Get to know your summer yarns

I know, I know. When most people think about knitting they think of cosy autumnal and wintery scenes, possibly sat in front of a fire, definitely with a big pile of cosy snuggly wool. It’s a craft that screams “cold weather” at you.

But knitting isn’t just for winter, I promise you. In fact, summer knitting is some of my favourite knitting, thanks to some lovely yarns and some equally lovely patterns.

The only thing to be aware of is this; yarns that work well for summer knitting often behave a bit differently to your classic wool yarns. You see, they’re often made of plant fibres, which kind of do their own thing. They don’t have the elasticity of wool, and so feel different to knit with, and can grow a bit with washing and wear.

But panic not; all it means is that you really should swatch, and wash and block your swatch, before you crack on with a summer knit. Because otherwise you might find that that stylishly oversized top is just…really, really big.

The pros and cons of cotton yarns

Let’s kick off with an obvious one, shall we? Cotton yarns are all over the shop, and come in all sorts of yarn weights.

If we’re getting into sweeping generalisations – and let’s do that – then there are two basic forms of cotton yarn – mercerised (like Anchor Creativa Cotton), and not mercerised. Mercerisation is a process which creates a shiny, slightly stronger, slightly more stable cotton yarn. But in getting all that shine and strength, you’re losing a bit of softness. Not necessarily the end of the world if you’re knitting a loose summer tank top, but try and give a baby a mercerised cotton blanket and they’ll probably get a bit annoyed with you.

Standard – as in, not mercerised – cotton lacks that shiny strength, but is still an excellent fibre choice for summer knits. As everyone who’s ever worn clothes knows, cotton is lovely and lightweight, and works extremely well for warm weather clothes. You could definitely do a lot worse than knitting a classic summer tee like Jessie Maed’s So Summer Shirt in a cotton yarn.

But two words of warning; cotton can stretch out of shape (just think about the arse of your jeans after a few wears), and its production can be very, very water intensive. There’s an increasing number of organic, GOTS-certified cotton yarns out there though, which is excellent news for those who care about sustainability in their knitting (which should be all of us).

I’ve had my eye on some Krea Deluxe organic cotton for a while now, and am just waiting for the perfect pattern to use it on.

Knitting with linen yarn

Man, I love me a linen yarn. It’s a sneaky little bugger, linen; when you start out knitting with it it feels a bit stringy, and can make your stitches look a bit uneven, and it can seem…not great.

But then! Then you wash and block it and oh my, does knitting that project in that linen yarn suddenly seem like a magnificent idea.

Linen softens with washing you see, and knitted linen has one major advantage over its woven counterpart in that it doesn’t crease like tissue paper the moment you breathe too strongly on it. It also has fantastic stitch definition, which means that lightweight lace tops look amazing when knitted in linen.

Take my Day Off Badge tee. I knitted two samples last year, one in pure linen (Lithuanian Linen from Midwinter yarns to be precise) and one in a cotton and linen blend (Mojave from Kelbourne Woollens). They’re both absolutely brilliant warm weather yarns, and I’d recommend them for just about any summer knitting you might fancy.

Lithuanian Linen Day Off Badge tee
Day Off Badge tee in Kelbourne Woollens Mojave

Lithuanian linen is a light 4ply/heavy laceweight, and Mojave is a sportweight/DK, but thanks to the wiggleability of knitting they both worked for the same project. You’ve just got to swatch to make sure you get gauge, and then you can knit away.

Another excellent linen blend that I’ve recently enjoyed is DMC Natura Linen, which comes in some lovely ice cream-y, pastel-y shades. It’s got a rather fun thick/thin slubby thing going on, which naturally adds a bit of texture to your knitting as you work, so it’s a great choice for a relatively plain pattern.

Bamboo – not just for pandas, but also for yarn

Bamboo is one of nature’s magic fibres. It’s super breathable, anti-bacterial (or so google tells me), lovely and soft, and really good on heat regulation. And it’s – to make a sweeping generalisation – often a more sustainable option that cotton, because bamboo grows like hell without very much help at all. Just ask my old garden, which got overrun by the stuff. Should’ve harvested it and turned it into yarn. Missed a trick there.

The downside to bamboo? Oooh, does it grow with blocking. It grows so very, very much. But so long as you got into your project aware of this – and wash and block your swatch – you can totally work with that, and end up with a very lovely summer knit. You might find yourself having to go down in your needle size, and there are likely to be some small panics along the way that your WIP is looking a bit on the small side, but after that blocking all will be well.

I used King Cole Bamboo Cotton for this Colin, You Flutter Me tee and it is LUSH.

There are loads of commercial bamboo yarns out there at some really reasonable prices – like King Cole Bamboo Cotton, which I’ve used for my upcoming Colin, You Flutter Me tee pattern.

Oh, and a heads up – some folks decide to refer to bamboo-derived fibres as Viscose, so, y’know. Keep an eye out.

And how about that tencel yarn I keep seeing?

When I first think of tencel, I think of a dress I had in the mid-90s that looked like denim but was in fact crazily soft tencel. I loved that dress. It was my favourite thing, but alas, I grew and by about 1997 it no longer fitted. Shame, because it would be right back in style these days. 10yr old me was a fashion icon, I’m telling you.

Anyway. I digress. Let’s talk about tencel yarn, shall we?

Tencel is another sustainability golden child, as it comes from wood pulp. It’s got a lot of the same properties as bamboo, and it has a lovely shine and drape to it. It’s having a bit of a moment right now; West Yorkshire Spinners released a new yarn this spring with a decent chunk of tencel in, and I’ve been meaning to knit myself a warm weather Summerdown top ever since they did. I’ll get round to it one day.

Summerdown, which would definitely look superb in a Tencel yarn

How about silk yarn? Is that still an ethical no-no?

If you’re anywhere near knitting instagram in the summer months, you’re going to find yourself seeing a LOT of Knitting For Olive Pure Silk. And I do mean a LOT; it’s very much the poster child for insta-friendly summer knitting.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve not used a pure silk yarn for a while, but I do have a soft spot for a merino/silk mix, which does an excellent job for warm-but-not-boiling-weather knitwear. Two of my favourites are The Wool Kitchen merino silk, and The Woolly Tangle merino silk – because if you’re going for silk, then you may as well go all out on the luxury, right?

So, from using 50% silk yarns I can tell you that the drape and the sheen you get are, as you’d expect, off the charts. Silk has traditionally had a rep as not great on the cruelty front, but there’s a new breed of ethical, cruelty-free silk yarns like the insta-fave Knitting for Olive.

Mixed fibre summer yarns

I’ve already mentioned a few mixed fibre yarns here, but it would be remiss of me not to give them their whole little section. For sometimes mixing up your plant fibres – either with each other, or with a bit of wool – can give you a very lovely yarn indeed.

Definitely worth a mention is CaMaRose Organic Summer Wool, which has 70% wool and 30% cotton. I used it for the kids’ Only Magical Girl in Town cardigan, and it’s a brilliant summer layer; keeps the chill out, without causing overheating.

Only Magical Girl in Town – a summer staple

Also great in the wool/cotton yarn are is BC Garn Bio Balance, another GOTS-certified blend of 55% wool and 45% cotton. I knitted Hoopee from last summer’s PomPom magazine in it, and it’s a cracker of a yarn.

So, despite the entire premise of this blog post, you don’t need to steer entirely clear of wool in the summer at all.

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