What to Know about Knitting with Linen Yarn

As the warmer months approach here in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us are looking for cooler, more comfortable clothing. While a chunky wool sweater feels great in January, for most of us, it’s a less comfortable option in July. Which is why I’ve been knitting a tshirt with 100% linen yarn. I also, however, wanted to take notes on the process so I can share first-hand knowledge with you. Knitting with linen is definitely a different experience from knitting with wool.


Linen yarn is plant-based, and made from fibers of the flax plant. Those fibers are harvested, softened, twisted into threads, and then twisted further into yarn. Depending on the thickness, linen can be used for extremely fine weaving or hand knitting. Linen is breathable and lightweight, and the more you use it, the softer it gets. It’s also biodegradable, meaning once it has lived out its useful life and can no longer be mended or repurposed, it will decompose if shredded and put into compost.

Linen yarn can be rough on the hands

When you’re knitting with linen, it’s important to know that it may aggravate sensitive hands in a couple ways. First, pure linen yarn is quite tough and stiff. That means it doesn’t feel particularly pleasant against your fingertips as you’re knitting. Additionally, because linen is a plant fiber, it doesn’t stretch the way wool does when you’re working with it. Knitters with arthritis or repetitive stress injuries that affect their hands, wrists, or elbows may find that linen is not so comfortable.

Linen has very little memory

The biggest difference between wool and linen is that linen has much, much less memory than wool does. Linen, like other plant-based fibers, is an inelastic fiber. That means garments knit from linen can sag and droop over time. Sleeve cuffs will stretch out and won’t return back to their original size. Even neck lines can start to gape. To accommodate for that, it’s best to use linen for loose-fitting items like wraps, flowing tops, and pool coverups, as opposed to close-fitting items that need to hold their shape over time.

Linen has lots of drape

The flip side of linen having very little memory is that it has beautiful drape. Where wool can sometimes be stiff and unyielding, linen flows like liquid, especially after it has been worn and washed repeatedly. A linen top will therefore flow gently over the shape of the body, rather than bulging or jutting out. If you are less comfortable having the general contours of your body visible to others, this may be something to consider.

Tips for Knitting with Linen Yarn

If you find that a pure linen yarn is just too rough for your hands, try a yarn that is a blend of linen fiber with another fiber. Purl Soho has a lovely yarn called Linen Quill (which I used in my Overbrimming Wrap) that is a linen and wool yarn. If you want to use all plant fiber for your summer knitting, you might like Juniper Moon Farms’s Zoey, which is a linen-cotton yarn.

Linen, more than nearly any other fiber, softens up significantly when exposed to water. Wet blocking, the practice of soaking your knits in cool water and then shaping it to dry, will help soften up the fibers and make your stitches relax into place. You can also send your linen knit projects through the washing machine, because unlike animal fibers, it won’t felt. This will further soften the yarn, but be sure to follow the machine washing instructions on your yarn label. Hot water can still shrink linen, so just as with washing any of your other hand knits, use lukewarm water at most.

Curious to learn more about knitting or to dig deeper into knitting with linen? Click on through for tutorials, free patterns, technique tips, and more.

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