Learn more about some of the major fiber types!
Cotton yarn is not as strong as silk, but stronger than wool. Cotton has wicking properties and can absorb up to 20 times its weight in water and quickly release it through evaporation making it great for warm weather climates, where you don’t want heat and moisture trapped next to your skin.
Cotton does not “pill” in the same way that animal fibers often do, meaning that knit cotton fabric will continue to look new and smooth even after many wearings.
Cotton yarn has a split-personality reputation for both shrinking in the wash and stretching out over time. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Cotton fiber lacks elasticity or “memory,” which is required for a fabric to bounce back after being stretched. So, as you wear it, your garment will relax into whichever way it tends to be pulled. The simple fix is to wash and re-block the garment, which will pull the fibers tight again–in a way some people consider shrinking. But over the long term, the fibers gradually lose their ability to shrink in the wash; you’ll have to make do with a more relaxed garment. Make sure to wash a swatch as you intend to wash your garment and knit based on the after-washing gauge.
Behaviorally speaking, cotton is extremely strong and durable–not as strong as silk but stronger than wool, and even stronger when wet. It is considered ideal for warm-weather climates because it can absorb more than 20 times its weight in water and release it quickly through evaporation.
You also need to consider the fiber’s innate inelasticity when choosing patterns for your cotton yarn. Be aware that ribbing alone won’t consistently draw your knitted garment tight to the body–a tight-fitting top would hang instead of cling. The only way to combat this inelasticity is to choose a cotton yarn that has been blended with a more stretchy fiber, such as wool.
- Type of fiber: Cellulose (derived from plant)
- Hand: Heavy with moderate drape
- Care: Machine washable and dryable; some shrinkage
Source: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by Clara Parkes