During these summer months I have been working almost exclusively with cotton yarns. Around March time when I began the design for the Maslow’s Rainbow CAL, I was researching what cotton I wanted to use and I became a little obsessed with finding something affordable as well as understanding what worked for what type of project.
You know how the internet can be a time vampire? Well I lost hours umm-ing and ach-ing about which yarn to try, and have since tried a bunch of them, so thought I would see if I could save you those hours and share what I learned!
This post contains affiliate links (marked with ‘aff’ next to the link) which means that if you click through to the site and go on to make a purchase then I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read my full affiliate disclosure here. I have not been paid by any yarn brands for these reviews, I selected the products based on what I have worked with and this is a reflection of my experience!
First of all, lets talk about what cotton is, where it comes from and what to look for when you’re browsing the shelves of your local yarn shop.
Cotton is a natural fibre which grows with the seeds on a cotton (gossypium) plant and has been used to make fabric for around 7000 years.
Put very simply, the fine fibres are harvested, carded or combed to remove the seeds and spun together into thread and then fabric. If you’re interested in the manufacturing process, I found this beautifully hypnotic video on youtube which shows the process from harvesting to finished fabric. The yarn manufacturing process is something that I know embarrassingly little about, but I would love to dive into the topic in a future post!
Cotton yarn is soft, absorbent, strong, durable and holds colour well. This combination of properties are what makes cotton the most commonly used natural fibre in the world. The natural cellulose in the cotton fibre is said to help draw heat from the body which is where its reputation for being a breathable, cool fabric comes from and why it’s the go-to for summer clothing.
Egyptian and Pima cottons are touted as more luxurious cottons because they have longer, silkier fibres and feel softer to the touch and the price reflects this. They are both grown from the same species of cotton plant (gossypium barbadense) which only thrives in certain climates. The difference between the two is where they are grown, with Pima cotton originating in Peru (though it is also grown in the US and Australia), and Egyptian cotton (shockingly) grown in Egypt.
When I first started working with cotton I also kept seeing this word ‘Mercerised’ and had no idea what it meant. I just noticed that the mercerised yarns looked a bit more shiny!
I wasn’t too far off! Mercerisation is a process where the cotton is given an alkali bath which does indeed increase the sheen but also strengthens the cotton, increases it’s capacity to hold dye and makes it more resistant to shrinking. Non-mercerised cotton keeps that natural look and softness and is more absorbent, though the colour may fade faster with continued exposure to sunlight. Both types are used in crochet and it’s worth considering what your project is for as well as your personal preference before making your choice.
When you’re looking to buy a cotton yarn to crochet with, the options can be overwhelming. Do you stick with 100% cotton or one of the blends? And if you’re going for a blend, what are the differences between the synthetic and natural blends? Most yarn descriptions should help you decided on this, though, in my opinion, there is no substitute for having a good squeeze of the yarn itself to decide if you like it. 100% cotton tends to have very little stretch which means it keeps it’s shape but leaves little wiggle room. Though the type of stitch pattern you use can impact this. So if you use a simple single crochet stitch to make a plant pot for example, this will likely keep its shape very well, but if you use an open lacy pattern then you will have more movement (drape is another useful property of cotton!). You can also wet or steam block cotton yarn to ensure it keeps it’s shape.
So that’s a very quick summary of where your cotton comes from and what the various types are you may see as a crocheter – we are so spoilt for choice!
So here are my thoughts on the 100% cottons I have used. I’ve listed projects by weight, from Aran / Worsted to, Double Knit and 4 ply, fingering and threads. I’ve linked to some projects I’ve made with the yarns so you can get a good idea of how they look – it’s all very well seeing the pretty balls but I know I prefer to see what yarn looks like worked up!
Aran & Worsted weight cottons
Drops Paris (aff)
This is a 100%, non-mercerised combed cotton aran / light worsted weight yarn which is available in a huge range of colours for an exceptional price (50g . 75m balls). I’ll be honest, I had avoided Drops yarns before because the low price convinced me the quality must be poor or the cotton would be rough and no good for using for garments. However, on a recent visit to a local yarn store, I felt a blanket which was made with it and I was surprised with how soft it was, so I decided to give it a go.
I used it with a 5.5mm hook to create my Play Time top and I found that the more you work it, the softer it gets. It’s easy to work with for cotton (I find some cottons a bit ’sticky’), despite how sweaty my hands get in this heat (tmi?) and I would definitely recommend it as great value for money. It is easy to wear next to the skin and wold be great for baby blankets. There was an occasional split here and there but really it was pretty robust!
I’ve also recently discovered that there is a version of Paris which is made from 100% recycled denim. I’ve not tried that yet but anything which is sustainable puts a big tick in my box so watch this space!
This to me is THE classic home cotton. It’s a worsted weight reliable non-mercerised cotton. I have used the denim colourway in the past to make my Indian Summer Tank top (pictured below) and more recently, I have used the solid colours on a project which I am super excited to release next month (it’s a surprise for now!) Like the Drops Paris, it softens with wear and is a good all round cotton which can be used for clothing, larger amigurumi and homewares. I’m going to be making some dish cloths with my left overs!
There is a huge range of colours including solids, ombres, stripes and twists. Lily Sugar n cream is sold in 73g (2.5oz, 109m) balls as standard but it’s also available in supersize balls of 113g (4oz, 185m) with the ombres, stripes and twist being available in seemingly unusual ball weights! It’s interesting to see a yarn brand using ounces for their standard ball sizes – I guess it’s a tradition thing?
I used this mercerised cotton to make the DK version of the Maslow’s Rainbow top during the recent CAL. I confess that I’ve often avoided mercerised cotton as I’m not keen on the shiny finish and thought it would be too hard for clothing as it feels quite solid to the touch. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Like the Paris, it began to soften as I worked and I think that as I wear and wash my top it will continue to do so. It’s light enough to wear in this intense summer heat too.
Sold in 50g (100m) balls, It’s also available in a huge range of colours and has a very reasonable price tag like the Paris, so another thumbs up from me!
I tried this 100% Peruvian Pima Cotton recently when taking part in a Knitting in public day supported by We are Knitters. I spent the day crocheting (not knit!) on Primrose Hill with some amazing crocheters. We are Knitters are a Spanish brand and I have to say this yarn was beautiful. Super soft and lovely vibrant colours. The price is higher but the quality reflects that. I would definitely use it again for something a bit special, indeed, I gifted the headband I made with this yarn before I could get a picture!
Unlike the other dk cottons, this is sold in 100g balls with each ball giving you 212m of yarn. Although it’s classed as DK, the We are Knitters Site recommends a 5mm crochet hook.
Paintbox Yarns Cotton DK (aff)
The paintbox yarns cotton DK comes in a choice of 56 colours which gives it a head start! I used it to make my Lean on Me Pillow and it is wearing really well with no pilling or bobbling (and I lean on it frequently!). A 50g ball gives you 125m with multi pack offers available for larger projects
I like this yarn because although it is mercerised, it is not super shiny like the Drops and whilst I am a fan of the bright colours, I prefer the natural texture as it feels softer, which for me is particularly important for garments.
Generally I am a huge fan of all Rico yarns. For me, they strike a balance between good quality and an affordable price point. The essentials cotton continues in this vein. With a 50g ball giving you 130m this gives you most for your weight (though not by much!) and, like paintbox has a huge range of colours to choose from. It’s a little more expensive than the Paintbox and looks shinier (though not as shiny as the Drops!) but retains the softness.
4 ply & Threads
I love the DMC Natura 4 ply range. It is unmercerized so keeps the natural look and comes in a beautiful range of colours which all have a slight muted soft quality. I used it to make a Heidi Bears Hippo (aff) many years back and in various other amigurumi since. I found it to be a little splitty, which can be common with cotton, but with care, the finished look was lovely.
With 155m our 50g ball and a whopping 65 colours to choose from, it will definitely keep you busy!
Available in a range of weights, DMC mercerised cotton thread (also called Perle) is really my go to when I’m looking for something this fine. DMC seems to be the industry leader in this area and is widely available in a huge variety of colours. I have yet to design any projects in a yarn this fine but have used it to make crochet jewellery and Christmas decorations. Working with thread of this size is such a skill and I admire those who have the patience to do it on a regular basis!
I hope you find these reviews useful – this post ended up a lot longer than I intended but apparently I’m passionate about my cotton!!
I hope you’ll enjoy using some of these yarns for your projects.