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Plant-Based Yarns: Using Gifts from Nature in Weaving, Knitting, and Crochet

Photograph of a cotton plant courtesy of Marianne Krohn via Unsplash
Photograph of a cotton plant courtesy of Marianne Krohn.

Nature, in its abundance, offers us plenty of materials that we can use in various industries. This includes plant fibres and plant-based yarns used in the textiles industry.

Plant-based yarns are sourced from various parts of plants. For example, seeds can produce cotton and milkweed fibres. From plant stems, we get flax, jute, hemp, ramie, and bamboo fibres. We can also obtain fibres from leaves, such as in banana and pineapple plants. Fibres from these plants are renewable and biodegradable, making them an environmentally friendly choice for crafters all around the world.

With the abundance of natural, vegan replacements for synthetic fibres, you have the freedom to choose guilt-free materials for your projects. Needless to say, plant fibres and plant-based yarns have gained more popularity over the years because of their sustainability.

Weaving, Knitting, and Crocheting with Plant-Based Yarns

Aside from having a lesser impact on the environment, plant-based yarns are known to be more durable, have lower chances of pilling or shrinking, and are perfect for people with sensitive skin. So, if you are looking for longer-lasting and hypoallergenic material for your craft, plant yarns are a great choice.

Nicky of Thread Collective Australia using her weaving loom
Nicky of Thread Collective on her weaving loom. (Copyright:

The increasing availability of plant-based yarns offers more sustainable options for fibre artists worldwide. Read on and get to know some of the best plant-based fibres you can use in weaving or knitting.

Linen Yarn

Linen yarn is made of linen fibres from the flax plant. It is known for becoming soft, lightweight, and resilient, which is why it is used in many garments, including bedding, tablecloths, and curtains. It also is regarded as being strong and durable when woven into fabric. In fact, it is considered to be multiple times stronger than cotton.

Belgium linen tapestry yarn by Maurice Brassard - Thread Collective Australia
Belgium linen tapestry yarn by Maurice Brassard.

How is Linen Yarn Made?

Linen fibres come from the stem and leaves of the flax plant. After they are harvested, the fibres are cleaned to remove impurities and dried. To turn the fibres into plant-based yarns that can be used for fabric making, linen is spun very finely and then plied in order to make a thicker yarn.

Types of Linen Yarns

When shopping for linen yarns, you might notice that some of them might look and feel different from others. This is because they might have been processed differently.

Here are the different types of linen yarns you can use for weaving and knitting.

  • Line Linen - It is considered the highest quality linen because of its notable smoothness and shine. Line linen is spun from the flax plant's longer, most lustrous fibres.
  • Tow Linen - It is more "hairy" and features less sheen than line linen as it is spun from short flax fibres. However, tow linen is much more absorbent and features a higher twist to keep the fibres intact.
  • Wet spun Linen - As it is spun using water, wet spun linen is shinier and has fewer hairy fibres sticking out. It is great to use as a warp.
  • Dryspun Linen- Because this type of linen is spun without water, it tends to be much coarser than wet-spun linen.

Advantages of Using Linen Yarn

Aside from being sustainable and eco-friendly, linen is durable and long-lasting. Fabric made with linen yarns can be stiff at first but it gets softer with age. Additionally, linen fabrics are so durable that they can be washed many times and do not show any signs of wear or tear.

Linen yarn is great to use for making warm-weather clothes because it is absorbent and quick-drying, doesn't shrink easily, and is good at conducting heat away from the body. Plus, linen fabrics' smooth and shiny surface allows them to repel dirt and stains.

When to Use Linen Yarn

There are plenty of weaving and knitting projects you can do with linen yarns. You can create summer crochet and a variety of garments, such as dresses, trousers, camisoles, tunics, cardigans, pullovers, shawls, and many more.

Cotton Yarn

From the fibres of cotton plants comes the cotton yarn. These plant-based yarns are mainly composed of cellulose fibres, an insoluble organic compound vital to the plant structure. Cotton fibre is one of the most ancient materials, but it remains a staple in the textile industry today. Cotton yarns are often available in a wide colour range.

Long-staple cotton weaving yarn by Ada Fibres - Thread Collective Australia
Long-staple cotton weaving yarn by Ada Fibres.

How is Cotton Yarn Made?

Cotton fibre is harvested by handpicking cotton from the field or by automatic harvesting using a spindle picker. The plant seed bulb is then separated from the seed in a process called ginning. Once the cotton fibres are cleaned, they are combed using a carding tool or machine. This is done in order to separate the fibres, as well as remove dust and short fibres.

The fibres will also go into a drawing machine to straighten and remove uneven thickness, and then into a roving machine, which will elongate the fibres and get them ready for spinning into yarn.

Types of Cotton Yarns

Not all cotton yarns are the same. Here are the two different types of cotton yarns you can use for your weaving and knitting projects.

  • Mercerised cotton - The process of mercerisation improves the shine and lustre of cotton. Mercerised fibres are highly absorbent, which means they can absorb more dye, making the colour brighter and deeper. They can be a little 'crunchy' at first compared to regular cotton.
  • Unmercerised cotton-Unmercerised cotton has lesser shine compared to mercerised cotton, but it has that natural cotton look and feel.

How Staple Length Affects the Cotton Yarn

In a nutshell, the advantage of long-staple cotton is that the longer the cotton fibre is, the stronger, softer, and more durable the resulting fabric will be. Long-staple cotton is shiny and best used for weaving fine, premium-quality fabrics. On the other hand, short-staple cotton is great to use in more basic, everyday items like denim jeans or flannel.

Recycled Cotton

You might have heard of recycled cotton yarns and are curious about what they are. Basically, recycled cotton fabric is transformed into cotton fibres that are spun into yarn.

Recycled cotton is sourced from pre-consumer waste, such as discarded yarns and fabrics from manufacturers and fashion houses, or post-consumption waste, such as used clothing and household items. Due to the nature of reusing waste products, there may be a percentage of recycled polyester in these blends.

Advantages of Cotton

Cotton fibre is extremely versatile, which is why it is used for many things. Fabrics made with cotton are naturally absorbent, breathable, and soft. Since cotton is a relatively lightweight fibre, it's perfect for summer clothing and accessories. Plus, cotton has hypoallergenic properties, making it a good choice for sensitive skin.

When to Use Cotton Yarn

Cotton has been a staple fibre in fabric-making for thousands of years. It is used for knitting various garments, like shirts, jeans, jackets, and household items, such as washcloths, towels, pillowcases, rugs, pot holders, and so much more.

Bamboo Yarn

Bamboo yarn is made from bamboo grass harvested, distilled into cellulose, and then spun into yarn or made from a bast process which is much more labour-intensive.

Bamboo/Cotton blend yarns by Maurice Brassard - Thread Collective Australia
Bamboo/Cotton blend yarns by Maurice Brassard.

How is Bamboo Yarn Made?

Bamboo fibre may be processed in two ways, either as a naturally occurring bast fibre that is similar to linen or as a regenerated manufactured fibre similar to Tencel but with a smoother and shinier finish.

Types of Bamboo Yarns

Bamboo yarns can be used both in knitting and weaving. Get to know the two types of bamboo yarns and find out which one suits your project.

  • Bamboo Viscose - Bamboo fibre produced from the viscose process is a regenerated fibre, which means that the leaves and other parts of the plant are dissolved and then turned into a viscose solution. This solution is then squeezed out and hardened into fibres. It's quite a complicated process, but the result is very smooth fibre with a high sheen.
  • Bast Bamboo - Bast bamboo fibre is processed in a mechanical method similar to flax (linen) and other bast fibres. The fibres are separated from the outer woody part of the bamboo plant, retted, combed, and then spun into yarn.

Advantages of Bamboo Yarn

Bamboo yarn is known for its smoothness and softness. It is naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic, making it an appropriate material for clothesmaking. Just like linen, fabrics made of bamboo fibres also offer excellent breathability.

When to Use Bamboo Yarn

Bamboo yarn can create a broad range of versatile and innovative crafts. This includes garments like sweaters, scarves, shawls, shrugs, and a number of household textiles. It's a great yarn to use for warm-weather clothing.

Hemp Yarn

Once woven into fabric, hemp has a similar texture to cotton with a bit of canvas feel. It makes such great yarn for clothing because of its length and strength. The hemp fibre diameter ranges from 16 to 50 microns.

Hemp/Cotton blend yarn by Maurice Brassard - Thread Collective Australia
Hemp/Cotton blend yarn by Maurice Brassard.

How is Hemp Yarn Made?

The stalks of the hemp plant are made up of two layers, but only the outer layer is used for textile purposes. Once the bast fibres are stripped from the plant, they can be processed and made into rope or yarn.

Advantages of Hemp Yarn

Hemp is one of the most sustainable choices there is in fabric making. Hemp plants do not require much water to grow, and processing hemp fibre does not require as many chemicals. Crafters who are looking to use vegan yarn or aiming for sustainability will appreciate this material.

Apart from its industrial uses, hemp is great for clothing and crafts because it dries well, has natural antibacterial properties, is not susceptible to shrinkage, and can resist mildew. Since hemp fibres are long and sturdy, hemp fabric is very soft, but very durable at the same time.

When to Use Hemp Yarn

Hemp yarn is one of the best vegan yarns out there and is commonly known for its uses in macrame, but it's also great for making accessories like bags, lace headbands, and bead projects.

Hemp is a strong, inelastic yarn that's great for market bags and home accessories like placemats and coasters too. When blended with cotton, it makes great dishcloths.

Tencel Yarn

Tencel is a cellulose-based fibre that can be used similarly to mercerised cotton, bamboo, or silk. It features a smooth, soft, and silky texture. It is a member of the rayon family but isn't as common as some other fibres. This is partly because Tencel isn't a material but a brand name for a combination of lyocell and modal.

Maurice Brassard tencel yarns - Thread Collective Australia
Tencel weaving yarns in different colours.

Advantages of Tencel Yarn

Tencel is known to be stronger than cotton. When woven into fabric, it feels very pleasant against the skin. Tencel yarn also offers a beautiful sheen and wonderful drape, as well as provides great stitch definition.

When to Use Tencel Yarn

Tencel yarn is suitable for making blankets and spring or summer season clothing items, including ponchos, wraps, shawls, camisoles, and cardigans. It can also be used for a variety of home knits, such as dishcloths and pillowcases.

Other Plant Fibres for Weaving, Knitting, and Crochet

There are so many plant-based yarns out there with extensive colour ranges, you'll be surprised. Here are some of the many other plant fibres that are being used in the world of fibre arts today.

  • Lavender
Lavender yarns are luscious, shiny, and offer a nice drape. Fabrics made with lavender fibres are hypoallergenic and do not cling. The lavender viscose is strong and smooth but has very little stretch. It's also sustainable and environmentally friendly because lavender doesn't need a lot of water to grow.
  • Peppermint

Peppermint yarnsare made of peppermint cellulose fibres. They are shiny, strong, breathable, and offer a beautiful drape, making them a good silk alternative, suitable for a range of different weaving, knitting, and crochet projects. Peppermint fibres are naturally antibacterial and biodegradable as well.

  • Pineapple

The cultivation of pineapple leaf fibres is an age-old tradition. Pineapple fibres, also known as Piña, are sourced from the leaves of pineapple plants, which are grown in tropical regions like Brazil, Hawaii, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These fibres produce strong and durable pineapple yarns like linen and hemp. It’s an amazing vegan yarn that creates beautiful fabrics.

  • Rose

Rose fibre is extracted from the stems of rose bushes. It is produced using the viscose process, just like bamboo fibre. The rose fibre is stripped and processed to create a luxurious and soft hand-spinning fibre, similar to silk. Rose yarns are known for their softness, high moisture absorption, and air permeability.

  • Ramie

Ramie, which is also referred to as China grass or grass linen, is a bast fibre crop. It is a strong and durable natural fibre produced from the stem of the nettle plant. It is known for being fine and lustrous but also slightly stiff and coarse. It is one of the oldest vegetable fibres, having been used for centuries for all sorts of fabrics. Ramie fibres also feature an uneven texture, making them look similar to linen.

  • Banana

Banana yarn is made from natural bast fibre derived from the inner bark of the banana plant. It is quite similar to linen in a way that fabrics made of banana fibres are stiff at first but soften with use. Banana fibres are actually among the most durable plant-based fibres out there. Banana yarn is one of the best vegan yarns. It is ideal for weaving lightweight fabrics, especially for summer.

Make the Switch to Plant-Based Fibres

Now that you have learned some of the best plant-based fibres and organic yarns you can use for your weaving and knitting projects, have you decided which one you are going for? If you're still undecided, browse our shop and see your options!

Thread Collective offers a wide range of plant-based yarns and fibre. Say yes to sustainability and choose from cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo, peppermint, Tencel, banana, lavender, rose, pineapple, ramie, and many more. There are even plant-based yarn blends like cottolin. Make the switch to plant-based fibres and use the gifts from nature to create beautiful art through weaving, knitting, and crochet.

1 Response

Jo Houssenloge

Jo Houssenloge

December 09, 2023

Thankyou for spreading the word of these amazing cruelty free yarns I’m loving your recycled denim and linen yarns and am looking forward to spinning some seacell as well.

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