Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Five: Five fibers that can be confusing

As I walk around the shop, touching yarns and squeezing skeins, I find labels that tell me that our yarns of made of many different products. There is wool, silk, cotton, linen, and others. I know what these yarn ingredients are, as they’ve been used to make thread as long as people have been making thread. But some of the newer products confuse me. What is Tencel? And Soysilk? I’ve heard of Rayon, but where does it come from? Lorena and I decided it was time to do a little bit of investigating. We’d like to be able to tell our customers what they are buying! So after warming up the Google-fu, I bring you today’s Friday Five – Five Fibers About Which I am Curious:

Rayon, also known as Viscose, is a manufactured regenerated cellulose (Often wood pulp) fiber. This means that it is neither completely synthetic, nor completely natural. The original plant material is dissolved in caustic soda and is then taken through a series of chemical reactions until the product can be extruded through small holes (Just like a Fun Factory!) producing filaments. This process is termed ‘wet-spinning’. The filaments are then spun or elongated to make yarns like Blue Heron’s Beaded Rayon yarn.

Tencel is the brand name of a sub-category of Rayon called Lyocell. Tencel is made in the same way Rayon is, and both are considered relatively eco-friendly. Both Lyocell and Rayon are soft, flexible fibers which can add a lovely sheen to wool or cotton when blended together. If you’ve seen the lovely sock yarns of Mind’s Eye, you know what I mean!

We all know what bamboo is, but how is it processed into yarn? It probably won’t surprise you to find that it’s pretty much the same process as making Rayon! The bamboo fibers get mushed up and dissolved into caustic soda, are taken through the same series of chemical reactions, and squished out through the tiny holes of the extruder. The resulting fiber is then spun into yarn like Plymouth’s Royal Bamboo.

There is also a mechanical process that can be used to process bamboo where natural enzymes are used to turn the bamboo fibers to mush. The fibers are then combed and spun into yarn. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of using this method, it isn’t utilized nearly as often as the chemical process.

Soysilk is a trademarked name of Southwest Trading Company. Soysilk is the fiber resulting from the wet-spinning process of the residue of soybeans leftover from tofu processing. Soysilk is an environmentally friendly product as, like bamboo fiber, it is a renewable, biodegradable resource. Henry Ford was an early proponent of the production of soy fibers. He had a soy suit! If you live in Florida with us, you’ll find soysilk a joy to wear. It is a soft, smooth, breathable fiber. When mixed with wool, like in Karaoke yarn, it is feltable!

If you’ve read the label of Vickie Howell’s Craft yarn, you’ve seen that is it made of 65% Cotton and 35% Milk Fiber. Milk Fiber? What the heck is that? It’s pretty much what it sounds like. The fat and water are removed from milk, then the resulting liquid is polymerized. And then do you know what happens? Guess. Just guess for me. Ok, I’ll tell you: It’s wet-spun! You’re shocked, I can tell. =)

So with the exception of linen and hemp (The usable fibers from the flax and hemp plants are removed from the plant and spun fairly traditionally.) most vegetable material today is processed into yarn using the wet-spinning method. And there you have it. Chances are if you are asked how a certain fiber is processed, you can say, ‘It’s wet spun!’ and will sound like an authority on the subject!

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