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3 differences between knitting yarn and crochet thread

by Cynthia MacDougall

In my last post, I introduced you to Aunt Lydia’s Classic 10 crochet thread, and talked about how knitting with crochet thread can be great bang for your knitting buck. In this post, I’ll outline 3 major differences between knitting yarn and crochet thread.

Aunt Lydia’s Classic 10 crochet thread in 2730 yards!

1. Smoothness

Knitters are used to making warm garments. To create that warmth, many yarns are spun in a way to trap as much air as possible to insulate the wearer from the cold. Wool is one of the most effective fibers for this because wool fibers have a natural wave (called crimp) that starts trapping air, even while it’s still on the sheep!

By contrast, cotton fibers have hardly any insulation value, but, because they are absorbent, they help keep the body cool by drawing moisture away from the body, helping evaporation. This makes us feel cooler, making cotton knits ideal for warmer climates.

Spun cotton can be left untreated, or it can be put through a process called mercerization. Untreated threads have a slight “fuzziness” to them. Mercerized cottons are dipped in a caustic bath that removes the “fuzzies,” leaving behind a thread that’s extremely smooth, and has a low-luster sheen. Aunt Lydia’s is a mercerized cotton.

Compared to a wool or acrylic yarn, Aunt Lydia’s has an extremely smooth finish, more like a shiny rayon or silk yarn.

On the left is an acrylic knitting yarn in a double knitting weight. On the right is Aunt Lydia’s Classic 10 crochet thread. Fuzzy threads from the acrylic yarn can be seen in contrast to the black background at the top, but the crochet thread is very smooth.

2. Elasticity

The crimp in wool, and the crimp fabricated in many acrylic fibers, offer a tiny bit of stretch. Cotton fibers have almost zero stretch – when you hear about how cottons sag, it’s not the fibers that are stretching, it’s your knitting stitches being pulled out of shape.

Spinners describe some fibers as “lively” and others as “flat.” Most protein fibers – wool, mohair, even dog fur – have a “life” to them. The crimp and shape of the fibers help the spinner make soft, fuzzy yarns. In contrast, most plant fibers – cotton and flax – have no liveliness to them. They have no elasticity or “bounce”: when they’ve been turned into a garment, they are prone to stretching, but the fibers have no “memory” to cause them to bounce or relax back into shape. Care must be taken when knitting or crocheting a cotton wedding dress to ensure it ends the big day the same length it was when the bride put it on.

Once cotton threads have been blocked, they hold their shape, except in places like elbows or the seats of skirts. Knitters planning a wedding dress are well advised to do several large samples, and hang them as they would be worn before beginning a project of this magnitude.

Blocking turns lace work into “faerie knitting” – it opens up the eyelets, and makes the stockinette stitch areas even out.

3. Direction of twist

Yarns spun for knitting are almost always spun “Z” and “twisted” or plied, “S” – I kid you not! Check out the yarns in your knitting basket as soon as you’ve finished this post!

Crochet threads, on the other hand, are almost always spun “S” and plied “Z”

How can you tell which is which? Look at the yarn. The direction of plying twist will be dominant in the finished yarn. If the dominant lines follow the direction of the middle of an “S,” the yarn has been plied “S”, and in 99% of the cases, the individual plies will have been spun “Z.” If the dominant lines follow the slant in the middle of a “Z,” the chances are very high that the plies were spun in the “S” direction and plied in the opposite (Z) direction.

Why would they spin cottons opposite to wool? Well, there are several theories. One is that the “throw” for crochet is the opposite of the “throw” for knitting, so the thread is spun the opposite way. Another is that linen fiber grows in a direction that makes it more logical to spin it “Z” and ply it “S”.

The blue lines on the photo show the direction of twist. If you superimpose a “Z” over the line that follows the twist in the cotton, you can tell that the cotton was “plied Z”, and if you lay the letter “S” over the line that follows the twist in the acrylic yarn on the right, it shows that this yarn, designed for knitting, is “plied S.”

Now that we’ve done an in-depth study of Aunt Lydia and compared it to her woollen counterparts, it’s time to take up the needles and show some of the great things you can make with Classic 10 crochet thread. Come back for my next post when the sampling begins!

This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: Knitting with DOA (dear old aunt) Aunt Lydia’s Classic 10 crochet thread

Go to part 3: Knitting samples with Aunt Lydia’s Classic 10 crochet thread

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