Curtain Fibers Test

[Unblocked test swatches] The question of which fibers would be most suitable for curtains comes up from time to time on the lace list. I decided to do a test.

Test swatches

The photo to the right is of the unblocked test swatches. They're also an interesting example of how much difference in gauge and appearance results from the choice of fiber.

I used similar size thread from my stash in four different fibers, knitted on size 0 needles. All consist of 8 repeats of the Fagot and Diamond edging from the Lacy Knitting of Mary Schiffmann, by Nancy Nehring, published by Interweave Press.

The swatch numbers are coded by the number of loops tied in the cast-off tail. From left to right, the threads are:

  1. Lyocell 100%, size 10/2 (a cellulose-based manmade fiber)
  2. Linen 100%, 20/2 bleached
  3. Silk 100%, size E beading thread (tightly twisted)
  4. Cotton 100%, size 20 DMC Cebelia
[Same swatches after blocking]

The same swatches are shown after washing and blocking in the lower photo to the right.

A note on thread sizes

Marilyn Buster pointed out that industry standards for the different fibers mean that the size numbers are not equivalent--"linen is based on 300 yds/lb for a size 1 singles and cotton is based on 840 yds/lb for a size 1 singles. So 20/2 is only 3000 yds/lb and 20/2 cotton is 8400 yds/lb. The linen would be closer to a #8 perle cotton than 10/2. #8 perle cotton is about 3360 yds/lb. [This is] why the linen sample looks so much bigger than the lyocell and DMC samples. They were listed as a size 10/2 and 10 thread and the linen was a 20/2. You would think the 20/2 would be smaller thread, when in reality it isn't because of the way thread count is calculated in the spinning process of the different fibers."

Well, since my goal was merely to find similar-sized threads among my stash, not to make them perfectly the same thickness, I decided not to worry too much about this.

The test

I washed and blocked the swatches, attached them to a piece of acid-free cardstock with the top folded over to cover the upper two inches of each swatch. I hung the samples in an east-facing window to see how they would fare in direct and prolonged sunlight. They hung in this window for three and a half years. When I took them down, they all looked okay, although the cotton one was a bit yellowed.

Then unfortunately before I took photos and recorded my results I did a bad, bad thing. I folded them up and stored them in a probably very acidic yellow envelope, which caused further discoloration. I should know better. [test swatches and high acid yellow envelope]

Results

I looked at them under a microscope at about 50X, and poked at the fibers with the tip of a pin. The silk fibers were brittle, shattering like glass as I stroked them. The other three fibers seemed perhaps a bit frayed but still strong. A greater shock came when I pulled firmly on the samples. The silk pulled completely apart in my fingers. [Silk sample in shreds]

My conclusion was: the Lyocell/Tencel and the linen were both great as curtain fibers. The cotton discolored somewhat but remained strong. The silk was a total failure. Here's how they looked: [Unblocked test swatches]

and

[Unblocked test swatches]



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Judy Gibson
Descanso, California
Email to jgibson (at) cts (dot) com