A variety of yarns and fibers are shown in a collage.

Plant Fiber-Based Yarns

This article is a part of Yarn 101 series ⟶ Types of Yarn.

To create a plant-based yarn, you need to obtain plant fibers, such as cotton, flax or bamboo. These fibers are much less elastic and warm than animal-sourced yarns, but they have different properties for which they are valued – for example, high water absorption.

Easy way to determine if the yarn is natural or synthetic is to burn individual strand and see what happens. Natural yarns are easily flammable and smell like burnt hair, because they contain proteins. If the yarn melts instead of burning, it’s mostly or entirely made with synthetic fibers.

⟶ Cotton

Production of cotton starts with harvesting cotton plants, which are native to tropical and subtropical regions – both Americas, Africa, and India. Even ancient cultures cultivated it to make garments. This strong and breathable yarn absorbs dyes easily, so you can find a lot of beautiful hand-dyed color schemes.

Cotton absorbs water very well – even 27 times its weight! This feature makes it perfect for home accessories, such as dishcloths or towels. Cotton summer garments will be great to wear, as long as you don’t go in the water in them. You certainly wouldn’t want to end up in a soggy cotton swimsuit.


  • top photo by Quince & Co. (source), bottom photo by Marina Shemesh (source)

⟶ Hemp

In search of alternatives to cotton and linen, yarn makers introduced hemp fibers relatively recently. This durable but soft material is often used for outerwear, sweaters and macrame. It’s much more productive than other plant-based yarns, outperforming production of cotton up to 250%.


  • top photo by frabjousfibers.com (source)
  • bottom photo by Lode Van de Velde (source)

⟶ Bamboo

This natural fiber is a true hero in recent years, because it’s considered eco-friendly and breathable. Bamboo plants grow incredibly fast, and you can harvest it without killing the plant. It uses up much less water or fertilizers than other fiber-producing plants, so it’s more sustainable.

Bamboo yarn is often available in combinations with other yarns, both natural and synthetic. It has antibacterial qualities, is soft and breathable, which makes it great for summer garments, socks and baby accessories.


  • top photo by SheepGeek (source), bottom photo by Pennie Gibson (source)

Explore more from Yarn 101 series:

⟶ Lace, worsted, bulky, or jumbo…? To find out more about Yarn Weights and Ply, check out this article!

⟶ You can wind yarn into different shapes, such as skeins, hanks, balls and other – if you want to know more about Yarn Ball Types, check out this article!

yarn ball types

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