What is a Natural Yarn?

by Calais Watkins June 06, 2018

What is a Natural Yarn?

Yarn: So What Does 100% Natural Mean Exactly?  

If you look at the shelves at just about any store, you cannot help but see the words “All Natural” applied to all kinds of products, ranging from breakfast cereal to diapers.  You will even see these words at the local yarn shop.  Logically, it does not seem that this claim could be true about all of these products.  We may not know much about diapers, but we do know yarn.  What does 100% natural fiber mean in the world of knitting?  We are glad you asked.

How to Make Fiber in a Factory

What does 100% natural fiber mean?  The answer is simple.  100% natural fibers are made exclusively from biological sources.  These fibers could come from just about any source.  Yarn can be made from alpaca, angora, cotton, cashmere, linen, mohair, silk, or wool, just to name a few.  While this answer is completely accurate, it is not too useful.  It is more useful to talk about the alternative, man-made fibers.

Many people assume that synthetic yarn is always made from plastic or other petroleum derivatives, but this is not the case.  Man-made fibers can also be made from a wide variety of natural materials like wood, metal or even milk!  However, these substances are heavily processed before they are extruded into thread and spun into yarn, the same way that natural fibers would be.

Why would anyone go through all the trouble of making synthetic fibers when the natural product is available?  The answer comes down to control and cost.  Regardless of their source, natural fibers are subject to variations in fiber diameter and length.  In a factory, textile producers can make fibers to whatever specifications they desire.  This gives producers power over the properties of the yarn and fabric made from the yarn.  Furthermore, growing, harvesting and spinning cotton into a thread is slow and labor intensive.  Creating synthetic fiber is a factory-based process that can continue year round.

Fibers Fantastic Features

How do man-made fibers compare to natural fibers?  Here is how man-made fibers stack up on four key areas:

  1. Strength

Synthetic fibers are in general stronger than natural fibers.  The producers can vary the strength by altering the thread size and spinning technique. 

  1. Flame Resistance

Man-made fibers are often resistant to flame and heat.  Flame resistance is a valuable trait that many manufacturers choose to include in their products.  It is worth noting that natural fibers can be treated to be flame resistant as well. 

  1. Absorbency

Because they are so highly processed, man-made fibers tend to be quite water resistant. 

  1. Bio-Degradability

Most of the biological substances that make up natural fiber will readily degrade if you leave it exposed to the elements.  Man-made fibers can typically last indefinitely in a landfill.

Both natural and man-made fibers have their place.  In fact, many yarns are made from a combination of natural and synthetic fibers, giving you a material with many desirable characteristics.  What does 100% natural fiber mean?  That answer may depend on your definitions.  What fiber should you use for your next project?  That is up to you.



Calais Watkins
Calais Watkins

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