Fabric Science: Yarns

This is the next in the fabric science series.

So far we’ve talked about

Fabric Science: Bolting the Fabric - it’s just a little taste of what we will delve into.

Fabric Science: Types of Fabrics

Fabric Science: Focus on Fibers - Cotton

This time I thought we’d take a closer look at yarns and thread.

Here’s a good introductory you tube video that I found.

This one is about threads on sheets -the guy does it well. You will have to go to it you want to see it though, as I can’t embed it without some fancy work, and I suspect he made it that way on purpose so I will honor the wishes of the person who posted it and not figure out how to download it. :). You can watch it here. It will be a good introductory video to this lesson.

There are two basic types of yarns - spun and filament

Filament yarns

Filament yarns are made up of continuous strands of fibers that can be miles long. Now, if you remember from our last lesson we learned that long staple fibers of cotton are up to about 2” in length (these are very long fibers) - so these miles long fibers are man -made - or from silk. So for us, they don’t really apply to our study of cotton.

So, we turn our attention to

Spun yarns

Spun yarns are how we get our cotton fabric. They take those very small fibers - a couple of inches in length - and spin them together round and round until they get a yarn. In days long ago the yarns were thicker and heavier. When I’ve gone to some re-enactments of the middle ages, the fabrics they sell for those costumes is made of linen and cotton and it is thick and heavy.

Anyway, in order to get the yarns they want from fibers like cotton, they take the short length of fibers - called staple fibers - and manipulate them by moving them around and getting them more or less parallel (using a machine). Obviously their goal is parallel.

They then twist them tightly in order to get a strong yarn.

They are made in mills that specialize in the yarn spinning business.

There are a couple of terms I wanted you to understand.

The first is “carding”. Carding is using a special piece of equipment like a comb or brush and getting those fibers into alignment.

Here is a lady who is carding some cotton fibers. Now naturally, this is by hand. The fabric we buy is done by machine, but this will help you understand “what it’s all about”.

The second term you should know is” combing”.

After carding, a machine will take the fibers and then comb them - which will remove more impurities and put the fibers in an even more parallel position. Here’s another short video. It is pretty technical, but you can see the machines that are doing it. Once again, you will have to go here to see it. It’ s only a minute long video but lets you see the process and would be worth your while. I can’t embed it…just link to it.

Here is a little video describing combed cotton.

cotton sliver.jpg

After the fibers are combed, they are made into something called sliver which is like a thick rope of fibers but it’s loose and full.

Some waste which is called cotton roving yarn. You can see how much thinner it is than the above sliver.

Some waste which is called cotton roving yarn. You can see how much thinner it is than the above sliver.

They will then pull this strand into a more uniform and thinner and thinner piece. This process is called roving.

cotton yarn at a mill.jpg

The yarn, when it is at its final stage of being pulled thinner and thinner is wound onto a cone. Now you have your yarn, or threads. Sometimes (usually?) more than one very thin piece of thread is spun together to form a yarn. they will then take these yarns or threads and make fabric from them.


For you to understand cotton fabrics, it is good to understand from the beginning what IS cotton fabric, where it comes from and how it’s made.

There are many rumors out there in the quilting world about fabrics and fibers.

If we can understand “how it works”, when we hear things, we can determine whether any given rumor makes any sense at all. Sometimes the most sensational “statements” make the biggest waves and get shared the most often - and they may not even be true.

This is why I want to do this series- to help you all understand more about our cotton fabrics. Of course, in doing so, I also am having a great refresher course in textile yarns. (I took a course about textiles in college - I was a home ec ed major many moons ago.)

Here’s a good all around video explaining how they make cotton yarn. It’s done by the Discovery Channel.

And that’s it for today. We’ll continue on our journey to the next stage of making this wonderful thing we call cotton fabric “next time” we come to this subject.

And that’s it for today! Have a great day!

Be sure to check out what my sis has for you in the store!

Becky PetersenComment