z twist”, there are those that find it reduces yarn splitting  for right handed crocheters, as the traditional method of crocheting the yarn overs can either add or subtract the twist in a yarn. As traditional yarn is spun with a clockwise finish, and right handed crochet yarn overs in a counterclockwise direction, twist can be taken out of a yarn causing it to split. So with “Z twist” being the opposite the right handed crocheter will add twist to the yarn.

Honestly, I have not noticed too much difference in my work between the twist directions, with the exception of yarns that are loosely plied together and thus unply, or split quite easily. However I do notice a bit of a visual difference in the way my stitches look, it is subtle, and if I wasn’t really paying attention I may not completely understand why it looks different. This difference is because of the lines that I see in the yarn due to the ply. The “Z twist” lines are in the opposite direction.

Now that I have told you more then you hoped to know about the direction of twist within yarn, there is a yarn that I find I quite enjoy that is a “Z twist”. Lotus by Designing Vashti is a 52% cotton, 48% rayon, fine weight yarn that is perfect for summer. I find that I create garments, wraps, shawls, and even hand backs out of this yarn. It has a nice drape, and I love the slight shimmer that the rayon gives it. For me it is this rayon that really allows me to see the “Z twist”. I have used this yarn several times and have found that it really “blooms” after being washing, meaning that it fluffs up and fills in the space between stitches.

The combination of cotton and rayon make it perfect for warm weather, that is probably I always tend to pick it up in Spring as I am getting ready for the warm weather of summer.

Cotton Classic- a Little Different than “Traditional”

Some yarns always inspire me, some always tell me what they want to be, others, well maybe not so much. Cotton Classic by Tahki Stacy Charles is one of the former, it can always find a design in my mind.

Cotton Classic is 100& Mercerised Cotton and this sometimes causes people to pause. The term cotton is generally understood, it had a great marketing campaign throughout the 1980’s about how it is a naturally grown product that lets the fabric breath. Cotton also is stronger when wet, has limited stretch, and many think of it shrinking when first washed. This first wash shrinking, is not like felting of wool, this is essentially because cotton, being a short in length fiber, has more “twist” worked into the yarn in order to hold the fibers together (if a strand is long it does not need to be twisted together as much to hold, while something short needs to have more twists to ensure the hold) this puts a lot of tension on the fiber. When the yarn (of cotton shirt) finally gets fully submerged in water it actually allows the fiber to relax, this allows it to release the tension, and this caused the fiber to contract. So cotton will only shrink in the first washing whereas wool will continue to shrink with washings.

Cotton Classic by Tahki www.lindadeancrochet.com

Cotton Classic by Tahki Stacey Charles

The term that confounds many is Mercerised. Mercerised is a process that removes the slight halo effect that can accompany a cotton fiber, this is essentially the tiny ends of the fiber protruding from the yarn. To Mercerise the yarn, or thread is brought over an open flame to burn off the fibers. This creates a yarn that has a nice smooth finish that has great stitch definition. Another side effect of this process is that it does not allow the cotton to absorb water as is normally considered. Thus Mercerised Cotton is not recommended for dish clothes, where regular cotton will work wonderfully.

I find Cotton Classic is wonderful for warm weather projects, dressy scarves, home décor items, a great market bag. I even love it for tank tops and cover ups. This yarn has a wide arrange of colors available, and it shows of lace work stitches and textural stitches fabulously. It comes in small hanks of 1.75oz/50g with 108 yds/100m. It is a light weight and has nice drape on larger hooks.

Consider it for your next summer weather project, and don’t worry about this cotton reminding you of a dish rag.

Simple Bars are a Great Texture- Crochet for a Difference

Sometimes it is just the simple alteration of stitches that can create a texture that can have a purpose. Simple Bars, as I am calling it, has a great textural appeal, with little work. The texture has a nice visual appear but in some applications can have a very practical purpose as well.

Essentially this is just alternating front and back post double crochet stiches, to begin you create an even number of chains. Double crochet in the fourth chain from the hook and in each stitch across. Chain 3 and turn your work, in the next stitch work a front post double crochet, and in the next stitch work a back post double crochet. Repeat alternating front and back post double crochets across the row, work a double crochet in the last stitch Then chain 3, turn and repeat the same stitch pattern. It really is that easy.

Simple Bars www.lindadeancrochet.com

Simple Bars

Here is the traditionally written method:

Chain an even number

Row 1: Dc in 4th ch from hook, turn.

Row 2: Ch 3, *fpdc in next st, bpdc in next st; rep from * across, dc in last st, turn.

Row 3-desired length: Repeat Row 2

This Simple Bars creates enough texture that when worked up in cotton can make great dish clothes. I would use a heavier weight cotton, not a thread, something like a light or medium weight yarn. The reason cotton is a choice it that it will not melt under high heats like acrylic, and holds water really well.

Not everywhere that crochet can make a difference is readily apparent. The simple kitchen in our community can easily be overlooked, but really make a small difference. Everyday throughout every community there is a hot meal being made and served to people in need. In some cases these are traditional soup kitchens with volunteers serving food donations to people in need, in others they are community halls that host community pot lucks, where everyone in attendance brings a dish to share. Some communities find these in churches, some in schools, but crochet can be donated here in the way of pot holders and dish clothes. Consider making a few for your community kitchens, sometimes it is the little things that can make all the difference.