I bet you wear it every day!

We all wear or use cotton every day, but I'll bet not many of us know much about this very common, useful fiber.

It is classed as a natural vegetable fiber and is grown on plants. It is grown only in warm places and it is formed inside pods called 'bolls'. When they burst then it's ready for harvesting.

Once harvested the fibers must be separated from the pods and seeds. The cleaned fiber is then either blended with other fibers then spun, or just spun as a 'pure' yarn . There are many, many ways of 'finishing' the yarn - each affecting the way it looks, feels and acts.

Cotton is a very strong and hardwearing. I know I've had t-shirts that I've worn for years and then they've progressed to being dusters when I got sick of them. They take ages to wear out.

If you've ever heard the word 'mercerizing', that is a process that makes the yarn even stronger and can also make it more elastic or stretchy - a quality that cotton doesn't have naturally. It also has a tendency to wrinkle easily. Again, it can be treated during finishing to remedy this.

Cotton is a great summer yarn as it does not conduct heat, which is why it feels cool in the warm weather. It is very absorbent as we all know. Think about how heavy wet towels are - they soak up a load of water.

You can wash it easily and it's a tough cookie. It won't felt like wool, so you don't have to be too gentle with it. However it can shrink considerably after washing. I now buy 'long' jeans as the ones I like to wear tend to shrink in length in the wash.

This versatile fiber can yellow if left too long in the sun, and will discolor with perspiration. It also can mildew if it's left damp for a long time, but it is not attractive to insects. You won't find moths in with these sweaters unless they have a wool content.

Be warned - the acid in orange, lemon and grapefruit juices can damage cotton, so rinse with cool water if you spill!

It dyes well - just be careful how you wash a hand-dyed yarn. Especially the first time you wash it, wash it alone.

A yarn which has cotton blended with silk will act differently to a blend with wool or acrylic. That's why you must check the washing instructions on the ball band. I can't stress that enough!

Cotton yarns are great for dishcloths, summer tops, doilies, table runners, Christmas decorations, cardigans, summer sweaters, purses and more.

The yarn weight you need for projects will be greater than that of other fibers, as cotton is a comparatively heavy yarn. Buy by length if you're using a pattern worked in a different yarn.

It is a fairly easy yarn to work with other than the fact it doesn't give or stretch as you're working.

If you choose a smooth yarn, the stitches worked will look very crisp and defined. It is great for use with textured stitches as they really stand out well. The down side is, if your work isn't very neat then every 'iffy' stitch will stand out more.

So - that's the 'low-down' on cotton yarns. Try a small project first to see if you like it. I wouldn't recommend it as a beginners yarn, but feel free to experiment. After all - it's your project.

Know why wool shrinks in the wash?
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