Well, Sweater Weather officially starts on Saturday (First day of Fall), however, because of summer knitting projects many of you have been using cotton blends or "lighter" yarns recently. Which has many asking the same questions and our comments and conversations have become repetitive.
Basically, we are often asked why the cotton or cotton blend yarns are so often packaged or presented less attractively than their wool counterparts?
The answer is simple, it's not wool. But what does that mean?
Wool has scales, these scales "peel" away from the main shaft of fiber. This is what makes some wool itchier than others. These scales contribute a lot of other benefits to the fiber as well - warmth, ability to hold more than its weight in water and remain warm, loft and squish, dyeability. These scales can also be responsible for another of wools infamous characteristics - it felts. (This is a really, really, basic explanation )
Basically those scales give wool yarn a structure that allows the strands of yarn that are next to one another in the ball or skein to "stick" to one another or maintain some semblance of structure - a ball of wool mostly stays a ball of wool. A hank or skein remains (mostly) nicely twisted and orderly. Wool yarn winds, cakes, and skeins well. And this in turn, allows for nicer presentation. The yarn maintains it's presented structure through a number of squishes, color comparison piles, and display stacking.
Cotton, bamboo, linen, and silk lack these scales. Without them the yarn is "slick"; the neighboring strands slide by one another and easily lose their place in the ball, cake, or skein. Skeins lose their shape, don't hold a twist well, and labels fall off. That attractive wrapped V pattern on a commercially spun ball of yarn comes undone easily and balls start to look sloppy. Balls of cotton yarn may tend to "flatten" easily too, that nice round shape becomes more of an oblong puddle. You may notice this in handwound balls too when your ball of cotton yarn ends up with a large number of loops puddling on the table around the base of the ball of yarn.
Also, think about those cotton projects you've made. Did the final item grow? How did it drape? Did it spring back into shape (probably not)? Characteristics of your finished projects don't usually happen by accident. Sure some of it often has to do with needle or hook size and weight of the yarn, but some of it also has do with the fiber in the yarn before it was worked into a project.
Next time you're getting your yarn fix at the shop, pick up a few skeins of different fiber yarns, compare how they look and feel pre-stitched. Those slippery, slick, drapey yarns probably don't stay in their form well. Those ropey cottons that work up into soft and comfortable shawlettes don't like to stay in hanks. That snuggly wool you keep squishing? It likely bounces back into it's presented form. How about that soft alpaca yarn? It's probably somewhere between the two, not quite losing it's shape, but not quite holding it either.
This all may sound very basic to you, or it may be something you knew but never really thought through to this conclusion - and I'll be honest, I didn't either until people kept asking! No matter how we try and keep up with the presentation, the cotton and cotton blend yarns just always seem to need some type of neatening to keep them looking their best.
This is definitely one scenario where "Don't judge a book by its cover." is good advice. But I guess in this case, it would be "Don't judge a yarn by it's skein.". Cotton yarns have many wonderful attributes. Presentation just isn't necessarily one of them.