What Are The Different Types of Cotton Yarn?

Different colors of cotton yarn on a white tile backdrop.

There are so many options out there these days for different kinds of cotton yarn. However, some of the descriptive vocabulary on the yarn labels is not self-explanatory. You might wonder what all those different words mean!

I am going to do my best to help you understand some of that vocabulary today!

What is Cotton Yarn?

First of all, let’s start with the definition of what cotton yarn is in the first place!

photo of cotton plant against backdrop of blue sky

Cotton yarn is yarn that is made from the fluffy white fiber of the cotton plant. The fibers are combed and spun into yarn, similar to the way that wool would be combed and spun (1)

So, if you like the idea of a natural, plant-based yarn, cotton is a great one!

What Are The Qualities of Cotton Yarn?

As you would expect, yarn made from cotton has very similar characteristics to fabrics made from cotton thread. It is known for being breathable, absorbant, cooling, durable and heat resistant.

White crochet baskets holding q-tips and cotton on a countertop.

That is why some of the most common uses for cotton yarn are for summer clothing, kitchen and bath items and home decor.

Different Kinds of Cotton Yarn

Now let’s get down to our original question. When you pick up a skein of yarn at the store and it just says “100% cotton”, then there is nothing super complicated about it. It is cotton and contains the qualities of cotton listed above. However, you may run across the following additional terms that I will describe below: Mercerized, Pima, Egyptian/Mako and Organic.

Mercerized Cotton

Mercerization is the process of chemically treating a fiber, first with a solution of sodium hydroxide, and then with water or acid to neutralize the sodium hydroxide. (2)

The process of mercerization has the following effects on cotton yarn:

  • It makes it stronger and more durable.
  • It makes it more absorbent of dyes and therefore mercerized cottons that are dyed have a richer color that lasts longer over time.
  • Though it seems contradictory, it makes it LESS absorbent of water than yarn that is un-mercerized.
  • It makes it more smooth and lustrous.

Because of all of these qualities, mercerized yarns are considered higher quality. (3)

Pima Cotton

Pima cotton is a kind of cotton in which the individual fibers are longer than other cotton fibers. (4) This makes it “softer, stronger and longer lasting.” Therefore, it is considered more luxurious and better quality. (5) It tends to be super soft and smooth.

Pima Cotton got it’s name from the Pima tribe of American Indians who were known for cultivating a superior strain of the cotton in the South-Western United States. (5)

Egyptian Cotton

Egyptian cotton is like Pima cotton in that it also has extra long fibers. The main difference between the two is that Egyptian cotton is grown in Egypt!

The difficulty with both Pima and Egyptian cotton is that it can be difficult to verify if it is indeed of high quality (longer fibers). Technically, any cotton that is grown in Egypt can be labeled “Egyptian cotton”, even if it is not of the higher quality that the label implies. (4)

I have not run across a yarn actually labeled as Egyptian cotton myself, except for one – Hobbii’s Baby Cotton Organic. However, I have run across a few yarns labeled as Mako cotton, which seems to be related…

Mako Cotton

Curiously, I could not find much information out there on Mako Cotton! The Lion Brand website boasts that their version of Mako Cotton yarn has extra long fibers and is the smoothest and “strongest fiber available,” which sounds very much like a description you would find of Egyptian yarn. (7) A few other textile sites mention that Mako yarn is produced in Upper-Egypt. (8) However, that was the extent of what I could find on it.

Organic Cotton

If a cotton yarn is labeled as organic, it means just what it sounds like: the cotton used to produce the yarn was grown organically. This means it was grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which makes it an option that is kinder to the environment. (9)

3 Skeins of cotton yarn on a white countertop next to a cup of coffee.

I have not seen a lot of organic yarns out there, but a few big label options would be Lion Brand Oh Baby Organic, Stylecraft Naturals Organic Cotton, Hobbii Baby Cotton Organic and Knit Picks Simply Cotton Organic line (which aren’t even dyed).

Cotton Blends

Now that you have a little more knowledge of the different kinds of cotton yarns, what about all the yarns that are cotton blends?

A cotton blend is a yarn that is made up partly of 100% cotton yarn and partly of some other fiber.

When a cotton yarn is blended with another fiber yarn, it is usually to maximize the benefits of both kinds of fiber in one yarn. For example, cotton and acrylic may be combined to marry the warmth and softness of acrylic to the lightness of cotton. (6)

Some well known cotton blends are Lion Brand’s Comfy Cotton Blend (50% Cotton and 50% polyester), Yarnspiration’s Bernat Softee Cotton (60% cotton and 40% acrylic) and Yarnspiration’s Caron Cotton Cakes (60% cotton and 40% acrylic).

Ready to look at some of the specific yarns you can try from each of these categories? Go take a look at my Great Big List of Cotton Yarn Options and have fun picking some to try!

Footnotes:
(1) What is Cotton Yarn? Yarn University #8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc0Utf97ixo
(2) Mercerization. https://www.britannica.com/technology/mercerization
(3) What Does Mercerized Cotton Mean? https://oecotextiles.blog/2012/12/05/what-does-mercerized-cotton-mean/
(4) Egyptian Cotton vs. Pima Cotton; What’s the Difference? https://www.pimacott.com/blog/egyptian-cotton-vs-pima-cotton-whats-the-difference
(5) What Is Pima Cotton? https://cottonandcare.com/blogs/news/what-is-pima-cotton/
(6) Top 5 Cotton Blend Yarns & Its Uses. https://colossustex.com/top-5-cotton-blend-yarns-its-uses/
(7) Lion Brand Mako Cotton Yarn. https://www.lionbrand.com/collections/yarn-fiber-cotton/products/lb-collection-mako-cotton-yarn
(8) What is Mako Cotton? https://www.aphrodite1994.com/blog/index.php/what-is-mako-cotton
(9) Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

5 Comments

  1. Esther, thank you so much for writing this. I have been crocheting (filet crochet) since my teen years (I am now 52) but when I got here in America, I was blown away with the variety of yarn – I only know the Aunt Aida kinds of threads. I so appreciate the information and all the reference link! Thank you! 🙂

      1. VERY MUCH! I am looking forward to furture posts. Maybe those about animal fibers? I see them online but do not know what they are good for or what is even the difference – angora, wool, alpaca, etc. 🙂

    1. Good question. I’m not sure if there is a required percentage in order to be defined as a cotton blend. But it would certainly mean that the cotton characteristics would be less dominant.

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