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Which Yarn Should I Use? Tips from the Knitwear Design Workshop

Mar 15, 2010

Shirley PadenRenowned designer Shirley Paden has just come out with a new book, Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits. And we're not kidding when we say "comprehensive"!

Shirley provides you with everything you need to confidently and successfully design own knitwear—from worksheets to math formulas, yarn information to stitch pattern dissections, schematics to finishing techniques. (To see more about Shirley, click here to see her video on our Facebook page!)

Now that we're getting into spring and summer knitting (and starting a new knit-along!), it's time to put the wool away for a few months and turn to some warm-weather fibers.

Shirley shares some fascinating information about vegetable fibers, which I thought I'd share with you. Any of these fibers are good choices for warm-weather knitting.

All about Vegetable Fibers by Shirley Paden

Cotton
comes from the bolls of cotton plants. It is grown throughout the world and processed into many different grades. At the high end are Egyptian, Sea Island, and Pima grades, which have long staples that produce fine, lustrous yarns. At the lower end is matte cotton, which resembles string. Cotton is a popular choice for clothing in warm climates because it absorbs moisture and dries quickly, therefore producing a cooling effect on the body. It is nonallergenic and easy to care for-it's actually stronger wet than dry, which facilitates laundering. But, because cotton is a nonresilient fiber, it will stretch. Cables or other dense pattern stitches that add weight may not be suitable choices for cotton yarns. Cotton is moth resistant, but may mildew in wet climates.

Mercerizing, invented by John Mercer during the nineteenth century, is a process of treating cotton with sodium hydroxide (lye) and then stretching it. This makes the cotton smoother, less fuzzy, more lustrous, and less likely to shrink than untreated cotton.

Linen (Flax), one of the oldest known textile fibers, is derived from the stem of the flax plant. Linen is sturdy and durable, and like cotton, is comfortable to wear in hot climates because it draws moisture away from the body. It is also easily laundered and moth and perspiration resistant. But linen is also a heavy and nonresilient fiber that can feel stiff (although it softens with repeated washing). It is usually spun into very fine yarns to compensate for its weight. Unlike cotton, linen is weaker when wet and prone to abrasion. Linen is usually blended with other fibers to offset these drawbacks. Ramie is a linen-like fiber made from the stem of a nettle called China grass. It has a long history in Asia, especially in China. Like linen, ramie is a strong, durable fiber. It is easy to wash, but stiff and nonresilient. It is usually blended with other fibers. Ramie is mildew resistant.

   
       
Clockwise from upper left: Hemp for Knitting Allhemp6, Classic Elite Soft Linen; Tahki Stacy Charles Cotton Classic; Berroco Bonsai (bamboo)

Allo, hemp, jute, and sisal are vegetable fibers that are heavier and coarser than linen and ramie. They have been traditionally used for twine, rope, netting, and burlap. Today, all of these fibers can be found either alone or blended with other fibers in knitting yarns.

Allo comes from the bark of the girardinia plant grown in Nepal at the foot of the Himalayas. It is naturally antibacterial and mold resistant. Historically, it has been used to make rope. Today, it is dyed with natural dyes and knitted into vests and fine shawls.

Hemp comes from the outer fibers of the hemp plant. It is considered the strongest natural fiber and is softer, more insulating, more absorbent, and more breathable than cotton. Fabrics made of hemp last longer than their cotton counterparts. It is used alone or blended with silk, cotton, rayon, or allo.

Jute comes from the stem of the jute plant and was historically used for rope twine and burlap bags. It can be mixed with other fibers, both natural and synthetic. Jute is fire and heat resistant, but it loses its strength when wet and is also prone to microbial attack. 

Sisal comes from the stem of the Agave sisalana cactus plant. Because it is strong, durable, stretchable, and resistant to deterioration in salt water, it has been traditionally used for agricultural twine. Today it is also used for handknitted massage gloves and washing mitts. It is blended with wool or acrylic to produce a softer yarn.

Bamboo comes from a group of woody evergreen plants that comprise the largest member of the grass family. There are about 1,000 species of bamboo that grow in diverse climates, from the cold mountains to the hot tropics. Bamboo is notable for its soft feel and natural antibacterial properties. It is highly absorbent and is therefore available in a broad color range. Pure bamboo is nonresilient and has a greater tendency to stretch than other plant fibers and is therefore often mixed with wool to add resiliency. Pattern stitches that contract lengthwise, such as slip-stitch patterns, are a good choice for this type of yarn. Open and stretchy stitches, such as lace, may stretch lengthwise.
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Now you're set to choose a yarn to use for the knit-along or for any warm-weather project! And why not try your hand at designing? I haven't designed a whole sweater yet, but I've made many modifications to existing patterns, and I sure wish I'd had Knitwear Design Workshop and Shirley Paden to guide me on my journey!

Cheers,


Featured Product

Knitwear Design Workshop A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits

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Price: $40.00

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Knitwear Design Workshop is for all knitters who want to go beyond commercial pattern instructions, whether it's modifying those instructions for a garment that fits them perfectly, designing their own traditional knitwear, or creating stunning works of wearable art.



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knitchix wrote
on Apr 30, 2010 7:19 AM

I would like to post a few textile facts about Cotton and its durability, Jute and Hemp.   There is solid evidence that cotton has been used to make fabric for at least 7,000 years.   Archeologists have found cotton in tombs in India (3,000 B.C.), Central America (3,500 B.C.) in Peru (2,500 B.C.) and in the southwestern United States (500 B.C.).  The items found in the desert tombs of Peru were made with great skill and included brocades, tapestries, and lace.   When cotton fiber is completely saturated with water it is about 20% stronger than it is when dry.  The fibers continue to become stronger as more water is added.  That is because the water is able to soften and alter the rigid structure of the cellulose.  This is an important factor in the way cotton fabrics are processed.

Jute and Hemp are different Fibers.  Both have been in use since prehistoric times.  Jute formed the sackcloth spoken of in biblical times.  It is not as strong or as durable as Hemp.  It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean and was then taken to India where it is abundant now.  It is used for sacks and bags for storage of agriculture products, carpet backings, wall coverings, etc.

There is recorded use of Hemp in China as early as 2800 B.C.   Around 1 A.D. the use of Hemp spread to the Mediterranean.   During its long history it has been used for many things including fabric.  It has also been used for sacking and canvas and for making ropes and twines.  Hemp rope was used for British sailing ships with a constant fight against rot.  Henry VIII built the first British Navy using Hemp for sails and rope.  These materials had to be replaced every year.  He imposed a fine on farmers who refused to set aside land for growing Hemp.  During the ensuing years when hemp rope was used by the British Navy it was protected by tarring because of the propensity for its breaking from rot.   It is for that reason that British Sailors were nicknamed  “Jack Tar”.  The rope would hold liquid in the interior and appear dry on the outside.  The hemp rope was eventually replaced by Abaca called Manilla Hemp.  It is not Hemp, but rather a member of the banana family.  It does not need tarring.

knitchix wrote
on Apr 30, 2010 7:18 AM

I would like to post a few textile facts about Cotton and its durability, Jute and Hemp.   There is solid evidence that cotton has been used to make fabric for at least 7,000 years.   Archeologists have found cotton in tombs in India (3,000 B.C.), Central America (3,500 B.C.) in Peru (2,500 B.C.) and in the southwestern United States (500 B.C.).  The items found in the desert tombs of Peru were made with great skill and included brocades, tapestries, and lace.   When cotton fiber is completely saturated with water it is about 20% stronger than it is when dry.  The fibers continue to become stronger as more water is added.  That is because the water is able to soften and alter the rigid structure of the cellulose.  This is an important factor in the way cotton fabrics are processed.

Jute and Hemp are different Fibers.  Both have been in use since prehistoric times.  Jute formed the sackcloth spoken of in biblical times.  It is not as strong or as durable as Hemp.  It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean and was then taken to India where it is abundant now.  It is used for sacks and bags for storage of agriculture products, carpet backings, wall coverings, etc.

There is recorded use of Hemp in China as early as 2800 B.C.   Around 1 A.D. the use of Hemp spread to the Mediterranean.   During its long history it has been used for many things including fabric.  It has also been used for sacking and canvas and for making ropes and twines.  Hemp rope was used for British sailing ships with a constant fight against rot.  Henry VIII built the first British Navy using Hemp for sails and rope.  These materials had to be replaced every year.  He imposed a fine on farmers who refused to set aside land for growing Hemp.  During the ensuing years when hemp rope was used by the British Navy it was protected by tarring because of the propensity for its breaking from rot.   It is for that reason that British Sailors were nicknamed  “Jack Tar”.  The rope would hold liquid in the interior and appear dry on the outside.  The hemp rope was eventually replaced by Abaca called Manilla Hemp.  It is not Hemp, but rather a member of the banana family.  It does not need tarring.

on Mar 16, 2010 12:51 PM

I love knitting daily for all the info, free patterns, like-minded people and so on, but I cannot contain myself when I see something wrongly stated!

Shirley Paden states that linen, unlike cotton, is weaker when wet---this is absolutely not true!!! Linen is the only fibre that is stronger when wet, which is why it is so popular for knitting spa washcloths!

Sorry, Shirley, I had to say it!!!!

And as for it's being easily abraded, why do archaelogists still find linen garments and cloth in their digs??!!!

I have had pure linen dish towels last twenty years of daily wear, while cotton ones last twenty months, maybe!!

I think the onlly fibre that may last longer is jute, otherwise known as hemp.

For centuries, the British Navy used only hemp ropes for their ships, miles of it per ship, as it lasted the longest, and was easily made into different sizes of rope for different uses!

Jean in Canada/aka whoneedlesthis

Kathy46 wrote
on Mar 16, 2010 11:19 AM

Loved the amount of information in today's post, Kathleen!  This is the type of post I can really use.  Keep up the good work.