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Year of natural fibres: Exotic plants!

Technically this article should be called “cellulosic fibres”. But that doesn’t sound very interesting. And bamboo and seaweed, made into yarn, are certainly exotic.


“Cellulosic fibres” is a category that includes, besides the above, less glamorous sounding materials like rayon and viscose – fibres spun from elaborately processed plant matter, beaten into submission and told to behave like silk. Ooh er! Does that mean that my beloved bamboo is basically just another synthetic? Well, yes, sort of. But it’s pretty far removed from the petrochemical synthetic fibres (acrylic, nylon etc); in fact cellulosic fibres still retain special characteristics of their original plants. For instance, bamboo has natural antibacterial properties, making it a fine choice for inclusion in t-shirts and socks. And SeaCell (a brand-name fibre made from seaweed) retains certain anti-inflammatory properties, plus a few trace elements such as magnesium. Pretty nifty idea!
I’m focusing on bamboo and SeaCell, since those are the yarns I stock, but they’re far from the only fibres in this category. Corn, for instance, and banana fibre – increasingly new yarns are sounding like they should be on your plate, not in your knitting bag. If you’ve knit with any of these you’ll know that they really do all bring their own special magic to the yarn party; so I’m sticking with my argument that these are truly natural fibres – plastic is plastic, right? But not this stuff.
What’s it good for?
Cellulosic fibres resemble silk in some ways (in fact rayon was originally invented and marketed as “artificial silk”); they tend to be strong, slippery, sheeny, and inelastic. They are highly absorbent (bamboo is often used for cloth nappies). Like silk, they beg to be allowed to show off their fabulous drape; but if you’re looking for the perfect skin-hugging elastic rib, you’ll need to choose a yarn that mixes in something a bit more stretchy.
SeaCell isn’t used alone in knitting yarn; I’ve seen it blended with wool, or with silk. In Sea Wool, it seems to act almost like silk in adding softness and lustre, while the wool gives it that stretch for delicious sockified goodness; in Sea Silk, it makes the fibre even softer. (Can you believe that they’ve managed to improve on natural silk? Those crazy scientists.) Sea Silk is an incredible yarn for lace. I don’t even know how to tell you how yummy it is. It’s yummy. Really, really yummy.
Bamboo is also a yarn that manages to be even shinier and softer than silk, and in combination, produces something rather wonderful. By itself, it’s not ideal for lace as it doesn’t block well; but with other fibres, oh yes! Pure bamboo yarns are often quite splitty – they usually comprise many plies loosely twisted together – but in my opinion, that’s a small price to pay for the softness and shine it gives. Thanks to its cool touch, absorbency and drape, not to mention the intensity with which it takes the dye, I rate bamboo very highly for exquisite summer tops.
Try them out!
Use the code YONFEXOTIC at checkout to claim 10% off these yarns:
Handmaiden’s Sea Silk was the first SeaCell yarn on the market and is still the one most people think of. Did I mention how yummy? Just one skein is enough to make an incredible shawl or scarf (there’s a lovely pattern in the October Yarn Forward).
Sea Wool is equally intriguing but, with the memory of wool added to the mix, more versatile; it’s good for socks, scarves, sweaters… beautiful stuff.
Swiss Mountain Silk Bamboo is another blend sure to captivate you. That colour! That shine! That softness! Treat yourself to a couple of skeins for a luxurious lacy scarf or evening top. Mmmmm.

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