While the weather is as unruly (see damp!) as ever here in the UK, there's no denying that Spring has arrived, and if you are a fibre enthusiast you may find that some days require something a little lighter than our woollier knits. Enter one of our favourite warm-weather fibres; Linen!
Linen is a natural fiber that is produced from the flax plant. With its natural moisture-wicking abilities and lightweight, breathable nature, it's ideal for keeping you cool and dry as temperatures increase. While it may feel crisp at first, it softens with every wear and wash, giving it a beautiful drape and texture, making it ideal for creating summer garments such as dresses, tops, and lightweight shawls.
It also takes colour beautifully as the surface of the fibre is smooth and reflects the light to give a wonderful lustre. Check out the colour palette of BC Garn's Lino to see what we mean!
If you are new to linen yarns, however, it can feel a little unfamiliar at first, and let's face it, we knitters are all about our comfort! But that is where we come in because below we are sharing our tips for working with linen yarns. Let's dive in!
Our tips for working with linen
Wash your yarn
One of the most obvious differences between linen yarns compared to other natural fibres is how it feels. Linen doesn't have the same elasticity and bounce as wool or other fibres, so it can feel quite hard and even scratchy, which can initially put some makers off.
Remember what we mentioned above though? Linen gets softer the more you wear and wash it. This process will begin as you start to work with it but don't be afraid to give your yarn a pre-wash before you even cast on. Soaking it in warm water for at least 30 minutes will help soften the fibres and make them easier to work with. Just remember to only soak your yarn when it is in a skein, not a ball, and make sure it is fully dry before you begin to work with it or it may stretch the fibres and give you an uneven gauge as it dries.
Swatch, Swatch, Swatch!
It's always important to swatch, but especially with linen yarns. As mentioned, linen doesn't have as much elasticity as other fibres and the stitches are crisp, so it can feel like they are too large. This leads to knitters pulling the yarn too tight and creating an uneven tension. Keep your stitches relaxed and be guided by your swatch. If the fabric isn't right, adjust your needle size and swatch again. It will make for a much more enjoyable knitting experience!
Once your swatch is knit, be sure to block it, even if you have previously soaked your yarn to soften it. Blocking your swatch will give you an accurate gauge and allow you to see how any stitch patterns look after washing to be sure you are happy with everything. As linen doesn't have as much elasticity as wool, more intricate stitch patterns can be difficult to work with. Complex cables, for example, can highlight tension issues making the fabric look messy.
Wash your swatch using the same method you plan to use for washing your FO (see below) for the most accurate results.
Think about your stitch pattern
As we pointed out above, not all stitch patterns will be appropriate or look the way you wish when you work with linen. While it's always worth experimenting and there are no hard and fast rules, if you are just starting out, try simple stitch patterns first like stockinette and garter. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, lace patterns are always a great choice for linen as its natural drape really opens up the design and lets the stitch pattern shine.
It's also worth mentioning too, that linen is a heavier fibre than wool, so if you do end up working with a complex stitch pattern that uses more yarn, the result will be a heavy item, and the larger the project the heavier it will get. The weight paired with the natural drape of linen could result in a FO that is much larger than you expected that continues to grow over time as it softens. So while it may look great as a swatch, it's smart to consider the final piece.
Avoid frogging if you can
At some point frogging is inevitable, but linen yarns can be tricky to get back on the needles if you've removed them to frog back, especially if you are used to working with 'stickier' fibres such as wool. Instead, try 'tinking' back one stitch at a time if you need to fix a mistake, or add lifelines at different points as you knit.
Avoid joining yarn in the middle of a row
As the surface of linen is very smooth and the stitches are crisp, inconsistencies in the fabric can be quite noticeable, even if they occur on the wrong side of your work. To prevent knots, uneven joins and bumps caused by weaving in ends, it's best to join new yarn at the beginning of a row.
To finish, wash and block your FO in the same way you blocked your swatch. At this point, you would normally be heading to the sink to handwash your project, but it's worth noting that linen loves the washing machine and tumbler! Using them can really encourage the fabric to soften, but we would still recommend keeping temperatures low and testing this out with your swatch first to see the results as every yarn is different.
So those are our tips for working with linen! Are you already a linen fan, or did you begin a little hesitant and are now ready to give it a try? If there is anything we haven't covered here that you would like help with, please do ask us in the comments below and we'll be happy to help! Also, if you have your own tips to share in the comments, we're all ears!