If you follow my blog, you know how much I love crocheting with jute. Jute and cotton are my two most favorite fibers to work with. And if Pinterest is any indication, I am not the only one who likes the look of a basket made in a combination of these materials.
Jute is a natural fiber, derived from the jute plant. To learn about the jute plant itself, and where and how it’s grown, have a look at this Encyclopaedia Britannica entry. For additional information about jute, its environmental impact and its various practical applications, I recommend this short article from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
Christine sums up the magic that is jute perfectly on Instagram:
Jute…an ancient material made from the Corchorus plant which grows with only rainwater and little to no need for fertiliser or pesticides. It also grows quickly and produces an abundant harvest. Best of all it is biodegradable so we can rest easy that should your lovely jute basket ever reach the end of it’s useful life, it can happily return to the earth without causing any harm, just put it on the compost heap!
Among jute’s most commonly recognized forms, when processed, are burlap cloth and sacks, and packaging twine. And it is this twine that I love to use when crocheting my baskets. Why? Because jute is an affordable, widely available, sturdy yet pliable natural fiber that helps me create baskets that are durable and hold their shape exceptionally well without the need for any stiffener.
But I won’t lie to you. Jute’s no silk. Crocheting with jute can be tough. What’s more, jute is not an officially recognized crochet or knitting fiber, so it doesn’t come in standardized yarn weights. And even though when grown jute needs minimal to no pesticides, and is still most likely processed manually instead of with the use of chemicals, the twine you purchase may come with an unpleasant chemical odor.
I know. I am not doing a good job selling you on the idea of crocheting with jute, am I?
The thing is, crocheting with jute does not have to be an unpleasant experience. Below are the three most frequent concerns and reasons why some crocheters choose not to work with jute. Don’t be one of them! Follow my tips and don’t pass on the opportunity to work with this exceptionally versatile fiber.
1. Crocheting with jute is rough on fingers
There’s no sugarcoating it. Jute is stiff and abrasive and scratchy. Even though I guarantee your fingers would eventually get used to crocheting with jute just like mine did, it seems sadistic of me to ask you for patience as you suffer with raw skin. That alone can be enough to put off even a passionately committed jute crocheter. So, what can you do?
Protect your hands
The solution as as simple as wearing gloves when crocheting with jute.
Any gloves that cover your fingers will do. I find the cheap, one-size-fits-all winter gloves work the best. They are readily available (I bet you have some in your winter gear box right now!), and they tend to fit very snugly. Another option would be cotton gloves. They feel wonderful on skin, but they can be harder to find, more pricey; and often fit a more loosely – which may be a little uncomfortable if you tend to wrap yarn around your finger to control tension.
Aside from the obvious benefit of protecting my skin, I discovered two additional benefits of wearing gloves when crocheting with jute.
The first advantage is that that wearing tight-fitting gloves allows for better yarn tension control. Yarn stays wrapped around your finger until you choose to release it. A great benefit when trying to crochet uniform, tight stitches.
And whatever gloves you put on, the added non-crochet related bonus is that you can put on heavy duty hand moisturizer, slip your gloves on – and let the cream do its moisturizing magic while you happily crochet away. So, in a way, crocheting with jute can actually make skin on your hands softer and healthier!
Soften the jute
Though I don’t recommend washing jute just to make it softer (it takes time and additional work, and no matter how much fabric softener you use, jute will never feel like mohair), washing jute does make it slightly more pleasant to the touch. Read on for instructions.
2. Jute sheds easily
Jute is strong and durable when woven or twisted into a cord; but on their own, jute fibers can be quite brittle. You may notice fine dusting of small fiber fuzz on your clothes or desk when you work with jute. This shedding is only temporary, triggered by the vigorous manipulation of the fiber while working with it.
Even though clean up can be as easy as wiping the fuzz off the desk with a barely-damp cloth, I recommend protecting your work surface with a clean cloth that can be easily dusted outside.
You may also consider protecting your lap and thighs with an apron or a kitchen towel. And if any fuzz does get onto your clothes, the sticky lint rollers do a wonderful job of picking up even the tiniest of fibers.
3. Jute smells funny
This one is a little more subjective than the previous two issues. Jute is a plant-based fiber, and it does have an inherent smell to it. This smell may or may not be pleasant to you.
However, it is possible that the jute you bring home from the store will have an unmistakably chemical odor. This odor is most likely of factory origin, caused when machine lubricant transfers to the fiber as it is being plied and wound. The odor concentration varies from brand to brand, and from batch to batch.
Even though this smell is harder to overcome or get used to than the lint and jute’s roughness, there are a couple of things you can do to manage it.
The easiest thing to do is to be proactive. While at the store, give your jute a sniff. Is it something you could deal with as is, or by following the tips below? If not, pass it up. No reason buying material you will not be able to work with.
Air it out
You can eliminate much of the lingering factory odor by winding jute into a loose hank and leaving it outside in the sun for a few days to air out. You can also air out your finished item. This simple solution seems to work for most people.
But if even after a couple of days in the sun and fresh air your nose still curls as you smell your twine, it may be time to wash your jute. Word of caution, though: Jute will shed like crazy in your washing machine. Be ready to clean your filters and perhaps run an additional wash cycle to prevent any fuzz stragglers from getting into your regular clothes.
To wash your jute, you must first tie it into a secure hank. A hank is nothing more than a loop of yarn. The easiest way to create a hank is by winding jute around the back of a chair. All hank loop strands must be tied to prevent any tangling in the wash. Believe me when I say wet tangled jute is impossible to untangle. Before removing the hank from the back of a chair, secure it in 3-4 spots by wrapping all strands with a 6-inch length of cotton and tying a secure knot.
Place the securely tied hank into your washing machine. Run your washing machine on the shortest, most delicate warm-water cycle. Use only 1/3 of the amount of laundry detergent you’d normally use for a small load, and a normal amount of your choice of liquid fabric softener.
You can use the dryer (be prepared for extra lint, and an increased chance of tangles!), but I recommend air-drying the jute hank outside, ideally in the sun.
When dry, the only scent you should be detecting in your washed jute is the fabric softener. But if you detect the faintest lingering factory odor, leave your jute outside for a couple more days. Then, wind it into a ball, and enjoy working with it!
Crocheting with jute: projects to try
And now that you know crocheting with jute is not that intimidating, what are you going to make?
These are the designs in my Jute and Cotton Series.
If you like any of them, I invite you to click on the pictures below to purchase the pattern right here on jakigu.com – with a huge discount! Simply use coupon code JUTELOVE at checkout for 50% off all my jute and cotton crochet patterns. The coupon will not expire, you can use it as many times as you like, and you’re welcome to share it with a friend.