Breezy Knitting with Cotton and Linen

Twelve reasons that cotton and linen have all your warm weather needs covered. From fluffy to firm, add some sustainable plant fibers to your seasonal lineup!

Pat Olski Apr 3, 2024 - 5 min read

Breezy Knitting with Cotton and Linen Primary Image

Cotton fields inspire knitter’s dreams. Photo by Trisha Downing on Unsplash

As the days are getting longer and the temperatures are climbing higher, it is harder and harder to maintain my enthusiasm about the wool shawl that has lived for months on my knitting needles. I have daydreams of crisp white cotton sweaters and lacy linen shawls dancing in my mind. I truly love wool, but my attentions drift to thoughts of cool-to-the-touch yarns this time of year, and my favorites are cotton, linen, and cotton-linen blends (the best of both worlds).

And whose thoughts wouldn’t? Few (if any) can claim an allergy or sensitivity to cotton or linen; it is not itchy to wear, nor uncomfortably warm. Both fibers come in a large array of weights from thread to bulky. You can find both organic linen and organic cotton in plentiful supply. They are both so easy-care and come in so many colors, and each one has its own qualities that make it perfect for handknitting.

Cotton to It

Cotton yarns are so satisfying to knit with because:

  1. Cotton yarns are highly breathable, so you can wear them with ease and not feel too hot. Air circulates beautifully through cotton fabric!
  2. Cotton garments have a gentle feel, which makes them a nice choice for babies or for people with sensitive skin.
  3. Did you know that cotton can absorb moisture between 24–27 times its own weight? That property will help keep you nice and dry.
  4. Cotton and color = perfect together! Polymer cellulose (the main molecule in cotton) is very attracted to water, so it takes dye beautifully. Cotton yarns come in colors ranging from the softest of tints to the most saturated of shades.
  5. Shiny or matte? The mercerization process (in which fibers are run through a cold water and mildly caustic bath) gives cotton fiber the luster of silk. Untreated cotton has a signature matte finish that has its own natural appeal.
  6. Cotton yarn is produced in a spectrum from downy to ropey, which means that you can find a yarn that will suit your project, whether it is an ethereal baby blanket or a sturdy knitted basket.

Show off your lace by knitting with a plant fiber—their lack of elasticity means each yarnover will really show! Photo by rocknwool on Unsplash

Timeless Linen

Linen combines luxury and practicality in one!

  1. Try knitting a linen washcloth or hand towel! Linen is highly absorbent, and it is also quick drying. Because of its cellular composition, it also has naturally antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  2. Unlike many other fibers, linen doesn’t pill.
  3. Linen is incredibly durable—in fact, it is up to three times more durable than cotton.
  4. Linen has a wonderful drape, which makes it ideal for knitting garments designed to have swing and movement. A lace shawl knitted in linen falls just beautifully across the shoulders.
  5. Linen is also a moisture-wicking fiber, and it can absorb about 20 times its own weight in water. The benefit is that you will stay drier and more comfortable.
  6. Linen gets softer and softer over time. It is also remarkably strong when wet!

The stalks of this lovely flax flower hold the cellulose fibers that are used to make linen. Photo by Darla Hueske on Unsplash

Some Knitting Tips

When knitting with these fibers, make a gauge swatch and block it in the same way that you will launder your finished garment before you measure it. Both linen and cotton can shrink, and it is better to know how your yarn will behave ahead of time.

If you have hands that sweat when you knit, it may help to knit your cotton or linen yarns using bamboo or wooden needles. Enjoy knowing that the item you make will help you keep your cool!


Pat Olski is the editor of PieceWork.