Crocheting With Cotton
Cotton may just be the most underappreciated and unnoticed fiber that surrounds us daily! Cultivated and used for a myriad of purposes from clothing to food, to home furnishings, cotton has been part of our human existence for at least 5,000–7,000 years.
From the time we wake in the morning snuggled under cotton sheets, dry off with a cotton towel, dress for the day in cotton jeans and T-shirt, we wear and use fabrics and items made from cotton more than all other natural fibers combined (including wool, silk, linen, etc.). Cotton is unique in that it provides both food and fiber. By-products from cotton production are used in medical supplies, rubber, margarine, soaps, paint and even most paper currency!
Cotton has a soft hand, can absorb more than 27 times its weight in water, and is hypoallergenic, making it a great next-to-skin choice for all-season garments and fashion accessories. Most cotton yarns and fabrics are machine washable and dryable for quick and easy maintenance—a perfect choice for busy lifestyles.
Cotton is a plant fiber which is commercially grown worldwide. China is the largest producer, while the United States is the largest exporter with 17 southern states from Virginia to California producing large yields. The fiber or lint is harvested from the boll, or protective pod surrounding the seeds. Most cotton is a creamy off-white color, but naturally colored cottons in various shades of green, red and brown have found a spot in specialty markets as yarn, clothing and home goods. Unprocessed cotton fibers, or lint, range in length from 1/2 inch to over 2 inches, with the average staple length at around 1 inch. Due to the naturally matte or dull surface appearance, cotton yarns are often mercerized, a chemical process in which the fibers are treated in a bath of sodium hydroxide, which not only strengthens the yarn but imparts a lovely sheen or luster. Mercerized cottons also accept dyes at a higher saturation rate, producing vivid colors.
Lime green sample: Patons Grace (DK weight; 100% mercerized cotton; 1¾ oz/136 yds/50g per skein: #62027 ginger) project on page 6
Blue sample: Cascade Yarns Hampton (DK weight; cotton/linen; 3½ oz/273 yds/100g per hank: #11 denim) project on page 30
White sample: Berroco Modern Cotton (worsted weight; cotton/rayon; 3½ oz/209 yds/100g per hank: #1600 bluffs) project on page 22
Tan sample: Universal Yarn Bamboo Pop (DK weight; cotton/bamboo; 3½ oz/292 ys/100g per ball: #110 sand) project on page 38
Because of the relatively short length of the fiber, a lot of twist is needed to make a stable yarn. For crafters, this once meant a thin, highly twisted yarn was our best cotton yarn option. A good example of this would be size 10 crochet cotton. Most of us would find using just thin cotton yarns very limiting, but the good news is manufacturers have found wonderful ways to tempt us with a myriad of cotton yarns ranging in size from fingering to chunky. Creative yarn construction keeps the yarn stable; worsted-weight cotton may be made of many very fine plies or strands to bulk it up. Tape, chainette and tubular yarns constructed from fine cotton thread become beautiful lighter-weight chunky yarns perfect for tops, summer jackets and sweaters. Textured bouclé or terry yarns can be created from fine yarns wrapped loosely around a solid core. To produce chenille yarns, fine plies are first spun around a core before the loops are cut to reveal the soft caterpillar-like texture.
Cotton is often blended or spun with other fibers, supplying us with an endless variety of options. Since structurally sound cotton yarns are dense due to the many fine plies needed to spin heavierweight yarns, adding acrylic is a great option. Not only does the yarn become lighter in weight, but the acrylic helps with shape retention too. Cotton/ rayon is also another popular combination with the sheen of the rayon playing off the matte surface of the cotton. Each takes on color during the dye process at different saturation points creating a subtle two-tone effect.
One of our favorite cotton blends is 50% cotton/50% superwash merino. The cotton adds softness and means anything crocheted will be a three-season favorite. And the merino wool adds just the right amount of elasticity for better shape retention.
New to the market this year, a tempting blend of cotton/cashmere for extreme softness heads the list. We also love cotton/linen blends and the new cotton/nettle fiber blends for projects where the crispness of bast plant fibers adds structure and great stitch definition. Cotton yarns have come into their own and have gone beyond the tried-and-true basics we all have crocheted with for many years. This summer I hope you will gather up a few of the new summer cottons and spend some time swatching and learning more about this special everyday fiber.
Coral sample: Premier Yarns Cotton Fair (sport weight; cotton/acrylic; 3½ oz/317 yds/100g per ball: #27-24 coral) project on page 40
Turquoise sample: Omega Sinfonia (DK weight; 100% mercerized cotton; 3½ oz/218 yds/100g per ball: #816 teal) project on page 18
Cream sample: Plymouth Yarn Fantasy Naturale (worsted weight; 100% mercerized cotton; 3½ oz/140 yds/100 grams per skein: #8176 cream) project on page 24
Tan sample: Scheepjes Catona (fingering weight; 100% mercerized cotton; 1¾ oz/138 yds/50g per skein; #406 soft beige) project on page 36