The Ultimate Summer Yarn – Linen

Blue Flowers - Flax Plant
Blue Flowers – Flax Plant

100% linen is one of my favorite, albeit underrated yarn. “Linen” is a generic term to describe flax fiber, woven textiles, and yarn. It is made from the stem of the flax plant, a bast fiber. Many flax species have beautiful blue flowers sitting on a high stem. The plant is cultivated as a food and fiber crop in cooler regions of the world. Top quality flax is primarily grown in Western European countries and Ukraine. Flax fibers are soft, lustrous, smooth and straight, and the harvested bundles look like blonde hair prior to processing. There are few 100% linen hand knitting yarn brands, as it requires a great deal of processing. Two popular brands are Louet Euroflax and Quince and Co. Sparrow.

Harvested flax bundles
Harvested flax bundles

Flax Characteristics

Flax is the oldest textile fiber and used in the ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean. It is the strongest of the plant fibers, and like cotton is stronger when wet. Its absorbency is higher than cotton and can withstand very high temperatures, making it easy to care for. Flax is stiff to work with, due to its low elasticity and resiliency. These properties cause the extreme wrinkling of linen fabric, a property that many consumers find annoying. Flax is often blended with other fibers such as cotton and silk.

Linen yarn is one of the best yarns for summer clothing because it breathes, feeling cool and comfortable in hot climates. The true beauty of linen is it gets better with successive washing. You can’t say that about many yarns and textiles. It’s suitable for summer tops, scarves, wraps, light throws or other pieces that don’t need to hold their shape. It becomes drapey, soft, and supple with age and laundering.

Tips When Knitting With Linen

  • 100% linen yarn is stiff, so it helps to wind the yarn twice to soften.
  • Wash and dry swatches and samples before measuring, as the fabric relaxes and the gauge will change.
  • Standard rib for bottom borders and neck edges are not suitable due to its inelasticity. Hems, rolled, lace or garter stitch edgings work.
  • Needles are more often a personal choice when it comes to the materials used to produce them. Smooth bamboo and wood needles will grip the yarn better at the smaller sizes. Whichever type of needle you choose they should be very smooth with pointy tips. Smaller needle sizes are better; save the large needles for openwork or lace patterns.
  • Plain stockinette stitch or garter stitch are not the best pattern choices. Garter stitch in particular will drape too much, unless combined with other pattern stitches. Linen is more suitable for texture knitting – cables, knit/purl combinations, and lace.
Lace Swatch
Lace Swatch
  • Use the overlap method of joining a new ball of yarn, and join new yarn at the edges, not in the body of work.
  • Weave in yarn ends following the stitch path on the wrong side of the fabric, or use duplicate stitch.

So dive in and try some 100% linen yarn and make yourself a scarf or summer top. My someday project is to make an intricate lace tablecloth in Louet Euroflax.