Cotton and the processes that change the properties.

Cotton: mercerized, waxed  Not all cottons are equal. The process that cotton can go through may change the properties.

Mercerized cotton was discovered in 1851 by John Mercer. The cotton was treated with sodium hydroxide. The result was  stronger, smoother and shinier than regular cotton. Mercerized cotton also dyes easier. In 1890 Horace Lowe made the process popular by putting the fiber under tension while submersing it in the caustic bath, resulting in a more luxurious thread.

Pima, Egyptian, and Sea Island cotton are usually used in mercerization as a result of their long fibers. Mercerized cotton is also known as pearl cotton and is pre-shrunk.

Waxed cotton can be purchased on cones. Their ability to shed water is what makes this unique.

Originally sails, for early clipper ships, were made from flax fiber. The  flax plant not only produced the fiber but also linseed oil. The linseed oil is extracted from the seeds of the flax plant. The oil was used as a waterproof for the sails and seamen’s clothing. The problem was the material became heavy and stiff in cold weather and with time turned yellow.

As faster ships were needed the change for a lighter, stronger sail was developed. During the mid 19 century, cotton sails made from 2 ply yarns began being used. The cotton was treated with the linseed oil for waterproofing.

Waxed cotton can be used for crochet/knitting with beadwork. It can be used for weaving. After completing the weaving project, it can be washed and dried in a dryer. The wax is removed and the cotton will plump up. 

Cotton will shrink if not pre-shrunk. It will also pill if the fibers used are very short. Cotton does not have a memory like wool.

Know the parameters of the cotton you are using. Some may be better for a specific project than others.

Knitting examiner


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