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Do you want mercerized or unmercerized cotton? What’s a “pearl” or “pearle” cotton? What is “mercerization” and how does it affect the cotton? Simply, mercerization alters the chemical structure of a cellulose fiber, and “pearl” or “pearle” cottons have been mercerized.
“Mercerization” was named after its developer, John Mercer of Great Harwood, Lancashire, England, in the mid-19th century. (Wikipedia says 1844, but in Textiles by Kandolph, Lanford, Hollen & Sadler, the authors date the invention to 1853. I would posit that the dates differ depending on what one views as the date of the development: the initial experimentation and invention? its improvement? its first commercial use? the acquisition of a patent?) Mercer was a dye and fabric “chymist” as well as a calico printer. After inventing the process, he was admitted to the Royal Society, the Philosophical Society and the Chemical Society. (Pretty impressive for someone with a complete lack of formal schooling!)
What is it?
By using an alkali mercerization alters the chemical structure of a cellulose fiber. It can be done on yarn (“yarn mercerization”) or fabric (“fabric mercerization”). Mercer used sodium hydroxide (aka caustic soda or lye) to treat cellulose fibers (e.g. cotton, linen or hemp). The process shrank the cotton which became stronger, more lustrous and more absorbent. The picture to the left of the cross-section of a cotton fiber shows the post-mercerization increase in absorption. (Pic source) Not surprisingly, the process made it easier for Mercer to dye or print the resultant fabric. The process also made cellulose fibers more durable.
Despite all the benefits, mercerization wasn’t popular as 19th century mill owners feared people would use less fabric. In the 1890s, however, H.A. Lowe discovered that if you held the fabric under tension, it not only did not shrink but its luster increased and the fabric felt silkier. It’s been popular ever since. :)
So, in sum, mercerizing cotton:
- increases its fiber’s strength (up to 30%) and thus durability;
- causes it to swell, thus increasing its absorbency (approx. 11%);
- allows dyes to enter the fiber more readily and have better colorfastness;
- increases the fiber’s luster because the fibers become rounder and reflect more light; and
- raises its resistance to mildew.
Today mercerizing process, in addition to being used on cotton and linen, is sometimes used on rayon. (For more reading, take a peek at Tom Beaudet’s article, “What is Mercerized Cotton?“)
Which to Use?
It depends on the fiber artist and the project. If dye fastness, durability and luster are important to you, you may want to go with mercerized cotton. Mercerized cotton holds ribbing better. That said, if you use a naturally colored unmercerized cotton, the color won’t fade.
Many weavers, knitters and crocheters prefer to use unmercerized cotton for projects such as table linens and towels.
When do you use mercerized as opposed to unmercerized cotton – or vice versa?
I, like so many knitaholics, knit year round. When the mercury rises in the middle of the summer, I start to knit accessories (and a few sweaters that I can knit quickly) slated for autumn and winter family birthdays and as holiday presents. The knit accessories are wonderful stash busters!
First, finding some 20+ year old machine washable Norwegian wool yarn in my stash, I pulled out my dying supplies and, sweating in a steamy kitchen, soon had four dye pots bubbling. The yarns turned into four of Rebecca Marsh’s Pineapple Stacks hats black, blue, pink and purple.
I found a skein of unlabeled fiber that I remembered being a cotton blended with a dash of cashmere. I asked Thor to tuck the skein under his cuff to see if he reacted; he did not! So I guestimated (correctly, as it turned out), and knit a simple tight cap.
It fits Thor perfectly, and it has become his favorite hat to wear when it’s cool but not cold.
After five hats, I turned to other small projects.
I had a couple of skeins of tightly twisted sock yarn by (Schachenmayer Regia Design Line 4-ply), so I knit a pair of Turkish Bed Socks by Churchmouse Classics. The yarn, of course, wasn’t exactly soft and comfy, but I think these Turkish bed socks will be very durable.
After Regia, I want to sink my fingers into something luxurious. So I pulled out a lovely deep mauve of 70%/30% Merino Possum (8 ply) by Utica Yarn (100g=220m), courtesy of designer Wei Siew Leong of KiwiYarns Knits. I liked the simplicity (set off by a few rows of K/P ribbing), of her Easiest Wrist Warmer Gloves so quickly knit a pair. I tried them on and was immediately loathe to part with them. I think they bring out the mauve in the purplish sweater I am wearing in the picture. And the yarn feels so good. It was with great reluctance that I took them off and returned them to the gift pile.
With Merino Possum remaining in the skein, I knit a pair of matching bedroom slippers using Drops 111-29 pattern. They too went into my gift pile with great difficulty. The yarn is so luxurious I didn’t want to take them off my feet!
After completely rewriting the wandering, highly unnecessarily chatty twenty-five (25!) page “Wonderful Wallaby” pattern into a one (1) page Neo-Norsk pattern, I must have felt I needed more challenges. Testing both the pattern and my rewrite, I knit three wool sweaters for the men in my life: Son-in-law H, Thor and Grandson O. Discovering pattern inconsistencies and sloppy styling throughout (oy vey ist mir!) meant I was continually ripping out rows, restyling and editing my Neo-Norsk rewrite. (I wasn’t a happy knitter.) In any event …
Grandson O’s sweater had a hood and a placket and cried out for a closure. Dritz makes a two-piece toggle button. It is, simply, awful: The ends of the toggle chord are wrapped in a bit of masking tape and then glued to the (faux) leather toggle base.
Thor didn’t want a placket (no problem), but he did want a hood. However, he has an allergic dermatitis creation to wool (as well as alpaca and llama – not to mention an anaphylactic reaction to angora, poor guy).
Easy resolution! I knit a lining for the hood out of a DK weight bamboo-silk blend. (I would have knit a lining for the cuffs but that wasn’t necessary as he always wears a long sleeve shirt.) I stitched the lining down at the base of the hood, at the top seam of the hood and along the hood edges. Then, using the blue wool yarn and stitching a few stitches in from the edge, I created the tube through which I ran a cord.
Son-in-law H’s sweater had a placket but no hood. (My daughter said H is “too old to be wearing hoodies.” :) I didn’t dare tell her I knit Thor a hoodie.) I looked through books, websites and videos for ideas about toggle closures and knots. (Here are two you might find interesting: (1) A short “how to” on basic knit loop closures by Eunny Jang, and (2) a very detailed demonstration on making Chinese knot buttons.)
As you can see from this picture, I knit a simple toggle closure out of a two-stitch I-cords using the same yarn as the sweater. (I wanted to try making a Chinese knot button but the yarn is was too textured to work well.) The I-cord was too thick to work with the wood toggle button I selected for his sweater.
Hopefully there’s enough young boy left in my son-in-law to like a horn button adoring his sweater!
Starting as soon as I could walk (late 1950s), my mother impressed on me that there were “womanly arts” every “nice” lady needed to know. Thus I took music and dance lessons from tutors while my mother instructed me on the ways “ladies” should walk, sit, bend, eat, et cetera. Mormor (my maternal grandmother) taught me how to knit, crochet and an array of traditional Norwegian handarbeider (handworks), but it was in school that I learned to sew.
I have been following the delightful and informative blogs of two amazing seamstresses – thornberry (in Australia) and Fit and Flare (in the U.K.). After a long hiatus from sewing (except for making my daughter’s wedding dress), their blogs have encouraged me to pull out my sewing machine. As I did so, I reflected on sewing projects in my past.
When I was in junior high (late 1960s/early 1970s), all the girls had to take sewing classes (pic source), while the boys took shop classes. I discovered I liked to sew so in high school took tailoring classes as electives. All my sewing teachers taught us how to do a lot of hand sewing. I sewed a lot when I was young – both by hand and with my trusty (and oh so sturdy) Sears Kenmore. It sat in a sort of desk and looked a bit like this machine (pic source), if my memory serves me right. As an adult my sewing was limited mostly to mending.
My most memorable sewing experience, however, was decades ago, and it was mending for my ex-husband, Beelzebob – yes I know it isn’t the correct spelling of this “highest devil … insidious and mean” (pic & quotation source) but – well, let’s just say it’s closer to his real name. Soon after I left him, Beelzebob showed up on my (new) porch with a basket of clothes in his arms. He asked (well, more like demanded) that I mend them for him, and, not surprisingly, I refused. Beelzebob immediately dropped the basket and started to yell and wave his arms, scaring my houseguest who thought he was going to strike me. She jumped in front of me, calmed down Beelzebob, and assured him that she would mend his clothes. He was immediately contrite and sweet (toward her). I think his parting words were along the line of, “It’s nice to know that there are still nice ladies” (as he shot evil looks my way and stomped off my porch). As soon as Beelzebob left, I told my friend that as I would have no problem dousing his clothes in gasoline and dropping a match on them, she should do the promised mending out of my sight.
The next day I received a telephone call at work from my friend asking me (in a very meek voice) how to thread my sewing machine (pic source). She admitted she’d never sewn before, so it was impossible to explain over the telephone. I agreed to mend Beelzebob’s clothes only if she agreed to tell him that she repaired the clothes. I stayed up very late that night doing the mending. Thankfully my friend was fast asleep or she would have heard me giggling. Here is an example of some of the “mending” I did to his clothes:
- I carefully removed the cuffs from one shirt and put them on the opposite arms.
- I carefully removed the front plackets from another shirt and reversed them so the shirt buttoned “backwards” (i.e., like a woman’s shirt).
- On another shirt I carefully removed the pockets from under their flaps (ensuring he’d be puzzled when he tried to put a pack of cigarettes in his pocket).
- On two pairs of blue jeans I pulled out the thin material lining the pockets and stitched them closed right where the denim met the thin lining (so he could get no more than his finger tips into the pockets).
- On another pair of blue jeans I sewed the hems of the pant legs shut – matching the orange stitching stitch for stitch.
- On two dress shirts I shortened the little button holes on the collar points (now he wouldn’t be able to button down the collars).
- On another shirt I removed the cuffs, shortened each sleeve by an inch or so, and then replaced the cuffs (making him wonder if his arms had grown).
Sewing had never been so much fun! The coup de grâce, however, was when my friend asked me for directions for a dry cleaner so she could have his clothes dry cleaned (she wasn’t willing to do that!), before he returned to pick them up. I sent her to a dry cleaner whose practice it was to stamp (with indelible ink) the last four characters of a customer’s last name into the clothes. She shared her surname with a man prominent in U.S. history and famed for his flamboyant signature.
Oh yes, happy sewing memories. :)
A common problem frequently faced by yarnaholics is picking through our extensive stash and finding skeins, hanks, cones or balls of yarn that have no label. How many yards do we have to work with? Do we have enough to make a hat? a small sweater? a large sweater? a pair of socks? This is where the McMorran Yarn Balance comes in handy.
(And in case you’re wondering, it’s named for its creator, H. McMorran, a former lecturer in textile testing at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels, Scotland.)
This yarn balance consists of only a few parts and is simple to use! As explained on the McMorran Yarn Balance website:
The McMorran Yarn Balance is almost completely assembled “out of the box”.
- Simply remove the balance arm (1) and pivot (2).
- Place the pivot through the small hole in the balance arm (3).
- Place the pivot, with the “V” (4) in the balance arm facing up.
- Make sure the balance arm is clear of the side of the slot (5).
TO USE/MEASURE (US/pounds per yard):
Place yarn (6) in the V (4) of the balance arm.
Add/snip yarn until the balance arm is horizontal.
Remove from balance arm & measure the length.
Measure the total length in inches.
Multiply inches (including fractions) by 100. The product is the approximate Yards Per Pound. (For example, if length = 6.5 inches, then 6.5 x 100 =650 yards, the approximate Yards Per Pound of your mystery yarn.)
If you’d like a print out of instructions on its use, see Apple Lee Farm’s. If you’d like more pictures of the yarn balance, see All Fiber Arts. If you’d like to see a video explaining/demonstrating its use, watch Spinning with PattyAnne.
Many people whose blogs I read regularly are like me: We like to buy and use the work of artists and craftspeople – especially when they’re local. When we lived in San Francisco, I regularly attended arts and craft fairs. Happily, Oregon has many arts and craft fairs, and here in Eugene (Oregon), its Saturday Market’s Holiday Market (an annual event), opened last weekend. I went to the market three times in its first two days!
I found something that I’d never seen before: A connected set of yarn bowls called “Sock Yarn Bowls” by Amy the Potter! As any knitter or crocheter will immediately recognize, these are not simply for sock yarn; they are perfect when knitting anything from two skeins of yarn.
I’m currently knitting two-colored “Cameo” by Paulina Popiolek out of Cascade Yarn’s Heritage Silks (100g/400m – 3.5 oz/437y) So of course, I just had to buy one of Amy’s “Sock Yarn Bowls.” (It was a necessity, don’t you think?!)
As I walked away from Amy-the-Potter’s booth determined to leave without adding to my purchases, I passed a woman knitting behind a booth displaying the woodworking of Earnest Efforts. After my eyes registered the knitting, they were drawn to display of beautiful handcrafted wooden barrettes that were displayed in sizes (!) from tiny to extra-large! As someone with long, heavy hair that regularly bursts free from its restraints, I was cautiously excited to see the beautiful extra-large clasps.
When the nice lady (Ellie Earnest) put down her knitting and asked if I wanted to try one, I couldn’t resist. I selected a beautiful one made from Oregon Myrtlewood. Ellie and her husband use sturdy French barrette claps they then screw – not glue – into the wood.
Success! The barrette easily held back my hair! This morning I quickly twisted my hair and pinned it back with the extra large Earnest Efforts barrette. Notice it effortlessly holds back my hair and, several hours later, it is still in place! (I definitely need another one of these gems! This is the only hair clasp I have tried that actually works without needing frequent repositioning or re-doing!)
I think these would be wonderful for storing fiber-related accessories (and any other treasures, for that matter!). And yes, you can visit Earnest and Ellie Efforts at their Etsy shop!
Though I went to the Holiday Market three times during its first weekend, I know I will be going again. :)