This morning I opened my email and discovered an opinion piece that reflected on absorbency and was reminded once again that I did this article for Handwoven's Yarn Lab a few years ago now.
So many weavers have noticed that different cotton yarns vary in how much they will absorb and wonder why.
The above article sets out the best information I have found to explain this phenomenon. And when you understand the structure of the fibre itself and how cotton actually absorbs water, then have a rudimentary understanding of how absorbency can be moderated by how the fibres are prepared for and then spun, it all makes sense.
Instead people look at the yarns, note that most mercerized cottons appear to absorb less well than unmercerized cottons, and assume that the mercerization process is the deciding factor. When it isn't.
Generally the difference between yarns commonly available in the US is that unmercerized cotton yarns are open end spun, which means lots and lots of airspace trapped into the yarn, and mercerized cotton yarns are ring spun with the fibres lined parallel with little space for the fibres to absorb water and swell.
Thinner yarns will absorb more easily than fatter yarns (generally - fibre prep and spinning method will play a factor.)
In the above photo, the yarn on the far left is seine twine. This yarn was designed specifically for seine nets. Therefore it needs to be extremely strong, but also? The less water it absorbs the better. So it is extremely tightly spun, generally cabled. You cannot break this yarn with your hands. (Well, I can't and I doubt very many others could, either.)
As such it is extremely inappropriate to make towels with. It is stiff, not wanting to bend or drape, and certainly not dry dishes. It is used by weavers primarily for tapestry or rug warps, for which it works very well.
If you (or your guild) are interested in learning more about fibre facts, my Zoom presentation A Good Yarn will reveal more about fibre and yarn characteristics. Email me laura at laurafry dot com
I'm still taking bookings for this year and even have one for next.
Or buy The Intentional Weaver where I outline many of these factors in writing.