There's something special about knitting with linen yarn. This natural fibre – made from spinning long cellulose fibres from the flax plant – is strong, smooth, and only gets better with use and wear. It is breathable, durable, and extremely versatile: the perfect choice not only for summer garments, but year-round wear as well. In this post, we'll explore the benefits of knitting with linen and provide some tips and tricks for knitting your own linen garments and accessories.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST LINEN YARN FOR YOUR KNITTING PROJECT
Linen yarn can be a bit tricky because it doesn't have much stretch or elasticity. If it’s the first time you are knitting with linen, you may find it tough on your hands: don’t give up! Take regular breaks, and work on it slowly. A yarn with a blend of linen and cotton like Juniper Moon Farms Zooey or Queensland Brighton Beach can also be a good option, as the cotton helps to soften the yarn and give it a bit more stretch.
You could try a small project first to make sure you like it, before investing in a whole garment. The Ilene Bag uses one skein of our Espace Tricot Petit Lin+ sport weight linen and is a great beginner project for knitting with linen!
SELECTING A PATTERN FOR KNITTING WITH LINEN
You'll want to choose a pattern that is not too tight or fitted, as it may end up looking stiff or uncomfortable. Here are some things to consider when looking for a linen pattern:
- Look for patterns that have a loose or open stitch pattern, such as lace, garter stitch, or simple cables. This will help the fabric breathe and drape nicely.
- Avoid patterns with very dense gauges, and opt for looser fabrics instead: this will be easier to knit, and more comfortable to wear. For example, try knitting fingering-weight or sport-weight linen at a gauge 18-22 stitches in 4”.
- Consider patterns that use larger needles with a thinner yarn, as this will also help create a looser fabric.
- Avoid patterns that require a lot of seaming or blocking, as linen yarn doesn't have much give and can be difficult to shape.
- A simple stockinette stitch works well, or you can choose a more decorative stitch pattern like lace: linen yarn gives beautiful stitch definition for open lace knitting.
It's also crucial to swatch before starting your project, as linen can shrink quite a bit after blocking but will stretch with time. Make sure to block your swatch in the same method as you’ll treat your garment to ensure an accurate gauge.
Here are a few knitting patterns we love, specifically for linen yarns:
Ombre Tank Redux
Our classic free tunic pattern, knit in our signature lace weight Espace Tricot Petit Lin
Staple Linen Top
Designed by Joji Locatelli, originally in our signature sport weight Espace Tricot Petit Lin+
Try it in our DHG Sailorman yarn - 100% cotton, but behaves very like linen in its tape-like structure.
One of our favourite store samples for our Petit Lin+
A sweet little t-shirt perfect for our Petit Lin+
IS KNITTING WITH LINEN DIFFERENT FROM KNITTING WITH WOOL?
The main difference when knitting and wearing linen is that linen has no elasticity. It can stretch over time, but it does not bounce back. This means it can feel tougher to knit, as - unlike wool - it will not mould and stretch and bounce back with your movements.
Because of this, many knitters find they have a different row gauge when using linen instead of wool. Because the yarn doesn’t bounce back, each stitch is generally longer than a wool stitch: during knitting, we stretch the yarn around the needle as we make each stitch. This stitch then shrinks a little as the yarn bounces back into shape: but linen doesn’t do this, each stitch stays the length you made it. Moreover, linen stretches under its own weight over time (more about that later!) and this should be taken into account when choosing a pattern.
All that to say, if you match the stitch gauge of a pattern that calls for a wool yarn, you may find that your row gauge is looser - i.e. fewer rows than the pattern suggests compared to the number of stitches.
CAN I REPLACE WOOL WITH LINEN IN A KNITTING PATTERN?
If it’s your first time knitting a garment with linen, we always recommend choosing one that is designed for linen. Choosing a pattern designed for linen means you can see the desired fit, result, and drape on the model and in other projects on Ravelry, so you can choose the right project for you with no surprises!
At the same time, it is definitely possible to knit many patterns in linen that were designed for wool. Make sure to choose looser, seamless patterns with more relaxed silhouettes for the best result. Bear in mind that because of the different row gauges with linen compared to wool, as discussed earlier, you should avoid patterns that rely on specific row gauge for fit, such as set-in sleeve patterns. Top-down yoke and raglan patterns are safer bets (note that the armhole depth will likely be longer and sit lower on you).
You can generally replace a wool yarn with a linen yarn in any shawl pattern, because these fit issues aren’t relevant.
Here are a few sweater and t-shirt knitting patterns that work well in linen, even though they were designed for wool (check out the Ravelry projects for inspiration!)
Tegna tee by Caitlin Hunter
Many knitters have chosen a linen yarn for this summer tee - it gives a beautiful crisp effect to the lace border. A great choice for Espace Tricot Petit Lin+
Ranunculus top by Midori Hirose
One of the most versatile patterns out there : knit a lightweight version with our Espace Tricot Petit Lin+ or a great layering piece with Juniper Moon Farms Zooey.
A Hint of Summer top by Isabell Kraemer
There are versions of this in all sorts of blends - it’s the perfect example of a simple silhouette that works with any yarn. Try it with our Espace Tricot Petit Lin.
If you’re a fan of handspan-effect yarns like Spincycle Dyed in the Wool or Feederbrook Farms Entropy DK, there’s even a linen yarn for you! Queensland Brighton Beach features long colour shifts and barber pole effects we love, in a wool-free blend of cotton and linen. Try it in patterns like:
The Shift cowl by Andrea Mowry
Maeron top by Natasja Hornby
Slippy V Triangle shawl by Stephen West
Yondah Window shawl by Casapinka
CARING FOR LINEN YARN
Linen is one of the easiest fibres to care for: it will only get softer and more beautiful with washing and time. We’ve found that machine-washing and tumble drying our linen knits gives a beautiful effect, returning them to their original structure while softening the fabric. If you are nervous about machine-washing your knits (and putting them in the dryer - eeek! - we get it! It goes against everything we’ve ever assumed about washing hand knits!) It’s worth it to knit a larger swatch and put it through a wash and dry cycle. Compare the measurements and texture before and after: you might be surprised with the result! And although we’ve already said it above, we’ll say it again: block your swatch! It’s crucial to know how your fabric will behave with washing, so you can ensure a beautiful result in your hand knit.
Knitting with linen can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, and the finished garments are sure to become wardrobe staples. With a little bit of care and attention, you can create beautiful linen garments that will last for years to come. We hope these tips and tricks have been helpful, and we can't wait to see what you create!