Monday, May 31, 2010

Cool yarns for hot days: 1

(ETA: faulty links in the post have been fixed...sorry about that!)

Only the first of June, and much of North America has already had its first heat wave (although our West Coast spring has been cool and damp). Knitting with wool or alpaca isn’t very appealing when the mercury’s over 90, so how about some linen, hemp, or bamboo?

Yarns in these fibers aren’t hard to find these days, but many of us haven’t tried them. I find them cool and pleasant to handle – just the thing for hot-weather knitting.

hemp-and-linen Elann Canapone (hemp), Euroflax Paris (laceweight linen)

Hemp and linen garments are soft, drapey and cool to the touch – wonderful to wear in hot weather, especially if they have a bit of ease so they don’t cling too tightly. An added bonus is that they may be machine washed and dried – the more you do it, the softer they get. This Lacy Little Top I made for my daughter several years ago took a lot of punishment and always looked and felt great.


P1400095 Good yarns for projects like this are Louet Euroflax Sport Weight (at left, 100% linen) and Hemp for Knitting Allhemp 3 and Allhemp 6 (100% hemp, fingering or DK weight). Elann has a pure linen sportweight coming on June 8 (Lino Pura). There are also some great blends – Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy (cotton/hemp/modal, DK weight); Knit Picks CotLin (cotton/linen); and several DK cotton/linen blends by Elann (Cotone Lin, Sula, Camila). When you touch these yarns in the skein, they feel a bit crisp and stiff – but the process of winding the yarn, and handling it as you knit, softens it. Keeping your tension on the loose side will make knitting with them a pleasant experience.

image Simple shapes and stitches look good in linen and hemp; so do unusual “architectural” details. A few pattern suggestions: Julie Weisenberger of Cocoknits has a talent for sheer, summery designs in linen and cotton yarns – how about the sleeveless Liesl tank top/dress in Euroflax linen? Very chic design – sheer stockinette stitch with an asymmetrical handkerchief hem and pockets. Then there’s the pretty button-back Kathy’s Knot Garden Tank (right) in Allhemp 3 and last summer’s hit Buttercup (free pattern), a top in Hempathy with short puffed sleeves and feather-and-fan lace yoke. Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Petal Halter is a tank top in a DK cotton/linen blend with curving tiers of stockinette, but it could be knit in any blend containing linen, hemp or bamboo. Here’s a beautiful version by soknitpicky in three colors.

If you’re up for a larger project, skirts and dresses are a possibility. Gudrun Johnston’s Little Black Dress  and Hip in Hemp elastic-waist skirt are two good options, both in Hempathy, both free. Hip in Hemp uses rippling stripes in several colors – very exuberant and summery. Sized for girls or women.

Both Knitty and Interweave Knits have published patterns for bamboo, hemp and linen yarns over the years – to find them, check the Knitfinder pattern indexes and type “bamboo” “linen” or “hemp” into the yarn column search box. Hemp for Knitting has great pattern support for their yarns, and you can buy any pattern online over at Patternfish and download it immediately – find all the patterns here.

Linen in particular is great for lace garments or accents, especially in finer weights.  Need inspiration? How about wakana’s Butterfly camisole, Khakigirl’s Fancy summer tank, Aniko’s Counterpane Blouse from the current (Summer 2010) issue of Interweave Knits (Ravelry pattern link) and knittwopurltwo’s Wakame Lace tunic?

Designs featuring texture and color techniques work too – just take a look at Aniko’s Linen Eastlake and the Roped Shells by u22grumpy and titianknitter.

I don’t want to sign off without mentioning an unusual cotton yarn I love: cotton gima from Habu Textiles.  It’s a narrow, light cotton ribbon that almost looks like paper. Knitted up, it looks crisp, but feels soft. This is color 53, called "oak.”


There are several elegant top and cardigan patterns for this yarn. The Leah Tunic (free over at Purl Bee) is a long tank top with a draped neckline knitted at 7 stitches to the inch. Julie Weisenberger’s Gretel is the same idea, but knitted at a sheer open gauge of 19 stitches/4 inches:

The Gisela cardigan, also from Cocoknits, uses the same yarn at an even more open gauge (17 stitches/4”). Photos do not do this design justice; I tried it on once at a Habu trunk show (along with several other people) – it looked great on everyone. Cotton gima is inexpensive, and at these gauges it goes a long way – the yarn for these designs in average sizes may be had for under $30.

More ideas for these hot-weather yarns in the next couple of posts – non-clothing projects, lace, and more. Stay tuned—and keep cool!


Almost forgot: in case you missed the news flash elsewhere, I did finish my handspun shawl. Ugly duckling that it was, blocking turned it into a swan. Here’s the Ravelry link.


  1. Almost every single link was done incorrectly. It appears that you typed two http's making the links unworkable.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you, Debbie! Very odd - no idea how that happened to about half the links, they were all coped and pasted in. They should all be fine now.

  4. Beautiful shawl! You do such great lace work!