A Spinner Explains the Magic of Crochet Thread

Understanding what makes your yarn do what it does is the first step toward a happy yarn/project pairing. As a handspinner, I love thinking about yarn. Even though I didn’t spin the yarn for the projects in this issue I can share a bit about what makes crochet thread perfect for certain projects.

YARN = FIBER + TWIST

Almost all yarn is made by twisting fibers until they don’t drift apart. What yarn is made of and how it is twisted determine almost everything about it.

COTTON FIBERS

Most cotton used for thread is mercerized. The mercerization process, which makes cotton thread more lustrous, involves immersing the yarn in a caustic bath followed by an acid bath. In some cases, the thread is singed or gassed to remove stray fi bers and smooth the surface. Pearl (or perle) and shiny cotton yarns are mercerized; matte yarns are unmercerized. In addition to making the thread smoother and more lustrous, mercerizing makes the cotton more dye receptive. Of the yarns at right, only one (DMC Natura Just Cotton) is not mercerized. Cotton fibers lack crimp (unlike wool), which means that they don’t spring back; rather, they stretch out—until they’re washed and dried again. When fiber is processed into yarn, the fibers get stretched out; when the finished piece is washed and dried, it may shrink up.

Cotton crochet thread is good for so many handmade projects

Most of the cotton we use is white, but cotton grows in natural colors from tan to brown and even green.

TWIST!

Cotton fiber is easy to pull apart (imagine a cotton ball), but plied yarn—yarn with two or more strands twisted together—can be difficult to break. One rule of thumb is that more layers of twist make yarn stronger. Cotton thread is typically made up of fine strands plied together. Crochet thread is hard to break by hand, but 8/2 weaving cotton (8 is the size of the ply and 2 is the number of plies) is about the same weight and snaps easily. Because cotton fibers are very short and fine, they require tight twist to hold together. To make thicker cotton thread without pilling, manufacturers often combine more thin strands rather than simply making thicker strands.

In most cases, twist applied in one direction is balanced with twist in the opposite direction by plying. This will be familiar if you’ve ever twisted fringe or made a twisted cord; the fringe stops twisting when it’s countered with opposite twist. The twist that keeps the fibers tucked in also keeps the plies together and makes them difficult to split with a crochet hook. Twist also tends to make yarn
harder and stiffer.

After washing, dormant twist in the thread reveals itself. Some threads twist to the left and some to the right, and some twist more than others. From left, Omega Eulali, Scheepjes Catona, Handy Hands Lizbeth 10, Aunt Lydia’s Classic Crochet Size 10, DMC Natura Just Cotton, Circulo Anne.

In cabled yarns, such as Omega Eulali, there’s yet another layer of twist when plied yarns are essentially plied again in the opposite direction. This makes them very stable; notice how the Eulali didn’t kink up when washed, because its twist is well-balanced. Sometimes plied yarns can be twisted together in the same direction as plying, as in DMC Natura Just Cotton, which makes them relatively easy to untwist.

Each of these yarns comprises a different number and arrangement of plies. Very tightly twisted threads such as Handy Hands Lizbeth and Aunt Lydia’s are difficult to split with a hook.

Although cotton yarns may hang loose when you use them, many of them have twist that has gone to sleep. When you tie a length and dampen it, any extra twist wakes up again (as you can see in the top photo at left). That excess twist energy makes the yarn want to kink up when you’re using it—just as when you turn around and around on a swing, the twist energy wants to push you back in the other direction. Tightly twisted yarns make for great stitch definition.

Our sister magazine Spin Off covers fiber, twist, and handspinning yarn for crochet and other crafts. To learn more about cotton yarn and all its variations, visit the Interweave spinning feed.


ANNE MERROW is the editor of Spin Off. She tells anyone who will listen that twist is magic glue.

This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Summer 2018. You will love all the crochet thread projects in the summer issue!


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