Thursday, May 8, 2008

5 Cottons, How Do They Fare?

I'm intrigued with all the new cotton yarns that are appearing in the stores. I love working with cotton to make garments and accessories (purses and totes, especially), and I use a lot of cotton yarns when I make swatches of techniques and stitches for my crochet classes. Cotton usually has great stitch definition, so it's easy to see what I did, and my students can learn how to "read" the stitches. Many of the yarn companies are developing "organic" cotton yarns, and I hope to do some swatching and comparisons with those, soon.

One of the "staples" in the cotton yarns is what I call the "kitchen cottons", and the "big three" - Sugar 'n Cream, Peaches & Creme, and Bernat Handicrafter Cotton have been strong in that field. Lately, they have been joined by two contenders - CoolSpun Cotton, and Creme de la Creme Cotton by Coats.
"Kitchen cottons" are what I think of when I want to make dishcloths and towel, baskets, and strong tote bags. I usually don't think of these cottons when I want to make a baby afghan or sweater. They always felt a little rough to me - too rough for a garment. But - one of my crocheting buddies made a lacy sweater that I designed with another, finer cotton, and used Sugar 'n Cream to make it. And I saw a picture on-line, posted by another crocheter who made the same sweater design in Sugar 'n Cream. Both sweaters looked great! I would have never even thought to try that yarn with this design. And recently, one of my students brought in a sweater that she's crocheting for her grandson, out of - you guessed it - Sugar 'n Cream. And it looks wonderful!

In the past, when people would ask me if they could use these yarns in garments, I would say "No. The yarn is rough, and it shrinks when washed. So it's not the best yarn to use for garments or afghans that need to be washed often. Also, some of the colors fade and may bleed in the wash." (The fading part I knew from some old dishcloths I made, and anyway, I heard EVERYONE say the yarn faded. Same with the shrinking.)

Recently, though, the companies that make these yarns have come out with some great colors. I especially like the stripes, but all the colors are wonderful! And the yarn is inexpensive. And lots of times, on sale. And crocheters love a bargain. More and more people were asking me about the yarns. So...... I decided to see for myself whether the yarns would shrink. And how they would "feel" after being washed.

I happen to have a little (okay, not so little - and growing all the time) stash of these yarns. I had a skein of each of them in white, and that's what I used. (I didn't want to do this experiment using different colors of the yarns. I wanted all variables, that I could control, to be the same.) I crocheted the swatches using the same hook (some hooks, even if they have the same size marked on them, are sometimes different.) I used the same pattern, and the same number of stitches and rows. I washed the swatches together, in a washing machine filled with cold water. I dried them together, also. So most of the variables were controlled. The one thing I couldn't control was my "mood" - whether I was relaxed or tense, or thinking about something else. And mood does tend to influence gauge. So even though the swatches were worked in the same pattern, and had the same number of rows and stitches in each row, the stitch gauges and swatch measurements were different.
This is a picture of the 5 swatches before I washed them. You can see how different their sizes are.
From left to right, top row first:
Row 1: CoolSpun Cotton, Bernat Handicrafter Cotton
Row 2: Sugar 'n Cream, Creme de la Creme
Row 3: Peaches & Creme

A couple of things that I thought were interesting about these yarns: Sugar 'n Cream, Peaches 'n Cream, and Bernat Handicrafter all felt like they were the same worsted weight yarn. CoolSpun felt softer, and Creme de la Creme felt as if it were a little less than worsted weight. You can see from the picture, though, the CoolSpun swatch was smaller, even though it felt like worsted weight yarn. The Creme de la Creme yarn was the largest swatch, even though it felt like dk or light worsted weight yarn.

Then, I washed the swatches. All together, in my washing machine, in cold water. First, though, I knotted the tails with 1 - 5 knots, so I could tell the swatches apart! The picture shows that the relative sizes stayed the same, but the measurements did change.
1. CoolSpun Cotton went from 6.5" x 6" to 6.25" x 5.75"
2.Bernat Handicrafter went from 6.75" x 6.25" to 6.5" x 5.75"
3. Sugar'n Cream went from 7" x 6.5" to 6.75" x 6"
4. Creme de la Creme went from 7.5" x 6.5" to 7" x 6"
5. Peaches & Creme went from 7" x 6.5" to 7" x 5.75"

You can see from the above measurements, that the Creme de la Creme swatch was the largest, and shrunk the most - 1/2" in both directions. Peaches & Creme only shrunk in length, not width. CoolSpun Cotton shrunk .25" in each direction, and the other two - Sugar'n Cream and Bernat Handicrafter shrunk .25" in width and .5" in length.

Next, I put the swatches in the dryer. On a regular cycle - one I would use for cotton. But whenI took them out I could feel that they were not completely dry - so I pulled on their edges a little, and measured them.
1. CoolSpun - dried - 6.25" x 5.75" - same measurements as before drying.
2. Bernat Handicrafter - dried - 6.25" x 6.25" - small in width, larger in length than when wet, (it went back to it's original length.) This yarn was very easy to stretch and block.
3. Sugar'n Cream - dried - 6.75" x 6.25". I was able to get another 1/4" in length when I pulled on the edges. It was also easy to stretch and block.
4. Creme de la Creme - dried - 7" x 6" - same measurements as before drying, and still 1/2" smaller in width and length.
5. Peaches & Creme - dried - 6.75" x 5.75" - same measurement in length, but shrunk a 1/4" in length when dried.

All these yarns will shrink a little when washed. CoolSpun Cotton, and Sugar'n Cream shrunk the least.
All of these yarns got noticeably softer when they were washed and dried, and I think would be soft enough for a baby blanket or a garment.
These yarns are interchangeable when the gauge is not really important to the design. However, each swatch was a different size, and even 1/4" difference in a 5" swatch, multiplied by 8 (for a 40" finished chest measurement) creates a 2" difference - which could make the garment too big or too small. So, be aware when switching yarns that not all "kitchen cottons" are alike!