Fiber Feature - Linen

Now that the weather is warming up, our thoughts are turning to lighter,
 more portable knitting projects and we've been stocking up on some lusciously awesome new yarns for summer!

This seems like the perfect time to start talking about fibers. This will be the first post spotlighting a specific fiber and how it is best used for knitting, crocheting and weaving.

Have you ever chosen a different yarn than your pattern calls for and then not gotten the results you expected? One possible reason for this is that you chose a yarn with a completely different fiber than the one the project was designed with. For instance, lets say that you made a sweater that was designed for Cascade 220 but you chose Berroco Linsey instead. Now you're wondering why instead of being fluffy, warm and springy your sweater is droopy, not at all warm and has no elasticity. Both yarns are worsted weight, why didn't it work out?

The reason is that Cascade 220 is made from 100% wool and Berroco Linsey is made from 64% Cotton and 36% linen. Wool is a protein fiber from sheep. A couple of wool's wonderful qualities are its elasticity because it is wavy (has crimps) and its ability to maintain warmth even when 90% saturated with water. I'll go into wool in more detail in another post but today, I want to talk about linen.

Linen is plant fiber. We get linen from the stem of the flax plant. We also get the flax seeds we eat and linseed oil from flax plants. It is also a lovely, delicate blue garden flower, one of my favorites! If you've never seen a flax plant before, North Dakota State University has a flax page with some very good photos and all kinds of educational links.

I've long been interested in genealogy and my grandmother passed on a pillow cover that was made of flax grown, processed and woven in Canada by some of my ancestors in the late 1700s. My grandmother crocheted the edging on it. While it's never been used as a cover, that I know of, you can see it is still in great condition for having been woven nearly 240 years ago.

Linen as a fiber is two to three times stronger than cotton, has a higher sheen and feels cool to the touch, although it does have a tendency to wrinkle unless blended with other more resilient fibers. The process of getting the fibers out of the plant is quite interesting. Wikipedia has a good article giving a general overview of the process. The fiber is not degraded by light, heat, alkaline process, or bleaching. It is damaged by exposure to acids and is susceptible to molds & mildews in humid climates.

For our purposes, linen fibers are quite long, 18 to 30 inches long which makes it pill resistant and gives it excellent drape. Hanks of linen yarn often feel a bit harsh to touch in the store but the more it is worked with, washed and worn the softer it gets. Garments made from linen can last for many, many decades. Linen is great to knit, crochet and weave with. The cool feel of linen and the looser stitch you get when knitting with it makes it an excellent warm weather yarn both for working with and for wearing. One great advantage of knitting or crocheting with linen yarn is that the fabric produced is not as likely to wrinkle as woven linen, when care is taken.

Linen is also a good durable yarn, great for making children's clothing!

When substituting yarns in patterns, depending on the construction on the yarn, linen could be a very suitable replacement for cotton and might also work to replace a rayon/viscose, raw silk or some acrylic/acrylic blends. Linen is not a good substitute in patterns that call for any animal fibers except maybe adult mohair which is also a long, sturdy fiber with good drape but tends to be itchy.

We carry a number of great yarns that contain linen and I often recommend them to customers looking to make summer weight garments.

Both Shibui Linen and Fibre Natura Flax are 100% linen yarns. They feel very crisp to the touch in the hank but soften up beautifully when worked up and washed. The colors are vibrant and very fun! I recommend either yarn for vests, skirts, hand bags, and sheer pullovers. They would also make great spa cloths for exfoliating the skin.

Rowan Creative Linen and Berroco Linsey are both blends of linen and cotton. This combination gives a softer to the touch yarn than pure linen, a slightly duller sheen, and very pleasant colors. I recommend these yarns for cardigans, skirts, dresses, shells and tank tops, summer throws, towels and washcloths.

Classic Elite Firefly, Plymouth Linen Concerto, Berroco Lago, and Trendsetter Twiggy are great blends of linen with rayon/viscose and small amounts of other fibers. Rayon and viscose are also plant based fibers that are man made but not really considered synthetics. They offer many of the same attributes as silk so when blended with linen they add sheen, more drape and softness. I recommend these yarns for shells, tank tops, skirts, dresses, cardigans, and pullovers. They are defiantly the most elegant of all the linen yarns, plus have more wrinkle resistance.

Looking for some great patterns to knit up in a linen yarn? Check out our kits, I've done a search for Linen for you. I really love the patterns in Kim Hargreaves' Indigo book too!

And Kristen designed a delightful vest last year in Shibui Linen. Shibui Linen Vest

I hope this helped answer some questions about this great fiber without putting most of you to sleep! If you want to learn more, there is a ton of information out there on the internet for the browsing.

As ever if you have questions, comments, suggestions or anything I can help with please don't hesitate to email me at askTerry (at) jimmybeanswool (dot) com.

p.s. I apologize for the typos, I've corrected them now.

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trendsetter twiggy


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