A Place for Knitting Machine Enthusiasts
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Yarn Fiber ~ Plant, Naturally Grown
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Plant Fibers are not as insulating as the animal-based fibers but they absorb moisture very well and are strong and very breathable. Another benefit of plant fiber is that it is all hypo-allergenic so if you are allergic to wool you should still be able to wear clothes made of cotton or linen yarn.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLANT FIBERS
Silk: Silk comes from the long fibers of unraveled silkworm cocoons. Each cocoon can have one (1) continuous filament over a mile long! Controlled breeding produces the best silk called "Bombyx Silk" and Wild Silk Worms create "Tussah Silk". There is a difference between the two as far as quality, so make sure you understand what you are buying. Silk yarn is a very strong yarn, is shiny, silky, light and beautiful. Silk yarn can also have a not so shiny and courser look, depending what it is made with and how.
Silk yarn is one of the more expensive luxury yarns. Reeled, or filament silk is the highest quality yarn and is very white and shiny. A ball winder should not be used with reeled silk yarn as the silk yarn will slip off, making a tangled mess. High quality spun silk yarn is an easier silk to work with though it is more slippery than cotton or wool and anyone working with silk should try a small amount first, as most knitters do not like working with silk, because it is difficult to work with and a novice to knitting should never start out with knitting silk yarn. A lot of recycled silk yarns have a smell to them so be careful when buying. I personally do not buy recycled silk unless I can trust that it will not stink, and it does stink. Items knitted with some types of silk also have a tendency to catch on things, so take care when choosing a silk yarn. I ALWAYS use silk yarn with Punch Lace Stitch Patterns.
Bamboo: There are two common processes for making bamboo yarn from bamboo stalks, both developed in China, where large crops of bamboo are cultivated for many different uses. One of these processes involves physically crushing the bamboo stalks and then allowing natural enzymes to continue the process of breaking down the plant. Cellulose fibers are then combed out of the stalk in a process that is similar to the extraction of flax fibers from the flax plant.
The second process produces a yarn that is more similar to rayon, and involves the application of chemicals such as lye and carbon disulfide, a type of chemical solvent. After the bamboo stalks have been broken down by this chemical bath, the cellulose fibers are mechanically extruded.
Bamboo is a renewable, biodegradable and non-polluting resource that can grow without the use of pesticides, hence it is a "green" yarn. One of the outstanding features of 100% Bamboo yarn is its breathability and coolness. The fiber structure of these yarns, enhanced by the spinning process, have microscopic holes that wick away moisture and facilitate it's evaporation, which render garments made from 100% Bamboo yarns among the most comfortable for warm-to-extremely-hot weather climates. These same qualities offer natural insulation as well. 100% Bamboo yarns have natural antibacterial, deodorant and non-allergenic qualities that remain in the fabric even after many washes, rendering this yarn ideal for socks and children’s wear but I use it for just about anything. Also, do not confuse Bamboo Silk Yarn with Silk Yarn, it is not the same fiber.
Bamboo has been compared to silk and I agree, it is a beautiful yarn and items made from Bamboo Yarn are amazing since it has such a nice drape, but I would not recommend this yarn for any type of cabling, because of the drape.
Cotton: Cotton is typically planted in the autumn and harvested in the late spring in climates where the summers are long, hot and arid. There are many varieties of cotton. During harvesting, each boll is picked by stripper harvester and spindle pickers, which are mower-like vehicles that sever and gather the cotton. After the cotton is harvested, the fibers are separated from dirt, debris and seeds in a process called ginning. When cotton bales arrive at the spinning plant they are opened and separated by quality. The wads of cotton are put through a carding machine, which straightens them, allowing the fibers to lie parallel to one another. Afterwards, they are combed and bleached with hypochlorite or peroxide before the fibers are spun. Spinning machines operate by first condensing fibers together, rolling them onto a bobbin in one long strand. Then the strands are twisted into yarn.
Cotton is light and absorbent, but not as stretchy as wool. It is a bit harder to work with (and shows uneven stitching) so better used for more advanced projects. I always buy mercerized cotton, which is treated, and it is a much better yarn to work with. Mercerized cotton is a special kind of cotton yarn that is more lustrous than conventional cotton. It is also stronger, takes dye a little more readily, makes the yarn more resistant to mildew and reduces lint. It also may not shrink or lose its shape as much as "regular" cotton.
Linen: The long fibers used to make linen yarn come from the stalk of the flax plant. Growing flax plants takes about 100 days from seed to harvest. The plant produces blue or white flowers on slender stalks that grow 2 feet to 4 feet high. Flax plants with blue flowers produce the finest fiber. As soon as the stalk turns yellow and the leaves wither, the harvest begins. Any delay in harvesting means the flax will produce a less lustrous fiber. The stalks are soaked in water, acids or other chemicals to dissolve the woody bark that surrounds the fibers. This step, called retting, must be done properly or the quality of the linen yarn will be affected. Once the fiber is ready, the long fibers, called line or dressed flax, can measure 12 inches to 20 inches long. They yield the finest yarn. The short fibers, known as tow, make a coarser yarn. Once you have the fiber ready for spinning, the rovings go to the spinning frame, which draws out a few fibers at a time and twists them to make them into a strong, inelastic yarn.
Linen is a cool breathable fiber, but can cause your clothing items to be stiff and wrinkle easily. When blended with cotton it is much easier to work with. I rarely use this yarn since it does wrinkle so easily, but I have to say does make beautiful garments. Ramie is also a type of Linen.
Seacell: This is a new form of yarn made from seaweed and wood pulp and is very soft to the touch. It is a blend of Sea Cell and cotton, silk, wool, or a blend of silk and wool. Sea Cell is a plant fiber created from seaweed and tencel or Lyocell. The yarn comes in several blends and can come in a 70-30 blend or an 80-20 blend, with Sea Cell always the lesser number. This is another one of my favorite yarns to use.
Soy Silk: This yarn is made from Soy and can be mixed with other properties or be 100% Soy. Soy Silk is an environmentally friendly fiber made from tofu manufacturing waste. Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into long, continuous fibers that are then cut and processed like any other spinning fiber. It is very soft to the touch and feels like a cross between cashmere and a really soft cotton. It is one of my favorite yarns to work with but does not do well with cabling since it has a very nice drape. I think this one feels like Cashmere and is right up there as far as a luxurious feeling yarn at a decent price. I really love this stuff.
Banana Silk: This yarn is made from the leaves and stalk of the banana plant and is usually mixed with another fiber such as wool or even recycled Sari Silk but can be 100% banana fiber. This yarn does not do well with knitting machines at all, believe me as I have tried because I like the texture it produces. Most of this silk is made in third world countries (Nepal), by hand. It is almost always a chunky weight yarn. This yarn technically is a rayon. If made well, this yarn has been compared to silk, but I would say it would have to be raw silk as it is very bumpy and thick/thin. Below is a picture of banana tree in bloom.