Knitting with Cotton Yarn | How to Choose and Use It

how to knit cotton yarn

Cotton is a plant-based natural fiber that has been used for centuries to make clothing. It’s also one of the most popular types of yarn for knitting because it’s easy to find and inexpensive.

You can use cotton yarn in any project, but it’s not exactly the same as wool because it doesn’t have the same elasticity or warmth. And yet people still love to knit with it! 

First off, cotton has its own unique feel and texture. It can vary from airy to heavy and dense depending on the type of cotton used in production.

Second, cotton absorbs moisture well (about 25 times its weight).

And it’s also soft and breathable, which means you can wear cotton all year round without feeling uncomfortable or overheated.

I will start with the fact that cotton yarn is very “complex” in terms of errors and technological techniques. If you can hide knitting techniques and even minor mistakes in wool, everything is visible in cotton. You should consider this when selecting the models and patterns.

What is the difference between cotton and mercerized cotton?

knitting with cotton yarn

The most popular types of cotton are mercerized and non-mercerized (also known as “unspun” or “raw”).

Mercerized cotton has been treated with an alkaline solution that strengthens it, smoother, and more resistant to pilling and less likely to shrink when washed. 

Mercerized cotton is one of the most popular yarns for knitting and crochet.

It also gives it a beautiful sheen that’s perfect for garments or projects you want to showcase as beautifully as possible.


You’ll find that there are plenty of benefits from using these two types of cotton yarns when you’re making your next project! If you want a softer fabric but still need some durability, then go for raw; if you want something durable but also need it to be shiny, then go for mercerized!

And if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, cotton is biodegradable so you don’t have to worry about harming our environment when disposing of old garments or yarn.

Cotton yarn is not afraid of high temperature. It does not cause static electricity.

 Plus, there are many colors available in this type of yarn so you won’t get bored soon!

Mercerized vs Non-mercerized. Natural cotton is boring in comparison to mercerized fabric. This process causes the fibers shrink and become more vibrant, leaving non-mercerized material looking dull when compared side by side with its chemical treated counterpart.

Tips for knitting with cotton yarn 

  • The best patterns for beginner knitters are simple lacy patterns.
  • In crochet, it doesn’t matter that much because fabric is denser and mistakes will not be visible.
  • There is advice to knit cotton yarn in the round to avoid thick seams, but cotton yarn fabric can become skewed, which is a very common effect in circular knitting.

It is totally up to you whether to knit in the round or straight, but keep that in mind.

  • Cotton yarn doesn’t hold the ribbing at all. For neat edges it is better to use I-cord, double stockinette edge, or leave it unworked in order to get rolled edge.

But, this is not a strict rule, and you can have ribbing just for the looks.

cotton cardigan
Double stockinette edge

How do you make cotton yarn easier to work with?

The answer is: choosing right knitting needles for cotton yarn

It is better to knit cotton with bamboo needles, so that the thread does not slip, and there is the tension and sufficiently tight loops. When knitting with metal needles, the thread slips, and the loops can stretch, and the sharp ends of the needles “split” the yarn, which comprises several threads twisted into one.

Also, watch out the tension on the purl rows since they are “weaker” than the knit ones.

If you knit on circular ones, pay attention to the connection of the needles and the cord, they should be smooth and not cling to the threads. For dense knitting, it is better to take the needles on the number less than showing on the yarn label.

How much does cotton yarn shrink?

 One of their downfalls is shrinkage during washing, meaning that they will be crumpled after being washed.

On average, the shrinkage of cotton in width occurs by 3%, and in length – by as much as 6%.

If this sounds like something you don’t want in your design, it’s worth making proper swatch and measure it before and after to see how much they change size so there isn’t any surprises later on!

 In addition, washing will show how soft or hard it gets.

How to soften cotton yarn?

You can soften the cotton with hair conditioner and fix the color of the cotton yarn by rinsing with vinegar.

How do you wash cotton knit fabric?

The best for hand-knitted items and cotton yarn is hand wash with water between 30 and 40 degrees.

You can use any washing liquid or even shampoo.

If you need to use stain remover for colored things, dissolve it well into water.

I do not recommend soaking the product for a long time. It may fade, especially if knitted item is in contrasting colors.

It is better to rinse the product in several waters. When pressing, do not twist, as it may deform. It is better to fold several times or assemble into a lump and compress. Then blot the with a  towel for faster drying. 

Dry on a horizontal surface, giving the knit item a shape. When drying, it is better to put a white cloth (towel, sheet, tablecloth) under the ready garment.

I do not recommend drying on a battery or a clothesline–it can deform, stretch, form bends.

If the sweater is crumpled, stretched out, the edges have gained an uneven shape, but it does not need washing–it is necessary to spread it out on a horizontal surface, pulverize it, shape it, let it dry.

With proper drying, ironing and steam treatment are not required.

If you can not do without ironing, then iron from the wrong side through a damp cloth.

Store folded in the closet, do not use hangers, otherwise it will stretch, deform.

Cotton Yarn Burn Test

It is good to know what are the characteristics of pure cotton fiber. There is simple way – burn test. Check this article and learn how to determine different yarn types using flame.

What can I knit with cotton yarn?

Knitting with cotton yarn is a great way to make clothes for the entire family.

Cotton yarn is available in many weights and textures, so you can find just what you need.

What can you knit with cotton yarn:

  1. Sweaters
  2. Dishcloth
  3. Cardigans
  4. Tablecloth
  5. Festive decorations
  6. Napkins
  7. amigurumi animals
  8. Scarves, Shawls, and Other Accessories for Summer
  9. Afghans and Baby Blankets.
  10. Totes and Purses

Can you knit socks with cotton yarn?

Cotton yarn sounds like a good idea for socks and gloves, but it’s not. Why? Cotton is not elastic which means that your sock won’t be able to hold its shape after being put on or the glove will feel loose around your fingers! For these reasons you should avoid cotton when designing items such as hats and mittens where stretchability is important.

But if you really want to use cotton – make sure there are other materials mixed in with it so that they can provide some of their qualities (like wool) while still giving us what we need from our item- making things more comfortable feeling without adding weight.


Cotton is the perfect choice for summer knits. If blended with other fibers great for colder seasons as well! 

So be sure to give your cotton yarn some love this season. Cotton can be a great option, especially considering its variety of properties and uses that are suitable for beginners or experienced knitters!

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