For many of us in the UK, the title above is more an optimistic hope, (accompanied by crossed fingers and wistful sighing,) than a realistic expectation right now.
In the cool, grey weather, I am still clinging to woolly jumpers and shawls in my everyday wardrobe. In my knitting, too, I find myself imagining projects like blankets and stranded mitts that offer cosiness and warmth.
Now it’s officially spring though, I have to remind myself of a knitterly truth that I tend to forget every year: even if summer seems a distant dream at the moment, if I want to make anything to wear this summer, then I need to start making it now!
This is perhaps a particular consideration for those of us who live in countries in which summer can really mean just a few short weeks of hot weather – if we don’t complete our strappy bamboo top or our oversized, airy linen tee before the start of July, then we will have only a handful of opportunities to wear them (and I say this from frustrated experience…!)
It can sometimes be hard to find patterns suitable for warmer weather- they are certainly outnumbered by the heavy, winter garments- but there are some brilliant ones available. Summer knitting is a great opportunity to try plant based fibres like cotton, bamboo and linen, or to experiment with airy, lace-weight wool designs.
So I thought it would be fun to explore the various summer knitting options in a series of posts, starting today with linen – what is it, where to buy, tips for knitting and ideas for patterns.
Knitting with linen
What is linen? Linen is made from fibres from the flax plant, and is sometimes referred to as flax on yarn labels. As loveknitting.com (here)explains, linen is ‘renowned for its moisture absorbing and releasing properties, giving it that lovely cool, crisp feel in hot weather’, which makes it ideal for summer garments.
This ‘crisp feel’ is very apparent in a ball of linen yarn: it often appears more like string than yarn, with a smooth but stiff finish, no stretch, and a crunchy feel when pressed in the ball. This texture can be a little off-putting and even problematic for knitters (see Top tips below), but is transformed by washing. In fact, the more linen is washed, the softer and drapier it becomes.
For an interesting discussion about linen, see the knit.fm podcast with Pam Allen (of Quince & Co.) and Hannah Fettig, Episode 7: Design Process, Part 1 (and a little in episode 8)- see ( here )
Where can I buy linen?
The choice of linen and linen blend yarns is far more limited than the range available for wools or other plant fibres like cotton. However, there is a fair choice of price and type available from several main suppliers. (See links to Ravelry.com pages for each yarn which provide details of stockists worldwide)
- BC Garn– Allino: DK, 50% linen, 50% cotton (here ) , Lino: 5-ply/sport, 100% linen (here ), Colori: 3-ply/light fingering, 55% wool, 25% linen, 20% silk (here )
- Katia– Lino: 4-ply/fingering, 100% linen (here ), Linen: DK, 53% cotton, 47% linen (here ), Papiro: worsted, 53% cotton, 47% linen (here )
- Louet – Euroflax: 5-ply/sport, 100% linen (here )
- Quince & Co. – Kestrel: aran, 100% linen (here ); Sparrow: 4-ply/fingering, 100% linen (here ). Quince & Co. have excellent pattern collections associated with their linen yarns- e.g. Sparrow 2015 collection (here ), Sparrow Sans (here) and Kestrel 2018 by Quince & Co. (here)
- Rowan– Creative Linen: DK (50% linen (flax), 50% cotton)(here ); Panama: 4-ply/fingering (viscose, cotton, linen blend) (here )
- Shibui Knits– Reed: 4-ply/fingering linen (here ), Twig: 5-ply/sport, 46% Linen / Flax, 42% Silk, 12% Wool (here ). Shibui has some great pattern collections for their linen yarns, e.g. Shibui Knits SS17 (here) .
Top tips for knitting with linen!
‘Hard on your hands’
I have heard many knitters say that they either avoid or rarely knit with linen because it is hard on their hands. They have a valid point- unlike the soft, bouncy fibres of wool, a linen yarn feels stiff, almost rough, and I personally almost gave up using it after my fingers and palms were left sore and uncomfortable.
Before you give up, however, try this really simple tip that I first came across at the wonderful Mason Dixon website (here): re-wind your skein, by hand, before using it. I would go further and say that you might like to re-wind each skein several times, making sure to run the thread through your fingers as you wind. This process has a quite amazing softening effect on the yarn-it changes from stiff and hard to a more floppy and soft material that is much more comfortable in the hand.
Choice of needles
Linen does not have the bounce and elasticity of a woollen yarn and so does not cling to the needles in the same way. This means that your stitches may be more prone to slipping off the needle and it can be hard to manipulate stitches in something like lace work. This difficulty can be alleviated by a change in needle-e.g. changing from a slippy metal needle to a wooden needle that gives more grip. (In my experience, bamboo needles give the most grip.)
The lack of elasticity or give in linen yarn can also sometimes make knitting uncomfortable. This seems to be related to how you tension your yarn, so if this is a problem, it might be worth trying out other ways of holding your yarn, or taking more frequent breaks in your knitting. You could also try linen blends rather than pure linen or different types of yarn construction -e.g. some linens are spun in a kind of chain, which may give a little more stretch to the finished yarn.
SHAWLS: Bayou by Leila Raabe (here )- This lace motif shawl is knitted sideways in aran weight linen and drapes beautifully across the shoulders.
Different Breeze by Sachiko Uemura (here )-Linen yarn pairs well with this simple lace stole as a lightweight, elegant summer accessory. Knitted in 4-ply/fingering weight yarn, the photo above shows a version made by Beehive Wool Shop (here ), using a linen/silk/wool blend- see (here )
Reed by Leah B. Thibault (here) – This airy lace shawl is edged with a botanical inspired border and works as a perfect cover up for a cool summer evening. Photo copyright Whitney Hayward.
TOPS AND TEES: Ona by Amy Christoffers (here) – A free pattern, this oversized, short sleeve tee has a simple all-over lace pattern and is knitted in a worsted, linen blend yarn. Photo copyright Berroco, Inc.
SS15 | Slope by Shellie Anderson (here )– Elegant, high-low tank top/vest knitted in simple stocking stitch/stockinette. Pattern options for 5-ply/sport and DK weight linen blends.
Saco Stripes by Pam Allen (here ) – A classic for your summer wardrobe, this lightweight (4-ply/fingering weight), striped tank top/vest is knitted flat and seamed. (See photo at top of page.)
Athens by Shellie Anderson (here ) – Classic lightweight A-line tank top/vest with a textured, seed stitch hem. The pattern provides 2 armhole lengths, allowing you to wear it on its own (with shorter armhole opening) or as a layering piece.
SWEATERS & CARDIGANS: Ixtapa by Kirsten Joel (here)– With its lace borders and oversized fit, this lightweight (5-ply/sport weight) tunic style top has a relaxed, Bohemian feel that is perfect for spring/summer. Photo copyright Louet North America.
Petunia by Pam Allen (here ) – This swing, gently a-line cardigan is worked from the top down in a 4-ply/fingering weight linen and features simple garter stitch fabric with a contrasting colour hem and cuff.
Donner by Elizabeth Doherty (here) – A drapey, drop-shoulder pullover, Donner features 3/4 sleeves, an oversized fit and simple slip-stitch ridges and is mainly knitted in the round from the top down. Photo copyright Blue Bee Studio.
Linho by Joji Locatelli (here ) – This elegant top-down 4-ply sweater is seamlessly knit in the round and features a delicate lace front and flattering short-row shaping at the neck. Photo copyright Jonna Hietala.
Over to you
If you’re in the northern hemisphere, have you started your summer knitting yet? Do you enjoy knitting with linen and do you have any tips or pattern suggestions? I’d love to hear about any of your own favourite knitted garments for summer, or any patterns that you would like to make for your summer wardrobe!