There are some gorgeous cotton and bamboo yarns around at the moment, but how much do you know about these fibres and the best ways to work with them?
It is worth knowing a little about where these yarns come from and how they are made up, so you can get the most out of them.
Cotton fibre grows as a fluffy protective layer for the seed of the cotton plant. These cellulose “bolls” of fibre are picked and spun into thread. Cotton is one of our most traditional textiles – humans have been spinning these fibres at least 8,000 years because of the cool, breathable yet durable fabric it creates.
These days, it is also popular because it is machine washable.
Cotton also takes dye very well as can be seen with James C Brett It’s Pure Cotton.
In terms of knitting, you will find that cotton’s firm, inelastic yarn gives you clear stitch definition making it very suitable for working with knit and purl texture patterns. Plus, your cotton knits will soften with wear increasing drape.
Bamboo is a fast-growing plant which can make it more environmentally friendly than other forms of viscose because the plant can be grown in marginal areas unsuitable for some other plants. The fibre is extracted either by steaming and crushing or by crushing the stems which are then broken down using natural enzymes in a retting and washing process. Once the fibres have been extracted, they are spun into a viscose thread or yarn.
The result, when knitted up, is a shiny fabric that drapes well. Like cotton it is breathable and durable but it has a softer feel.
You can also combine bamboo and cotton to get the best of both fibres in some lovely summer yarns.
King Cole Bamboo Cotton offers the sheen of bamboo with the firmness of cotton
Working with cotton or bamboo
- It is a good idea to swatch with cotton or bamboo and then wash your swatch to check the tension. Some people find they may need to go down a needle size because of the softening or dropping potential of these yarns.
- Smooth yarns and slippy needles and hooks can give you a looser tension. Try using bamboo or wood needles with these types of yarn. They are also less likely to split your yarn.
- When choosing patterns look for ones designed to work with cotton or bamboo. Because these fibres work differently than wool, knitting a pattern for wool in cotton will create a very different effect.
- Yarns made from plant fibres don’t spring back in the same way as wool which gives you a flatter fabric with more drape. This also means that anything knitted from bamboo or cotton will stretch a great deal if you try to block them in the same way as wool.
It is also why cotton and bamboo garments can “drop” if you dry them on a washing line. The smooth fibres can easily slide over each other if you give them the opportunity. Instead dry your pieces flat, gently adjusted into shape.
Stylecraft Regatta has a nifty solution to stop your cotton yarn stretching. The yarn has a small elastane content that stops the cotton from growing.