|Old & New Rayon Threads Reconsidered
Thanks for waiting for this first issue of 2013, and welcome if you're a new subscriber. Be sure to catch up on the latest crochet design news over in the lower righthand column!
I'm 'reeling' from new experiences with rayon threads. Decades ago, I tried crocheting random rayons that were available at the time, including $1 hanks of embroidery floss. I didn't enjoy it. They were slippery, splitty, and felt squeaky-fake-cheap. My stitches didn't look as good as in cotton threads. I figured rayons were all the same.
Swallow Hill Creations' Rayon 5 Wt is a new crochet experience for that caused another visit to this rather chaotic thread category that I've come to think of as "Rayonville."
The biggest surprise is how much I love it for crocheting jewelry, yet here I was expecting the exact opposite! I was afraid that for my trouble, I'd just end up with beads that loosen and a plasticky look that ages fast. Nope! Rayon thread for crochet jewelry can work as well as pure silk. I'm discovering that it depends more on how any thread is constructed, the hook size used, and the stitches. See my Three Rayon Amigas (favorites) in second photo at left; details at the end.
First, it now helps me to see “Rayonville” as a border town of blended cultures from neighboring rayon "towns" like... Beaden (rayon beading threads available in beading shops); Flossia (colorful, glossy embroidery flosses for $1 or so in craft stores); Victoriana (long-discontinued crochet threads favored by early 20th century crocheters); Weaverton (coned rayons of various textures); and Knitlandia (fancy fine-weight skeins of hand dyed and fashion yarns in local yarn shops).
Why is it like this? Because rayon can be all things to all people. Hence all the non-crocheting rayon "towns" and the marketing aliases like bamboo, corn fiber, sugarcane, seacell, viscose; and close siblings like tencel, modal, and lyocell.
So, secondly, I've stopped underestimating our half-synthetic plant-source substitute for silk. I now expect the unexpected from a new rayon. I listen for which 'dialect' it's speaking. Is it speaking a beader's dialect? A shawl knitter's dialect? Embroiderer's, weaver's?
Third, crocheting with rayon pays off, as long as I take some proactive steps. I combine the following strategies to make rayon worth my time and effort. It pays off for crocheting with pure silk too!
Tame It to Reclaim It
I used to expect rayon to be limp and slippery. Now I also get proactive about how wiry it can be! Like other soft spring-loaded types of thread/yarn, rayon threads are going to uncoil on their own unless your first priority is to prevent this. Otherwise, it becomes a knotty mess. This must be common because a mess is how I usually find it in thrift shops.
Wound like a ball with a cardboard core? Most vintage crochet threads are packaged this way. I use its ball band to tame it, or a pipe cleaner; NOT a rubber band which dents it and decomposes, leaving dull discoloration. I keep each ball in its own separate baggie so that it can't secretly unwind in a project tote.
Wound on a type of reel or tube? Another sneaky explosion waiting to happen. I fed a long pipe cleaner through the core of the reel and twist it closed permanently -- I leave this tamer closed as I crochet. I just slide it around as I reel off more thread (I like it for crocheting wire too).
Can't resist crocheting a $1 hank of rayon embroidery floss? I won't even pick up my hook until I've first transferred a hank from its individual cellophane sleeve (I try to buy them this way) to a "Stitch Bow" or similar notched bobbin.
Firmer hand, tighter leash: The silkiest, glossiest rayon is also the hardest to crochet neatly with an even tension, and so heavy that the fabric "grows" (loosens and pulls out of shape from its own weight). Crocheting it with a smaller than usual hook size gives me the control I need, especially when l finish with blocking. (Crocheted rayon loves to be blocked!)
"Go down a hook size" sounds easy, right? Not if a rayon thread or yarn is loosely plied, and so many are. The fastest way for me to predict how crocheting rayon will go is to look at the number of plies it has, how tightly twisted, and which direction. The higher the amount of plies and twist, the more wiry spring it will have, the longer it will stay looking new, the easier it will be to control with a smaller hook size because it will resist splitting while you crochet it. In this last photo, the limp rayons bend much more than the wiry ones. Does the blue one look like it easily splits when crocheted? Yes, it certainly does.
When several plies are also twisted together in a counterclockwise direction (a.k.a. "z-twisted"), that's when I get excited. The chance of stringy splitting is almost nil, and the beauty of my stitches approaches heirloom quality. ::swoon::
Here are the stand-out 100% rayon threads among those I swatched for this newsletter and for the Puffpearls Jewelry Guide. (I hope you'll compare rayon threads yourself and keep a record of what works for you.)
Swallow Hill Creations Rayon 5 Wt: My favorite of the glossy silk type. Three plies tightly z-twisted with a dense smooth finish, like beading thread. No squeaky synthetic feel. Easy to manage, not wiry or splitty; stays neatly on its reel.
Aunt Lydia's Viscose from Bamboo Crochet Thread. My favorite of a fashionable modern matte type. Has a soft fine-grained sueded look. Easy to manage; 9 smooth plies are moderately z-twisted. Languid drape.
Star Rayon Crochet Art. 700: My favorite of the discontinued vintage threads I've found in thrift shops. Star's is the glossiest and the springiest; also the trickiest to handle of the three. It's made of six tightly z-twisted plies (unlike Lily Rayon Crochet Art. 137 and JP Coats 3-Cord).
That's it for issue #47! If you know someone who would enjoy this kind of newsletter, please forward this to them so that they can subscribe. (Click here to subscribe: ) If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me. Thanks! --Vashti