Cotton is one of the most popular natural fibers. For thousands of years, people have used its optimal properties in textile production. Processed into cotton yarn, it is still very popular for knitting and crocheting. Many garments worn in everyday life are produced from versatile fiber. Especially the light feeling on the skin and the easy care of cotton products are convincing. Due to its good workability and robustness. Cotton is a natural product with many convincing properties. In this blog article, we will give you a comprehensive overview of the topic of cotton and provide valuable tips on knitting with yarn made of cotton or cotton content.

What is Cotton?

Despite the name, cotton has nothing to do with trees. Instead, the fiber grows in small balls or bunches on a bush-like plant. The name comes from the ability of the plant’s seeds to spread over a very long distance, much like those of a tree. This is because the cotton seeds are embedded in the many cotton hairs in the cotton boll, which, once the boll is opened, carry the seeds far through the wind. We will go into more detail about the structure of the plant later.

Where does the Cotton come from?

Cotton is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Unlike a wild plant, a cultivated plant is a plant grown and cultivated by man. Cotton serves as a useful plant and is an essential supplier of raw materials to produce clothing and other textiles. Early findings and evidence of the fiber indicate that as early as 6000 BC in India, the extensive uses of cotton were appreciated. Finds in the Asian and American regions also make the early distribution clear. Cotton was long considered a luxury good in some people, reserved for the nobility.

Cotton in the United States

Cotton had been planted and cultivated in the United States since before the American Revolution, particularly in South Carolina. But, thanks to the cotton gin, it expanded very dramatically westward after 1800 – as far north as Texas. Plantation owners brought in mass supplies of labor (enslaved people) from Africa and the Caribbean to hoe and harvest the crop.

Before the U.S. Civil War, cotton production increased from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850.

It was by far the country’s main export and provided the basis for the rapidly growing cotton textile industry in Britain and France, and the U.S. Northeast.

Early cotton farming in the United States is synonymous with the history of slavery in the United States. In the late 1920s, about two-thirds of all African American sharecroppers and nearly three-quarters of croppers worked on cotton farms, and two out of every three black women from black landowning families worked on the cotton farm.

After the Civil War, cotton production expanded for small farms operated by white and black tenants and sharecroppers. The quantity exported remained constant at 3,000,000 bales, but prices on the world market fell.

Although some labor was required to plant the seed and cultivate or hold the weeds, the critical labor requirement for cotton was in the harvest.

How much a cotton operation could produce depended on how many hands (men, women, and children) were available. Eventually, new mechanical harvesters in the 1950s allowed a handful of workers to pick as much as 100 had done before.

The result was a large-scale exodus of white and black cotton farmers from the South. By the 1970s, most cotton was grown in large automated farms in the Southwest.

Idealized view of cotton plantation on the Mississippi River,
Idealized view of cotton plantation on the Mississippi River

The Industrial Revolution

If the processing of the precious cotton crop was much done by slaves, the industrial revolution helped to create the mechanical loom and the mechanical gin. Both inventions revolutionized the entire process of cotton production and made it much more efficient.

However, the extremely physically demanding work of harvesting on cotton plantations was not eliminated until the use of harvesting machines in the 19th century. With this step, the spread of the fabric increased again.

The Production of Cotton today

Today, large parts of cotton production come from China, India and the USA. The plant prefers a warm climate. To thrive properly, 200 frost-free days are needed. The so-called cotton belt includes the alternately humid and dry tropics as well as the alternately humid Mediterranean region.

How is Cotton produced?

Cotton is grown on large plantations, and the plants are harvested annually. The plant bears so-called cotton bolls, which burst open when they reach maturity. In the cotton bolls, in addition to the cotton hairs, there are also about 30 seeds in each boll.

The bolls are picked during harvest and must then be separated from the leaves and seeds. The longer the fibers are processed into yarn, the higher the quality of the cotton. Particularly short fibers, which are found in the cotton boll, are sorted out and used for other production areas.

The fibers are transferred to a spinning mill, where they are twisted and refined. The spinning mill thus turns the fibers into threads, which can then be further processed in the production of textiles.

What makes cotton a special yarn?

What actually makes cotton so popular? Cotton combines many good properties. The fabric is considered allergy-friendly, and the textile industry particularly appreciates its durability. The fibers can also be easily dyed because they have good moisture absorption.

Garments made of cotton are very comfortable to wear and easy to clean. The material is permeable to the air. Last but not least, the durability and soft feeling on the skin are major plus points of the fabric.

The structure of the fiber causes the high absorption capacity of water and moisture. When wet, fabrics are even more tear-resistant. In addition, cotton fabrics are heat resistant up to 160 ° Celsius and can therefore be washed warm.

Cotton Clothes

Cotton for knitting – what to consider!

Cotton is extremely popular for knitting and crochet. It is ideal for the production of thin scarves and shawls, as well as casual clothes. Socks and light jackets are also well made of cotton. However, cotton is not the right choice for figure-hugging garments.

Choosing the right yarn:

Anyone who has ever searched for a suitable yarn for the next knitting project will know it: The choice seems endless. The question arises, how to choose the right yarn for knitting? When is cotton yarn the right choice, and what other options are there?

The composition of yarns:

There are differences, first of all, in the compositions of yarns. In addition to natural fibers, which include cotton, there are also wool, animal fibers, plant fibers, as well as synthetic fibers.

  • Plant fibers: Plant fibers include cotton as well as linen, bamboo and hemp.
  • Wool: Wool is the name given to the hair of sheep. There are different types of different animals. Particularly popular wool is merino wool.
  • Animal fibers: Yarns can also be made from some animal hair. In addition to silk produced by the silkworm, yarns made from alpaca hair are also animal fibers.
  • Synthetic fibers: Nylon or polyester are well-known synthetic fibers that are used in textile production.
  • A mixture of different fibers in the yarns is also possible.

When knitting according to a knitting instruction, you will receive a specific recommendation of yarns within the instruction. Feel free to take a look at our knitting instructions.

Different colors

There are no limits to your imagination when it comes to yarn colors. Modern manufacturing processes allow for a variety of colors and patterns. Whether solid, blended or pieced, there are a wide variety of expressions for your next knitting project.

The thickness of the yarn

The thickness of the yarns is also different, and, in turn, it is suitable for different applications. In addition to yarn thickness, the number of twisted threads also plays an important role in choosing the right yarn.

knitting cotton yarn

Choosing the right needle for knitting with cotton

The needle size

Basically, the thicker the needle or, the higher the needle gauge, the stronger the fabrics that can be processed with it. The choice of needle used for knitting is therefore closely linked to the choice of yarn.

For a medium yarn, a needle size around 5mm is suitable. For a very fine yarn, the needle should rather be 3.5mm thick. A general answer is therefore not possible at this point. However, you should always follow the instructions in the knitting instructions.

By the way, the crochet hook behaves in a similar way. The thicker the wool, the thicker the needle should be. The fineness of the fabric is subsequently determined by the combination of yarn and needle thickness.

The material of the needle

There are also certain differences in the materials of knitting needles. The most common materials for knitting needles are metal, wood or plastic. When choosing the material of the needle, it is less about the yarn and more about personal preference.

The type of needle

Depending on what you want to knit, the type of needle you use will also differ. Here, too, you should pay attention to the instructions in the knitting instructions. Circular knitting needles are suitable, for example, for the production of scarves. Circular knitting needles consist of two needles and a rope.

Needle games, on the other hand, consist of five needles and the ends of the needles are open. Each type of needle has advantages and disadvantages. For this reason, it is very important to follow the recommendations in the respective instructions.

clean cotton laundry

Properties of Cotton in knitting and crochet

Cotton is basically relatively easy to work with when knitting and crocheting, which is why it is so popular. The cotton yarn glides well over the needles and leads to a good knitting experience.

Cotton is a smooth and soft yarn and makes it extremely comfortable to wear. So the resulting products are also convincing.

Properly care for cotton

Cotton is easy to wash and care for. Nevertheless, you can destroy the fiber with the wrong care. Especially in the case of laboriously knitted or crocheted pieces, this can be really annoying. The following tips will help to properly wash and care for the knitted and crocheted products.

  • The first wash of colored cotton: Due to the good absorbency of the fabric, the color may be washed out during the first wash. For this reason, new colored cotton garments should be washed separately first.
  • Cotton clothing grows when washed: What sounds surprising at first is normal behavior with cotton. After washing, the garment may be longer and wider. A tip that can help to react correctly to this behavior is the so-called stitch test. A previously produced sample, which you use as a test fabric for washing and drying, prevents nasty surprises.
  • Cotton can withstand high temperatures during washing: Cotton clothing is not, without reason, particularly popular as baby clothing. In any case, you should check the composition of the cotton. Pure cotton yarns behave differently than cotton yarns which are mixed with other fibers. Also, jeans and tops should be washed less warmly than white cotton items. When buying cotton yarn, there are care instructions that should be taken into account.
  • The right detergent: for white cotton garments, a general-purpose or all-purpose detergent is suitable. Dyed fabrics are best washed with color detergent. Fabric softener should be omitted.
  • Do not overload the dryer: To avoid wrinkling, do not fill the dryer completely full of clothing. Reducing the spin speed also helps prevent fabrics from wrinkling too much. However, the best drying results are achieved in the fresh air. For this, you should simply shake out the clothes and hang them up. Leaving the dryer out also protects the environment.
  • Ironing cotton: For the best ironing result, you should moisten the clothes a little beforehand and do not set the iron too hot.
  • Consider care instructions: Before you put your own cotton garments in the washing machine, the care instructions from the wool will help.


Cotton is a true all-rounder. The long history of cotton shows how important the raw material was and still is for people. The natural fiber combines many positive properties and finds versatile use. Cotton yarns are excellent for knitting, glide well over the needle and can be processed into high-quality textiles.

Kayla Kinsella

Kayla Kinsella is a freelance writer with a penchant for trying new things. She has a passion for words, which is reflected in her ability to transform even the most mundane of topics into a literary work of art. When she’s not working, you can find her traveling, listening to music, or checking out the latest sustainable fashion trends! Her preferred fabrics are merino wool and mohair from South Africa.


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