Updated: Aug 12, 2018
With all of the amazing fibres available to textile artists you may be wondering why plain old cotton is worth using. For me personally there are a multitude of reasons why I have gravitated towards cotton so let’s take a look at all the things that makes cotton yarn well worth giving a go in your next project.
1. Allergy friendly
Many people can have quite strong reactions to animal fibres, particularly wool. For some this is a sensitivity that causes itching and an uncomfortable prickling sensation, for others it is a full blown allergy which can cause severe rashes and excema. My personal experience is with a sensitivity, the majority of wools are very unpleasant for me to touch and wearing them against my skin is not an option. There are a few wool brands that I’ve found to not cause me issues but they are definitely in the minority and on the more expensive end of the scale so they get reserved for special and smaller projects.
2. Great for babies and children
Kids make their clothes (and toys and blankets) dirty, very very dirty! Non-superwash wools aren’t particularly practical for young children if you are anything like me and have an aversion to the very thought of handwashing their clothing. Cotton is super hardwearing and can simply go into the washing machine along with all the other items, bonus points for being able to survive the dryer when an adult forgets to check for delicate items! I prefer to put knitted items in a delicates bag so they don’t snag and pull but I’m not the only one who puts the washing on in my house and not everyone is that careful.
The allergy and sensitivity aspect comes into play a bit here too. Babies tend to have very sensitive skin and cotton is a great option when giving gifts as it is very unlikely to cause a reaction.
3. The drape
Cotton is not wool or acrylic and does behave quite differently when made into a textile. There is virtually no elasticity in cotton fibres so they won’t stretch and bounce back in the way that wool and acrylic do. The elasticity of the final textile comes from the way it is constructed. The fibres can move across each other allowing the fabric to stretch even though the fibres themselves are not stretching. What this means for the final fabric is that it tends to pull more with gravity than wool. The knitted garment will drape downwards (so watch the length of your projects) and won’t have the same structure as you can achieve with a woolen garment.
4. You live somewhere warm
Cotton is a very breathable fibre which means that the moisture from your body is able to escape. In warmer weather this is perfect as you don’t get the same insulation as you do with wool so you won’t overheat if the sun suddenly decides to come out while that cool breeze is blowing. It’s perfect for a spring or summer cardigan, or in Perth where I live, a cardigan for all but five days of the year. It’s a perfect excuse to knit or crochet some more garments even if you live somewhere warm, and who is going to complain about that!
5. It’s vegan
For those who are concerned about the treatment of animals or prefer to live a vegan lifestyle for environmental reasons, cotton is a great option. It is not without environmental impact as a significant amount of water is used in its production but cotton yarn is a plant fibre and hence suitable for vegans and entirely biodegradable.
But all the patterns are for wool!
I know, it can be hard to find patterns that are written for cotton yarn. They are out there, but the options are certainly more limited. Personally I tend to find whatever I like and then make adjustments to suit. If you are translating a knitting project from wool to cotton you need to take into account the way the different fibres behave and alter accordingly. I often drop my needle size for cotton and go up a size on the garment to give a denser fabric that has more structure, it works very well for cardigans and jumpers where the size of the garment causes the cotton to stretch more but this certainly isn’t necessary in all cases, especially smaller projects. I’ve created many bonnets where I’ve used the same gauge as the pattern and achieved an amazing result that has a perfect fit and plenty of stretch.
I highly recommend giving cotton a go. It’s a wonderful fibre that I honestly believe doesn’t get the love it deserves. It is ideal for high use garments that need regular and thorough washing, people who may be either allergic or sensitive to animal and synthetic fibres, and creates a unique fabric that drapes and flows beautifully.