linen WIP with tea and cookies

Working with Linen Yarn

Lindsay LewchukAnnouncements, eco world, Fiber Focus, How-Tos, Pattern Related, Puddles, Q&A, Yarn 18 Comments

linen WIP coastal reflection

Last week I published my 10th pattern featuring linen yarn and thought it was high time I write a blog on working with this unique fiber!

Without a doubt, linen is the “black sheep” of the cellulose fiber bases. But like all black sheep it is the unique characteristics of the fiber that will draw you in and keep you coming back for more! It has the best stitch memory of any cellulous fiber I’ve tried. Linen is naturally antibacterial, anti-fungal, and thermoregulating like some of the other cellulous fibers like bamboo. However, unlike the others in the category, it lacks elasticity and is initial rough to the touch – thus making it the black sheep.

linen WIP Royal Tee

When knitting the 2 most important things to know are –
1 – yes, it feels VERY different than any fiber you’ve worked with before. It will soften the more you handle it. If your grandmother ever had a linen pillowcase or nighty you may remember just how soft it felt after years of use!
2 – The lack of elasticity means that it may not slide through your fingers if you tension tightly. Just loosen your grip a bit and let it do the hard work for you ????.

linen WIP with tea and cookies

Through knitting the samples and writing the patterns I’ve noticed a few tricks to working with the fiber. I hope these both encourage you to try this “black sheep” as well as provide some tools so that you’ll come back to it again and again… as I have. (And in case I haven’t mentioned it before – my linen FOs are by far my most worn as I find the temperature regulating properties perfectly suited to life in the mountains.)

stitch details

Stitch details – linen fabulously shows off the elegance of even the simplest stitch detail. The inelasticity keeps stitches crisp and fresh whether they are cables, lace, or something as simple as seed stitch.

linen FO edging

Selvedge edge stitches – best skip them with the linen unless you are matching it up to another selvedge side. Since the fiber doesn’t relax much it will shorten your FO along that edge. With other fibers the selvedge edge will average, but due to the inelasticity of linen this effect doesn’t occur.

linen FO coastal reflections

Neck Edging – raw linen has a beautiful natural edge. You can add additional edging if you want, but with how it lays so perfectly crisp feel free to skip this finishing step when you use linen!

linen FO Royal Tee

Adding sleeves – again, since linen doesn’t relax when picking up stitches around the arm opening to add a sleeve of any length, I recommend doing a 1:1 pick up. Then work decreases in the sleeve cap in order to reach your desired final stitch count.

Linen is a fabulous fiber for knitters. Diane has some other wonderful traits and tips on her Eco-Stitch website if you’d like to learn more… and discover my favorite source at the same time.

Lindsay in linen with puddles

Happy Easter to you all from Puddles & me. Luke 24:45-47 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Footnote: yarns shown –
Eco-Stitch hand dyed linen sport
Eco-Stitch hand dyed linen dk multi
Quine and Co sparrow
Caveat: this article talks about 100% linen. Linen blends may take on the characteristics of the fibers with which it is blended.

Comments 18

  1. Two questions:
    about selvedge edges- for the armhole edges of the gray tank top, did you slip the first stitch or knit it? It looks so smooth for a knitted edge!
    Do you ever soak your linen yarn before knitting or do anything to try to soften it up a bit?

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      Hey Helena,
      For the armhole edges I knit the first stitch – no slips at all. Also I did add a single crochet edge to that design because it was early in my love of 100% linen and I wasn’t confident enough just to leave it raw… but I am now!

      1. thanks.
        do you ever try to pre-soften the linen before using it? Is it hard on your hands? I have 1400 yds I
        planning to knit this summer and don’t want my hands to get sore!

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          Hey Helena… you did as that early, sorry I forgot to answer. Yes. I pre-wash ALL my yarn (regardless of fiber). I’ve never gotten sore hands from working with linen or any other fiber so I can’t speak to getting sore hands from it. I do try to loosen my tension though as it doesn’t give like organic cotton. If you’re worried, a trick from my grandma is putting organic unscented hair conditioner in the rinse cycle and it really softens it up quickly! Another trick would be to ball and skein it a few times before you begin since it softens the more you work it. However, both these last steps are purely optional. A wash and dry & paying attention to my tension is all I ever do. Happy linen knitting this summer!

          1. Can someone tell me how they pre-wash and dry linen yarn? I have some gorgeous yarn on a cone that I am struggling with and I want to try a pre-wash to soften it up. How do you dry it? Thank you!

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            Hi Tess,
            I pre-wash linen in a garment bag. But first make sure it’s in a skein with loose ties around to help define the skein shape (this makes the big mess possible to shake and comb back into the skein form). Then you can re-cone, cake, or ball the washed yarn. I dry in the garment bag in the dyer for extra softening or line dry to retain some crispness.

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      As always, the best advise is to knit, measure your swatch, wash and block, and remeasure your swatch. My experience has been the pre and post gauge gathering is the same with linen :-).

  2. Thank you for this love for linen story! I love linen too, but have not knitted much linen for my family or me! But we do have quite a bit of linen products in the house.???? So this is a reminder, for me to put some linen knitted pieces on my to do list! Haha, as if I ever will be able to come to the end of this list. But who knows!
    Happy, healthy Easter!

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      :Thud: that’s the sound of shock to hear you have no knitted items in your house. Best get that remedied :-)! Knitting to do lists are things that you never want to end. Each time you learn something new the ways of utilizing it in other projects just makes your list grow and grow and grow. Sorta like a giant bean stock filled with all sorts of goodness :-).
      Happy Easter to you too!

  3. I want to make linen a throw . Is there a stitch pattern you can recommend to me that would showcase this beautiful fiber?

  4. Such an interesting read! Earlier this summer I used a linen/silk blend for the first time and was surprised at how the silk didn’t seem to soften the linen at all (although I did know that linen softens over time, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that top changes over time!)

    I was wondering – you mentioned linen knits not really needing a neck edging (music to my ears!) But I was wondering if that crispness changes over time as it softens? Does the neck gradually get a bit saggy without the edging?

    1. I should say, I did enjoy working with the yarn! It was different, but I expected that and enjoyed seeing how different it was.

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      On the 100% linen samples I have the crispness doesn’t change enough though the fabric softens. The neck edge, even years later, has the same shape as during the photo shoot… I posted a photo on IG for you ( so you can see the neckline and the cuffs. (I’m not sure if a blend would act the same way though.)

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