Cellulose based yarns are derived from plant-based materials. Seed, Bast, and Processed are the cellulose categories of interest to the fiber arts community.
Cotton is the most widely used example of a cellulose seed fiber. The exact historical timeline of cotton’s use is a somewhat unclear.
The oldest evidence of cotton use dates to 6,000 BC in the region that now includes India and Pakistan. In addition, bits of cotton cloth located in Mexico date back at least 7,000 years. Arab merchants are believed to have brought cotton to Europe around 800 AD. Christopher Columbus found cotton growing in the Bahama Islands in 1492. In 1556, the first cotton seeds were planted in Florida.
The invention of the Roller Spinning Machine in 1738 by Lewis Paul and John facilitated the industrialization of yarn spinning. Their invention led to the development of the Spinning Frame by Richard Arkwright and John Kay in 1762. Separately, James Hargreaves developed the Spinning Jenny in 1764.
England became the cotton capital of Europe and initially imported primarily from India. However, imports eventually shifted to American cotton in the mid-19th century to take advantage of the longer and stronger fibers.
Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin in 1793 as a means to separate the cotton fiber from the sticky green seeds present in the short staple cotton variety that was easy to grow in the American South but difficult and expensive to process. Long staple cotton did not have the sticky seeds, but it could only be grown in coastal areas of the Americas.
The final technology development that facilitated the growth of the cotton industry was the steamboat, which enabled timely and economical transport of cotton fiber along the rivers of the United States to the port city of New Orleans. From there, the cotton was exported to England.
It is estimated that by 1860, the American South was producing 60% or more of the world’s cotton. The use of slave labor in the American South was a significant factor enabling “king cotton” to become one of the regions key cash crops. It is estimated that by 1850, 50% of the 3.2 million slaves were involved in the growing and processing of cotton in the deep south.
The Bast fibers of interest to the fiber arts community include flax, ramie, hemp, and jute. Bast fibers are found in the stem of certain dicotyledonous plants. Just as with cotton, Bast fiber must be processed before they can be spun into yarn.
Originally used to produce linen, Flax is now grown primarily for its seeds. The earliest known use of flax fiber dates back some 30,000 years in the area the now comprises the Republic of Georgia. Flax is stronger than cotton, but not as elastic. John Kendrew and Thomas Porthouse invented the first mechanical flax spinning machine in 1787 based upon the Arkwright and Kay Spinning Frame. The Woolery offers a variety of linen yarn, including Bockens Lingarn.
A member of the nettle family, Ramie (China Grass, White Ramie or Rhea) is one of the oldest fiber crops and a native of eastern Asia. It was used by the Egyptians as a mummy wrap as early as 5,000 BC. Not as durable as other fibers, ramie is typically blended with fibers such as wool or cotton. Today, Ramie is produced primarily in China, Brazil, India, South Korea, Thailand and The Philippines. The largest importers of ramie are Japan, Germany, France and the UK.
Hemp fiber has a long and varied history. Hemp was historically used to make sail canvas. In fact, the word canvas is derived from the Anglo-French canevaz and Old French chanevaz that literally translate as “made from hemp.” Grown for thousands of years in Asia and the Middle East, the commercial production of hemp took hold in 18th century Europe. The industrial hemp used for fiber production is a distinct strain that does not contain the level of THC found in the variety grown as both a legal and illegal drug. The Woolery offers a variety of Hemp yarn options, including our own Bluegrass Mills Hemp Yarn.
Processed cellulose based yarns are primarily derived from variations of viscose. Viscose is the generic terms for natural raw materials that have been chemically processed into fiber. Originally developed as an alternative to silk in 1883, it is most commonly manufactured from wood pulp and also known as rayon. The Woolery offers Rayon Chenille Yarn in a variety of color options.
Tencel is the brand name for a lycocell viscose fiber manufactured by Lenzig AG by a proprietary process using farm grown eucalyptus trees that is more environmentally friendly than rayon. The Woolery currently offers an 8/2 Tencel yarn in a variety of color options.
Bamboo yarn is spun from processed bamboo fiber similar to how wood pulp is transformed into viscose (or rayon). Patents for processed bamboo fiber were issued in 1864 to Philipp Lichtenstadt. The modern use of bamboo for yarn and fabric is credited to efforts by Beijing University in the early 2000s. There are some 1,500 species of bamboo and it is native to every continent save Europe and Antarctica. Bamboo fiber is naturally antimicrobial, highly moisture absorbent, hypoallergenic and derived from a fast-growing and readily available source. The Woolery currently offers a 5/2 Bamboo yarn in a variety of color options.