Updated: Sep 6
Knitting with linen feels different but with a few tips, you can love the process. And I promise you will completely fall in love with your knitted linen garments. Linen can be washed and dried in the machine, gets softer with every washing, doesn't pill, is cool against the skin, and is a strong, natural fiber, that lasts forever.
On the flipside, linen is inelastic. Knitted stitches will stand up on the needles, not hug them. This can make it difficult to knit with even tension (but easy to pick up dropped stitches since they just sit there instead of unravelling down). These tips will fix some problems but know that linen is designed to have a rough, natural look so your stitches will not be as uniform and look as perfect as when you knit with wool.
Wooden needles will grip the linen yarn better and are easier on the hands.
Use longer needles if knitting with straight needles so you can space out the stitches. Linen stitches will not snug up next to each other the way wool stitches do. They will stand up on the needle and take up more space. Even when knitting flat, using longer circular needles is convenient.
Wind yarn into balls. If winding into cakes, pull from the outside. (Once a center pull cake of linen collapses, you will understand why this tip is a non-negotiable one.)
Avoid knitting tightly. If you tend to knit tightly, go down a needle size or two and focus on keeping your knitting loose. (Your hands and arms will thank you.)
Weave in ends using duplicate stitch or weave them into seams. Avoid changing balls of yarn in a visible place. Introduce new balls in the area of the underarm.
Linen grows approximately 15% in length over time. Factor this in when deciding how long to knit the body of a sweater or sleeves.
Swatch then soak your swatch in water and run it in the dryer before measuring for gauge. Stockinette swatches will not change that much from pre to post blocking, but Garter stitch or Garter based lace patterns will lengthen.
Choose your pattern wisely. If you're substituting linen in a pattern designed for another fiber, since it's inelastic, avoid cables or stitches that require a lot of manipulation. Stockinette and lace work well with linen.
Soften your yarn before you knit. If the roughness of the yarn bothers you, you can soften it before you knit. It's not difficult. Step-by-step instructions with photos are in this article.
I hope you love knitting as much as I do, and especially wearing your linen garments for years! For more warm weather knitting patterns, visit DonnaEstin.com