Wool Versus Plant Fibers
If you have always knitted with wool or some sort of wool combination, you may be a little surprised at how different your yarn feels and behaves when you are working with 100% plant fibers. This microscopic picture helps explain some of the differences.
Wool has lots of scales. This can make wool feel scratchier but it also makes it more elastic: able to bend, stretch and then return back to its original shape. As you can see in the photo, plant fibers are smoother. This makes them inelastic and heavier than wool fibers. It also makes them stronger which is why they are often blended with more delicate wool fibers.
So what does this mean to your knitting?
The first thing you may notice when knitting with plant fibers is that they are “harder” to knit with. That is, they take more of a toll on your hands because of their lack of elasticity. It takes a little more strength to manipulate them. But they have advantages as well. They are cooler, stronger and usually cheaper to manufacture. Due to its lack of scales, silk can bring wonderful drape to your knitted fabric and sheen to its dyed colors.
As always it is very important to swatch before using a plant fiber for a garment, especially a large garment like a sweater. Not only do you need to wash and dry the swatch, but you may also want to add a little weight to your hanging swatch as it dries. Cotton can grow when it is in a long garment. Adding the weight to your swatch will give you an idea of how much so that your cropped summer sweater doesn’t end up looking more like a tunic!. This does not have to be complicated. Just hang your swatch with weights hanging off the end. I usually use office metal clips.