Cotton is the most comfortable yarn to wear against the skin. It absorbs moisture and is good to wear year-round. It is non-allergenic.
Cotton is a dry yarn and needs to be waxed while knitting. Use paraffin wax blocks, not coloured candles. The wax will wash out in the first wash.
Mercerized cotton is shinier, stronger, more colourfast than untreated cotton, and most of the shrinkage has been eliminated. It has a crisp look and feel which is good for skirts and jackets. It is not as soft and doesn’t drape as well as untreated cotton.
Treat your cotton swatch in the same manner than you want to treat the finished garment. I often hand wash and dry flat, then measure. Then put the swatch in the washer, dry flat and measure again. Then put it through both the washer and dryer and measure before deciding on how to treat the sweater. Some cottons can take the rigours of both machines but some can not. Whenever possible though, I will give up some of the shine to get the soft feel and convenience of drying in the dryer.
Cotton shrinks in the dryer but it also gets softer. If air-dried, it will be harder and sometimes stiff. If air drying, spin out in the washer then lay flat. Turn the garment several times to help speed drying.
If drying in the machine, knit at a higher tension to allow for shrinkage. This will make the garment easier to knit, but it will look huge when taken off the machine.
Cotton is a heavy yarn and cotton garments will be heavier than the same garments in wool or acrylic. Shoulder seams should have twill tape sewn to the seam stitches, especially in tuck stitch and dropped shoulder garments. To help lighten the weight, use widely spaced tucks, tuck lace or lace patterns. Non-ribbed edgings are ideal in cotton. However, loose bottoms may stretch out when worn while ribbing will be supported by the body.
Cotton is non-elastic. It has no memory to hold its shape like wool and acrylic. Ribbing can be a problem with cotton as it can lose its shape easily. I always start the pieces on waste yarn and rehang to knit the ribbing down. Ribbing in a 1x1 set-up can be made with 10% fewer stitches and can have elastic threaded through the back after knitting if needed. Ribbing in a 2x1 set-up can be made with 10 to 25% fewer stitches than the garment piece.
© Eileen Montgomery 1993