What’s the Difference Between Mercerized and Unmercerized Cotton?

When I first started my weaving it seemed as if I needed to learn a whole new vocabulary. Simply ordering yarn to begin a project was a major undertaking. I started weaving dishtowels and was super confused not only by how the yarn was sized, but by the description of mercerized and unmercerized. Now that I understand the difference I can better match the specific yarn to the project.

What Is Mercerized Cotton?

Mercerized cotton is cotton that has been chemically treated with the goal of increasing the strength of the fiber as well as its ability to absorb dye. As a result, the colors of mercerized cotton are more saturated, vibrant, brighter and shinier than cotton which has not been chemically treated. The process of mercerization involves giving the cotton a sodium hydroxide bath and then neutralizing it with an acid bath. It’s just amazing how that changes the cotton.

Projects Using Mercerized Cotton

Even though mercerized cotton can take in dye easier than unmercerized cotton, it does not absorb water as easily. Therefore, it may not be the best choice for kitchen or bath towels. Mercerized cotton is great choice for table runners or placemats. Below is a table runner I wove using mercerized cotton. Just a side note- this table runner was created during Jennifer Moore’s Double Rainbow doubleweave class.

What is Unmercerized Cotton?

Unmercerized cotton is just cotton that has not been mercerized. Unmercerized cotton is very absorbent making it a perfect choice for towels. Unmercerized cotton is quite soft, a tad fuzzy and not as strong as mercerized cotton because it hasn’t been chemically treated . The colors are not a saturated – making them a little dull and muted. Even though the colors aren’t as shiny as mercerized cotton, they’re still beautiful and you can created gorgeous fabric.

Here are a few placemats I wove using unmercerized cotton. It has been through the washer many times and still looks great. These placemats were woven as part of Janet Dawson’s class in overshot.

Where to Buy Unmercerized Cotton and Mercerized Cotton?

There are several brands of cotton, but by far I prefer Maurice Brassard Cotton. I pretty much now exclusively order Maurice Brassard. You can find this cotton in almost every size through the Woolery. It comes in so many color options.

My go-to source for mercerized cotton is Lunatic Fringe. What’s nice about ordering through Lunatic Fringe is that they sell the cones in smaller quantities in the color spectrum so you can play with color combinations.

If you are a beginning weaver, weave a few projects using unmercerized and mercerized cotton and see what you think.

Happy weaving!

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