This week, you will understand, in the south of France, we particularly suffered from the heat wave (up to 45 ° at home, as much to tell you that I was not cold with my knitting). Fortunately, I’m not here to talk about weather today, but fiber. For this summer, I want to create a new section: the tour of the fiber. This column aims to help you better know the different fibers that we are used to use in our knitwear. I wanted to make you discover a little more cotton fiber that is terribly relevant at this time 🙂

The structure of the fiber

Without going into too complex scientific convolutions, I can tell you that cotton has fascinated scientists by its multilayer structure. It is this structure of the outer layer in particular that influences the properties, processing and use of cotton. Under a microscope, a cotton fiber looks like a twisted ribbon or a twisted tube. These spins are called convolutions and there are about 60 in centimeters! It is these convolutions which will give the fiber this uneven surface and increase the friction between the fibers, which makes it possible to spin fine cotton threads with sufficient strength. The length of the fiber obtainable from cotton seeds varies from 3 to 63 mm. Fibers less than 12 mm in length are not considered suitable for spinning and therefore have no commercial value for the textile industry.

The properties of cotton

Cotton fiber is one of the most important natural textile fibers of plant origin and accounts for about one third of total world textile fiber production. It is hollow which gives it the property of softness, freshness, lightness and that it is considered a breathable and absorbent fiber 🙂 Moreover, did you know that the cotton fibers can contain 24 to 27 times their own weight? Unlike wool yarns, cotton yarns consist of cellulose (almost 90% of the cotton fibers are cellulose), which makes the fibers rather stiff but also strong and durable. One of the biggest drawbacks this  is that it is not elastic (so it will tend to stretch over time) and has no “memory” shape. It is for this reason that I recommend that you submit your samples to “gravity tests” to see how they react when they are hanged (suspending them for a day is enough to make an opinion). Of course, the more heavy a garment is (especially with twists, etc.) the more gravity will have an impact on the stretching of your garment.

Cotton spinning

Cotton could be spin in two ways in general. If the spins are tighter, this gives a longer lasting thread but less comfortable to wear. If the fiber is spun more loosely, it will give you a softer yarn, but will tend to split more easily.

One solution to the cotton dilemma (stretching, rigidity, etc.) is that the cotton fiber can be mixed with other yarns. The cotton can be completed for example with acrylic to improve the elasticity of the yarn. Mixing with linen helps to improve the cotton drape since flax fibers are very resistant to stretching and provide a more interesting drape.

What is mercerized cotton?

Mercerization is a way of treating fiber to make it stronger and more receptive to dyeing agents. After this process, you will get a smooth, very bright and easy to maintain thread. “Mercerization” comes from John Thank you who used sodium hydroxide to treat cotton in 1844. This chemical inflated the fiber and compressed it increasing its tensile strength and stretching. The idea was improved by H.A Lowe because the shrinkage of the fibers was not great. He energized the fibers during the process to reduce shrinkage and give the wire a bright glow.

Choosing the right cotton for your projects

As you can see, the composition of cotton fibers can be more or less adapted to certain projects;)

  • For a 100% non-mercerized cotton ball, you will be on a classic ball. It will have a high absorption capacity which will make it ideal for household items or for children who need to be washed often. However, it is a heavier wire, slightly rough. Therefore, focus on projects such as tea towels, towels, home decor, market bags, toys, bibs and children’s clothing.


  • With a ball of 100% mercerized cotton, you will have a yarn that will be shiny and more resistant than non mercerized varieties. The stain will take better, which will allow you to have deeper colors. If the structure and strength of knitting are important in your project, you can focus on mercerized cotton. Favor projects such as doilies, coasters, tablecloths, curtains, lace shawls, scarves, light clothing.


  • With a ball of cotton mixed with acrylic (generally, we are on 75% cotton and 25% acrylic), you should have a rather soft wool. It will be durable and perfect for all kinds of projects close to the body. The small amount of acrylic will add a little elasticity which will facilitate knitting. I recommend you use this ball for projects such as clothing and accessories for babies and children, toys, clothes and accessories for adults, projects “spa” like the flowers of showers, wash, decoration and blankets.


  • You can find balls of cotton mixed with modal. The modal is a fine artificial fiber from beech (yes, yes, you read correctly). Beech wood is processed into pulp, the fiber is extracted and then reconstituted so that it can be spun. These fibers are smooth and rather soft. Mixing the modal with the cotton helps the yarn to stay soft and colorful. For this kind of balls, I recommend you make clothes and accessories for babies and children, toys, clothes and accessories for adults, decorative elements, blankets …


  • For a ball of cotton mixed with linen (more cotton than linen), it will give you a light, stronger and softer thread. Every time your project is washed, it will become softer, making it perfect for kitchen and bathroom accessories as well as for adult clothing. So, I recommend doing projects such as washcloths, hand towels, curtains, interior decoration, clothes and accessories for babies, children and adults.


  • If you have a ball of cotton mixed with linen (more linen than cotton), the yarn will be lighter and have a nice definition at the points. The projects you knit will be softer and more draped. For this kind of cotton, I recommend projects such as scarves and accessories, shawls, tank tops, t-shirts, summer tops …


  • For 100% pima cotton balls, you will have the chance to have a very soft yarn, more resistant than other one. Pima cotton is the “silk of South America”! It is recognized as the most beautiful cotton in the world. With its extra-long fibers, it is stronger, more radiant and stands incredibly well. It is perfect for sensitive skin. For this cotton, I recommend projects such as shawls, blankets, sweaters, cardigans or vests, T-shirts …

I hope that this article will have been useful to you and will allow you to better know this fiber 😉 And you, do you have a favorite cotton? Which one did you use all the time?

Sources :

  • Handbook of Textile and Industrial Dyeing, Applications of Dyes, Volume 2 in Woodhead Publishing Series in Textiles, par M. Clark 

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