Milk yarn? How does that work? (Part 1)

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to fondle a swatch of Milky Whey (by Kollage) made from milk and soy yarns.  YUM!  It provided instant finger delight  (I made a mental note to try it as soon as I get a couple projects off of my needles) but.. milk yarn?  How does that work?  How is yarn made from a liquid?   Actually, there are a number of yarns that fall into this category.

Yarn fibers can typically be categorized as either animal, plant or synthetic (man made).  Synthetic yarns can be further broken down into petroleum based (e.g. nylon, acrylics) or bio-synthetics.   Milk yarn falls into the latter category along with soy, and bamboo.

Bio-synthetic yarns include;

  • Bamboo (from bamboo plants)
  • Banana (from banana trees)
  • Chitin (made from crab and shrimp shells)
  • Corn (made from corn plant sugars)
  • Cupro (made from cotton plant lintels)
  • Milk (milk proteins)
  • Rayon, tencel and viscose (derived from wood cellulose)
  • SeaCell® (seaweed)
  • Soy (made from soybeans, perhaps leftover from making Tofu)

Bio-synthetic yarns are created by cooking cellulose (or polymers) into a slurry and then pumping that slurry through the tiny holes of a spinnarette and voila, fiber filaments are produced that are then spun into yarn.    In the case of milk yarn, milk proteins are the solids in the slurry.

In general, synthetic yarns boast of several key benefits including that they can be moth proof (unlike natural fibers), may be hypoallergenic, machine washable and can imitate other fibers’ properties (e.g. silky, drapey, woolly).

On the flip side, some synthetics can be itchy, most are not as elastic as animal fibers (have less “memory”), they generally don’t “breathe” as well as natural fibers and they don’t have the insulating properties of natural fibers.

If you are looking to experiment with some of the bio-synthetics but don’t know what to expect from them, the following may help you decide where to start.

Bio-Synthetic Yarn Properties

Bamboo Bamboo produces a soft hand (can actually be softer than silk) with a nice drape (can be a bit clingy) and a bit of luster.  (I knitted a bamboo top that had the feel of the softest worn-in t-shirt straight off the needles.)  It produces a strong fabric that wears well.  Bamboo can be harvested off of the plant without killing the plant, is hypoallergenic, a natural antibacterial and has UV protective qualities.    It is also biodegradable.  Bamboo is cool and does breathe making it a great choice for summer knits (tops, dresses, skirts).

The downside of bamboo is that it loses strength and swells quite a bit in water (not recommended for swim suits) and has a tendency to split (and therefore snag).

Brands/Where to buy?  Many yarn suppliers now offer bamboo yarn making it much easier to find.  If your LYS doesn’t carry any, you can try any of the major yarn manufacturers online such as Crystal Palace, Rowan, or Paton to find a source.  Likewise, most online yarn vendors have offerings available (e.g. KnitPicks, Yarn Barn, WEBS).

Banana Banana silk is made from the aged bark (outer layers) of banana palm trees.  As with other bio-synthetics, the bark is soaked, broken down to a pulp and the cellulose is extruded to produce the fibers.  Women in Nepal then hand dye and spin the worsted weight yarn.  Banana silk is aptly named, being silky, and lustrous with a very nice hand. Great for scarves, shawls, hats and more.

Different parts of the banana tree are actually used to produce a variety of fiber for instance the outer layers of bark are used generally for heavier applications such as tablecloths whereas the 3rd layer produces the finest, silkiest fiber suitable for making kimonos.

Brands/Where to buy? Although not as commonly available as bamboo yarn, I was able to find several sources online;   NobleKnits, NearSeaNaturals, and  The Wool Peddler (I haven’t used these suppliers myself yet).

Chitin and Chitosan Interestingly, chitin is derived from arthropod (e.g lobster, shrimp, insect, crab) shells, primarily from shrimp and crab.  Likewise, chitosan is derived from chitin.

Having antibacterial and humidity absorbing properties make them a natural additive candidate for sock, underwear (knitted undies?), and sports clothes yarns to name a few possibilities.  HA – this gives a whole new meaning to ‘walking on shells’…  Chitin and chitosan are biodegradable.

Brands/Where to buy?  The best example of chitin in yarn that I can give is Southwest Trading Company’s (SWTC) TOFUtsies which is available at many LYSs (wool, cotton, soy and 2.5% chitin). (How ideal for socks…a bit of wool and cotton to wick, soy to cool and chitin to provide the antibacterial properties!).  SWTC does have a place on their website to find a LYS near you if you need more information.

Corn Corn yarn is produced by fermenting simple sugars from corn plants, creating polymers in the process which are then processed as above.

It is much like cotton in that it breathes and wicks moisture well however, it is more resilient (and springy) than cotton making it friendlier on the hands when knitting.  Lighter than cotton yet heavier than soy, corn yarn resists odors and stains better than cotton and dries quickly.  It’s “easy care” properties makes it a good candidate for knitting clothes for children.

Brands/Where to buy?  Kollage offers Cornucopia and Corntastic, Southwest Trading Company produces Amaizing, and Crystal Palace has a corn yarn (some are blends) so you may have great luck at your LYS or check with the manufacturers for a source near you.

Cupro Cupro is derived from the lintel (short downy fiber surrounding the seed) of cotton plants much like many of the bio-synthetics by extruding cellulose into filaments.

Curve-hugging and “drapey”, Cupro breathes like cotton and yet has the feel of silk when next to the skin making it an ideal choice for many purposes including linings, camisoles, dresses and tops.

Brands/Where to buy?  Cupro is tougher to find.  Stacy Charles, and Knitting Fever (2% blend), offer a couple of Cupro yarns.  If you know of others, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

That’s it for now (Part 1).  I’ll cover the rest of the list in my next post.  I’ll also be covering animal (some really great luxury fibers amongst them) and plant fibers in other posts.  In the meantime, have you had any experiences with these fibers?  What do you like most (or least) about them?


15 Responses to Milk yarn? How does that work? (Part 1)

  1. Leo April 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    I agree-this is very well written and I enjoyed reading it

  2. admin May 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Thanks so much, Kim.
    More good examples of recycling yarn. It can be a bit tough to recycle sweaters and such but if you are careful about what you buy before starting, it can be a perfectly great way to re-purpose the yar.
    Hope you come back to visit again soon.


  3. Leo April 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    WoW! I had no idea that yarn could be that complicated-you have shed a great deal of light on the subject

  4. admin April 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Thanks so much for the comment. I’m glad you found the article to be helpful. If you are interested in reading more…stay tuned. I’ll be writing articles on animal and plant fibers as well.

  5. Bobbie February 24, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I just found your blog this morning. Yesterday, the local yarn shop owner was showing me some ‘milk yarn’ she had just gotten in and was curious about the product, so here I am! Thank you for all this information. There are so many great yarns out there and, being somewhat new to the yarn world, really appreciate this.

  6. Linnea May 30, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    You are so welcome. I just love finding new exciting fibers and this one is so delightfully soft.
    I hope you bought some to play with.

  7. Ivy May 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    Thanks for the info. I’ve been wondering what exactly is milk yarn. I bought some and totally love how soft it is.

  8. Linnea May 30, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    At first, it does sound very silly doesn’t it? It truly is so very soft and a delight to work with as well. If you get a chance to sink your fingers into some, you might also like the feel of sugarcane.

  9. Jeannie Fagerstrom August 27, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Have you heard of Lenpur fiber? I see yarn in my LYS that is Lenpur and linen I think. Curious about what lenpur comes from.

  10. Linnea September 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Jeannie,
    I have seen Lenpur however, I can’t say that I’ve used it in a project however. Have you used it? Lenpur is a cellulose derived from trees. You most likely saw a Lenpur linen which is a blend of the two. Did you buy it? I’d love to hear what you think of it if you do use it.


  1. Yarn from milk? Bio-synthetic yarn, how is it made? Part 2 | Knit Be Nimble - April 9, 2010

    […] Milk yarn? How does that work? (Part 1) […]

  2. Animal Fiber Yarns (Part 1) | Knit Be Nimble - August 24, 2010

    […] our series on yarn fibers (see also Milk Yarn? How does that work? Part 1), I have the great pleasure to begin looking at animal fibers. Some of my most favorite yarns fall […]

  3. Holli Yeoh Knits » Vogue Knitting Spring Issue - April 2, 2013

    […] three-quarter sleeves and drapey quality of the milk yarn (yes, it’s an 80% milk / 20% cotton blend) make for a very feminine […]

  4. Pre-Christmas Knitty Gritty | Wednesday Night Knitting - December 11, 2013

    […] started with the part-milk yarn. Yes, she assured us, milk can be an ingredient in yarn! Check out this post by Knit be Nimble for a good write-up about […]

  5. Episode 31: It’s Raining Babies (Or Jen and Laura Can’t Speak English) | KnottyGirls KnitCast - July 29, 2014

    […] And then, inspired by this article about high-tech yarn, we talk about unusual yarns. We mention the Yarn Sisters pearl yarn, the Habu metal core yarns, and this Knit Be Nimble article about biosynthetic yarns. […]

Leave a Reply