5 Advantages of Knitting with Cotton Yarn
It likely doesn’t come as a surprise that cotton yarn is the most widely used fiber in the world. After all, it is comfortable to wear, especially during the hot summer months; it’s very durable; and comes in a multitude of different colours.
In our article we'll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of knitting with cotton, which knitting projects are most suited to cotton yarn and how to maintain them.
The cotton fiber that becomes our wool grows as a soft, fluffy protective case around the seeds of cotton plants and is native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world. It is likely also one of the oldest known manufactured fabrics with excavations in both Mexico and India finding cotton fabrics dating back to more than 5000 BC.
The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, and India. It has (and still is) a valuable resource for many countries with the modern cotton yarn market employing tens of millions of people around the world, particularly in China, India & the United States of America.
Cotton buds on a cotton plant
Knitting with Cotton Yarn
Cotton is known for being a very inelastic fiber, with a tendency to relax in the direction that gravity pulls it. Why? Cotton is naturally curly and as the cotton is knit or worn it begins to straighten out and seemingly stretch under it’s own weight.
Therefore it a good idea to have a firm grasp when knitting with cotton as the weight of the fiber will pull it a down and make it sag a bit – this tendency is more noticeable when the garment it is wet and hence heavier.
As a result some knitters prefer to work with needles smaller than the recommended size for the cotton yarn they are using. This can allow the knitter to get a firmer grip to knit a denser garment thereby reducing some of the fabric's tendency to stretch.
Washing cotton fabrics will have a partial effect of returning some of the curl back to the fiber, returning the fabric to its original size.
The Benefits of Knitting with Cotton Yarn
Cotton yarn is excellent for making lightweight, breathable garments that are comfortable to wear next to the skin. Cotton is composed almost entirely of cellulose, an organic compound that when worn will actively conduct heat away from the body.
Unlike wools or synthetics, cotton pulls heat away from the skin. Thus, it can be worn in hot weather quite comfortably.
#2 Stitch Definition
Cotton's inelasticity also makes it excellent for creating classic items with a drape effect. Also, this inelasticity means cotton naturally settles into a relaxed position, which gives fantastic stitch definition – letting every detail of your knitting stitches stand out beautifully.
It is especially ideal for elegantly draped garments, light blankets for babies and children, scarves and string bags.
#3 Water Absorbant
Cotton is excellent at absorbing water, therefore, making it an ideal fiber for creating wash and dish clothes.
The same absorption properties mean it holds onto dyes easily, resulting in the availability of a multitude of different colors. So no matter what your favorite color is, looking through suppliers such as Bernat cotton yarn you’re bound to find a shade of cotton to match your every desire.
Traditional Cotton & Wool Dying in Turkey
#4 Machine Washable
Finally, a natural fiber that has no problem getting in washed in the washing machine! Making it excellent for babies blankets.
It can even get in the dryer. However, a good rule of thumb when using the dryer is to take the garment out before it is completely dry. Do not hang your cotton clothing to dry, but allow it to finish drying on an even surface so as to not distort the shape.
#5 Rugged & Durable
Cotton is rugged and durable, yet is soft and comfortable to wear. For extra heavy duty projects such as tablecloths we recommend you use mercerized cotton yarn.
Mercerized cotton is cotton that has undergone chemical treatment, the result of which is to remove some of the natural curl out of the fiber. As a result, the mercerized cotton is even stronger (and shinier) than the unmercerized version.
The Disadvantages of Knitting with Cotton Yarn
Cotton of course is not always the most suitable fibre to use for certain knitting projects, and all knitters should be aware of some of the short-comings of this type of yarn.
Whilst the multitude of colours is a good thing, some colors, especially the darker reds, blues and blacks, may bleed during washing.
It is a good idea to test this with a swatch, especially if your project involves mixing dark and light colours together. Additionally, adding a cup of vinegar to the first wash may help prevent running.
#2 Can be Tricky to Knit with
Cotton yarns can be tricky to knit with (especially for beginners), with some of the yarns being particularly slippery – wooden or bamboo needles can help this.
Additionally, due to the inelasticity it can be difficult to keep an even tension while knitting, and can cause hand strain so we advise you take regular breaks and stretch out those hands and wrists (see video below).
Remember to take breaks and stretch! via Adarsh Williams
#3 Creases & Wrinkles
Another disadvantage of the pure cotton – and many of the natural fibers – is the ease of crease and wrinkle in the cotton garment.
It can need a bit of care and looking after, compared to say a cotton blend. In fact, some cotton blends are actually made specifically to approach this wrinkle problem with great success.
#4 Pesticide Heavy
Lastly, for the environmentally conscious among us, it should be stated that conventionally grown cotton is very pesticide-heavy, with greater focus being placed on the natural world around us, the availability of organic cotton yarn is growing much more prevalent today.
Knitting with cotton blends
Whilst some 100% cotton to feel smoother, more comfortable and more breathable on its own, rather than when wearing or working with a cotton blend - There are several cotton blends that are just as wonderful and can give your cotton garment extra benefits that cotton cannot achieve alone. Cotton blends tend to be of an approximately 80%-20% split, which is considered just about the appropriate amount to give the benefits of the additional fibre.
A cotton wool yarn blend brings the memory of the wool and combines it with the cooling effect of cotton. In addition, the non-scaling and non-shedding properties of cotton will enrich the details of the knitting stitches than a wool yarn alone.
Cotton and silk together creates a strong and shiny garment that will last and endure years of wear and tear. Details of the knitting stitches can be ultra rich and as both fibers are relatively inelastic this type of blends is well suited to any knitting project that you wish to create a draping effect.
Whilst cotton tends to have a more matt appearance, a cotton blended with man-made fibers like acrylic yarn or polyester brings some extra sheen and texture should you require it. As one example, Cotton Ease yarn is such a blended cotton yarn that is a 50/50 blend with acrylic that gives the cotton a more light-weight feel to it.
Opinions about 100% cotton and blended cotton are still very varied and often come down to the individual, however from our perspective it all depends on your preference and the look, feel and other properties you want your knitting project to have – whether you want it detail orientated, warm, strong, soft, shiny etc.
Certainly, if you want your stitch detailing to stand out, a vast choice of colours, a drape effect, a yarn that is strong and durable or machine washable, we would recommended that cotton yarn should certainly make your shortlist.
We wish you the best of luck with your cotton or cotton blend project, and please pass by any questions you might come across in the process. If you wish to share you finished project with us, please do so by using the "contact us" page or in the comments box below.
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Article by Katrine