What You Should Know about Cotton Yarn

Pros and cons of cotton yarn, plus free knitting patterns you can use for cotton yarn

Cotton yarn is one of the most common and popular yarns in the world. However, it is very different from acrylic or wool, two other popular yarn fibers. You won’t want to substitute one of those two yarns for cotton, at least not without knowing what you’re doing.

You’ll find many terrific reasons and projects for using cotton yarn. But you should also know when not to knit with cotton yarn. Read on and learn more about this popular yarn. Find out when cotton yarn is a great idea, and get free knitting patterns ideal for cotton yarn.

About Cotton Yarn

Cotton yarn is a plant-based fiber. It consists of ‘unicellular’ hairs attached to the cotton plant seed. Its natural color ranges from a light to a dark cream, and its chemical composition is almost pure cellulose.

Most cotton yarn is spun with a minimum of processing. However, a particular kind of cotton called “mercerized cotton” has been processed with the help of certain chemicals. These processes give the cotton yarn more durability and a greater capacity for dye retention. The mercerization process also gives the yarn a sheen.

Pros and Cons of Cotton Yarn

Cotton yarn has many qualities that make it awesome. To wit:

  1. Machine washability. You can take anything knitted with cotton yarn and toss it into the washing machine, then the dryer. No need to worry about shrinkage, like with wool.
  2. Durability. While cotton may fade a bit over time, it takes a beating like few other fibers. It is hard-wearing and resists breakage.
  3. Breathability. Unlike many other fibers, cotton doesn’t hold in heat. It breathes nicely, making it a great warm-weather fiber.
  4. Absorbency. Cotton’s ability to hold water makes it a perfect choice for projects like dishcloths, towels, and coasters.
  5. Veganness. (Probably not a word.) If you’re vegan and prefer not to knit with any yarn that’s animal-related? Cotton is the perfect yarn for you.

But you should know a couple of caveats about cotton yarn.

  1. Weight. Cotton is one of the heaviest fibers. That makes it unsuitable for large projects like blankets or sweaters.
  2. Stretchiness. Cotton stretches like no one’s business. You won’t want to use it for anything that requires a close fit, like socks or a snug beanie.

These caveats don’t mean you shouldn’t use cotton, of course. In the right projects, cotton is the perfect choice.

Perfect Projects for Cotton Yarn

Mitered Hanging Towels

Dishcloths/Washcloths/Towels: Because of cotton yarn’s absorbency, there’s no better fiber for these projects. In addition, using a textured pattern will give your project scrubbing power.

Patterns to try: Honeycomb Dishcloth, Mitered Hanging Towel

Stuffed toys: Because cotton is largely hypoallergenic, and because you can disinfect it in the washing machine and dryer, it’s the perfect choice for knitting stuffed toys. Especially for babies and very young children!

Pattern to try: Gnome Nuggets (honestly, check out all of Rebecca Danger’s amazing knitted cutie patterns!)

Baby’s items: Again, the machine-washable quality of cotton makes it perfect for baby-almost-anything. Hats, booties, clothing, and blankets make great cotton yarn projects. (Cotton is too heavy for full-sized blankets, but baby blankets are the perfect size for cotton yarn.)

Patterns to try: Chevron Baby Blanket, Baby Hat with Top Knot – Tegan, Saartje’s Booties

Grrlfriend Market Bag
Photo: Laura Spradlin

Market bags: The durability and washability of cotton make it a great choice for market bags.

Pattern to try: Grrlfriend Market Bag

Any warm weather clothing: Light shawls, T-shirts, even thin lacy scarves are all wonderful cotton projects. Cotton’s breathability make it ideal for wearing when the weather is warm.

summer shirts
Knit Eyelet Crop
Photo: Kate Smalley

Pattern to try: Knit Eyelet Crop, Java Summer Scarf

Knitted Knockers: Cotton isn’t just ideal for knitted breast prosthetics (say what? Read my posts to find out more about the charities that take these items!). It’s actually required, because it’s soft and breathable and absorbent.

Pattern to try: Knitted Knockers

Bonus idea: Bonding hearts! Read my article about the Mighty Miracles Foundation and learn how you can make bonding hearts for preemies and their families!

Patterns to try: 3 in 1 Free Knitting Patterns for Bonding Hearts

So if you have cotton yarn in your stash, or you’re eyeing it eagerly in your local yarn shop or craft store? Use it with confidence!

Want more free knitting patterns for charity? Click here for your copy of "4 Quick Charity Knitting Wins" and start making a difference today!