I have had the chance for the past month to knit with Cotton True Sport yarn by Fibra Natura. And wow! Cotton yarns have come a long way baby!
When I started knitting 40 years ago, there wasn’t much in the way of cotton yarns to knit with. There was cotton thread for doilies, but not much else, at least, not available to me. Then in my early 20s I tried knitting with the heavier cotton yarns and they were okay, but my hands would hurt after a few hours and I didn’t like the texture of the finished knits. They were usually too hard or stiff. Then I came across some mercerized cotton. It was shiny and smooth and well, not too soft, but I really liked the shiny finish. And it was DK weight, so it had some heft…but the finished garment was much too heavy and it sagged with its own weight.
Skip ahead to a few years ago and the arrival of Pima cotton in the hand-knitting yarns market. Now we’re talking! Pima cotton is a very welcome arrival to hand-knitting. The latin name for this cotton is Gossypium Barbadense. It’s also known by several other names: ELS (or extra long staple) cotton or Sea Island cotton. Varieties of this species are also grown and processed in Egypt, India, China and Russia. The name Pima cotton comes from the indigenous tribe Pima from the Arizona area. According to Wikipedia, this tribe helped cultivate this cotton on experimental farms in the early 1900s.
What is staple?
Staple is fiber. Cotton (as well as other fibers) produces fibers that vary in length. The type that is used to make absorbent cotton balls for make-up removal has very short fibers. It’s not Pima. The staple of Pima cotton is very long (for cotton) and can measure between 1½ʺ and 2½ʺ [3 – 5cm]. The longer the staple, the better, at least for hand knitting yarns. This allows the yarn manufacturers to spin the cotton strands with a little less twist than with short staple cotton, which in turn makes the yarn softer.
When the Pima cotton is ginned (combed so the fibers come apart from the seeds) after it’s been harvested off the cotton plant, it comes in a variety of colors ranging from a taupe, to a champagne yellow. The fibers also have different degrees of natural sheen to them. Highly trained cotton classers—did you know that was a job?—inspect the fibers and grade them on a scale of 1 to 6 which includes criteria involving the staple length, the lightness of the color, and the amount of sheen, or reflectance, as it’s called. No, that’s not in the dictionary, but I love new words that are made up to serve a technical purpose like this one.
When mills make yarn, they take the Pima cotton in its natural state or a bleached version and spin it in several plies if they want a structured yarn, or in just a few plies if they want it to be pillowy soft. Cotton True is a plied yarn with structure.
Even though Cotton True Sport is a well-structured yarn, it is very soft! It consists of 7 strands of 2 plies spun with an S-twist. The 7 strands are also spun with an S-twist, but the yarn is set so that it’s balanced and doesn’t cause bias in the fabric when you knit it. An advantage to this yarn’s structure is that it’s soft and lofty, but it doesn’t shed or let out little ends that bloom and eventually pill.
Cotton True Sport comes in 21 colors and can be knit with several needle sizes. All of the swatches you’ll see in this week’s posts were knit on a KnitPicks 3mm needle. There’s no US equivalent, but the closest would be a US 3 [3.25mm]. It would be possible to knit with size 2, 5, or 6 US [2.75mm, 3.75mm or 4mm] needles as well. The gauge of course will be different, but the fabrics will have different characteristics that will suit many different knit items.
Each ball of Cotton True has 197yds [180m] and weighs 50g. The washing instructions are wash in warm water (by machine or hand) and lay flat to dry. I’m going to let you know what I tried though.
I threw my swatch in a hot load with other whites and then it went into the dryer, too. I forgot to tell my son, who switched loads, to take it out. I’m pleased to say that no harm was done. It didn’t shrink at all either stitch-wise or row-wise. It also didn’t bloom at all. I’m saving pictures of the washed swatch for a future post later this week, when we will look at ripple stitch patterns and asymmetrical lace patterns, so you’ll be able to see for yourself.