Marking Time 1.15.16


"Sometimes I have enough cotton in my mouth to knit a sweater." —Lee Trevino


Away at the beach, and on my walk this morning I realized it is already Friday! So that means it's time for another Frequently Asked Questions Friday…


What is the Difference Between Mercerized and Unmercerized Cotton?





This is a question I get from a lot of my students when they are making their yarn choices. (And also about yarn weights, which will be for a future post).


In 1851 John Mercer discovered that when cellulose fibers (typically cotton, but sometimes linen and hemp) were immersed in a caustic soda bath with sodium hydroxide, it strengthened the fibers and also enabled them to take up dye more readily.


It wasn't until 1890 when Horace Lowe took the process one step further. He discovered that by keeping the fibers under tension while they were soaked, created a much more lustrous yarn. After the treatment, the fibers are placed in an acidic bath to neutralize them; then they can be dyed, knitted, woven, or packed as spools of thread or yarn.


Mercerized yarns do not absorb water as quickly, but do not become overly saturated. They retain their colors longer, and hold up through the washing machine.


Unmercerized yarns absorb water more quickly, but become more saturated. They are softer, and feel nice even after you wash them a hundred times. They are not as durable, however; and wear out more quickly.





So just to recap…


Characteristics of mercerized yarns

  • smooth and strong

  • take dye better

  • retain beauty longer

  • retain bright color longer

  • hold up more in wash

  • perle cotton is mercerized



Characteristics of unmercerized yarns

  • absorb water quicker

  • become saturated quicker

  • softer

  • wear out quicker because yarn is not as durable

  • has great texture and machine washability

  • great for kitchen, bath, bed, clothing



I love my handwoven towels I wove in my school days. They get machine washed several times a week, and the older they are, the softer they become. They are so absorbent, and great for kitchen spills or for hand drying. With machine washing, they are starting to fade, but I kind of like that myself.





In Saori, of course, we choose a variety of yarns for our warp and weft, so it doesn't really matter if we choose a mercerized yarn for its shine and brilliant color, along with unmercerized cottons. However, there may be a time you are choosing cottons for a specific project, and maybe this will help you in your yarn selection.


Thanks for reading along!





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