Most people think about knitting as a winter ‘sport’ and the only time knit items are worn. Not true! Using a lighter, more breathable yarn makes the following fibers ideal for summer projects. All the yarn choices below are plant based, no animals were harmed or involved in the production. Let’s take a look at each kind of summer yarn to see how they compare to each other, pros/cons and which will be the right fit for your next project. The best yarns of summer knitting, coming right up!
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Cotton as we know it comes from the cotton plant. It goes through a variety of processes to create yarn from the raw material. Here is what I wrote about the cost of yarn. If that doesn’t explain it enough, here is a great video I found showing how cotton yarn is made:
It is useful for summer knitting because it is light, keeps the skin cool by moving heat away from your body and is very easily washed. For an even cooler yarn that doesn’t retain as much heat, find mercerized cotton yarn. Cotton yarn is easy to find and is a relatively inexpensive option.
Knitting up a cotton yarn can be a little tricky for a beginner, it doesn’t knit up as evenly as other fibers, especially animal fibers. So, if you strive for perfection in your knitting, keep reading to see if something else will work better for you. Also, it is so slick that you’ll want to use bamboo or wooden needles to minimize loops slipping off.
With the warmer air and sweatier days, being able to actually wash a sweater is definitely a plus. Also, cotton yarn does not pill nearly as much as wool or other animal fibers. That is probably my biggest complaint about wool…
The downside to the finished cotton garment is wrinkling. It wrinkles just like your favorite cotton t-shirt. It does not have much elasticity, meaning that it will stretch out when worn and may stay in the shape it settles into when worn. It quickly loses its ability to spring back into shape after being washed.
Cotton Yarns to start your research:
Assortment of cotton yarns from Amazon – Check fiber content before buying. Some of these yarns have “cotton” in their name, so amazon throws them in the search too.
Bamboo labeled yarns are actually made from bamboo pulp and can sometimes be called ‘viscose’ or ‘rayon’.
These yarns are incredibly smooth and soft to the touch. They are a less expensive option compared to silk. It is nicknamed ‘vegan silk’ because it is not made from animal products like silk is.
People who are allergic to wool can likely wear bamboo without issue due to it’s hypoallergenic qualities. Did you know it can also help with UV protection?
Bamboo yarn is heavy, heavier than even wool. Which means the garment you make may slowly get longer and longer with wear. So, don’t hang a bamboo garment when wet UNLESS you want it to grow and lengthen. If you knit something too short, you could always lengthen it this way. I’m not telling you to do this on purpose, just logically speaking it would work! A pro for bamboo’s heavier weight is that it drapes nicely. Combine that with the smooth texture and it looks more like silk.
Bamboo is known to be a very washable fiber, but always check your labels prior to cleaning.
Since bamboo yarn is so smooth, the stitches love to jump off metal needles. When using bamboo yarn, don’t even bother with metal needles, do yourself a favor and get either bamboo or wooden needles to for the project. Bamboo worked on bamboo needles, how cute! Measure a bamboo garment while it is hanging, it will give a more accurate measurement when gravity is taken into account.
Bamboo yarn is inelastic (doesn’t have any stretch to it) it will not spring back into shape like wool garments.
When looking for patterns, try to find one written specifically for bamboo yarn. It behaves differently than wool or cotton and the yardage is usually different between skeins because it is dense. Many yarns are sold based on weight, so if you have a pattern calling for 6 skeins of cotton and you want to use bamboo, you might be short a few skeins.
Hey, I like that saying… I’m short a few skeins 🤪
Bamboo Yarns to start your own research:
Long fibers from the flax plant are used to create linen. The names flax and linen are interchangeable, the plant is flax but the fiber from the plant is linen. This is a fiber that has been harvested for thousands of years. Extracting the linen fibers from the flax plant is an extremely long process, hence it is a more expensive yarn.
Linen is a great choice for the summer months because it does a poor job at retaining heat, something we look for in a summer yarn! It is stronger than cotton and doesn’t pill very much after wearing. It softens with age and since the fibers have a natural wax coating, it has a luxurious sheen. It absorbs moisture, has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.
Linen yarn has a very stiff feel to it when knitting. Yet, that favorite pair of linen pants feel soft and drape nicely, right? The more linen is washed, the softer it gets and many people like that initial crispness that is not found elsewhere. Like bamboo, linen does not have any stretch.
Linen behaves differently on the needles compared to wool. Wool loops like to just lay where you put them and hug the needle nicely. Linen needs a little more coaxing and guidance. Don’t try to do a center pull on this yarn, it will become a hot mess in no time… Center pull, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is pulling the end out of the center of the skein/ball when you being to knit.
Make a swatch! If you are using a pattern written for wool, you will likely need to adjust your needle size down. Want to see how well it washes, make a swatch! Don’t know what I’m talking about, see this post on how to make a swatch.
Linen yarns to start your own research:
Hemp? Yes, Hemp. No, we’re not going to get high from knitting or handling it. It is the in the same plant family but using an industrial variety that very little of the THC compound that the ‘other’ hemp is known for. Get your mind back here and out of the gutter.
So, where were we? Hemp. Yes, Hemp. There are two parts to the hemp plant, the shorter fibers are used for products like twine and rope while the longer fibers are used for yarn and fabric. The fiber to make yarn is collected from the outer ‘shell’ of the stalk of the hemp plant. The fibers are really long and strong, making them ideal for yarn production.
When thinking about hemp products (that aren’t in the medical realm), we often think about the hard, scratchy stuff that is used in twine. Like cotton and linen it is inelastic. It is noticeably more durable than cotton and has a gentle sheen too. It is also similar to linen because it has a nice drape and gets softer over time.
Hemp keeps you cool during the summer, but did you know it can also keep you warm in the winter? WOW.
Hemp Yarns to start your own research:
Hemp yarn from Amazon – Again, amazon likes to lump things together, check fiber content.
What is a blend?
A blend is when more than one fiber type is used to create a yarn (or fabric). By blending the different fibers, you are getting all the benefits of the fibers. There can be more than two fibers in the same yarn, I’ve seen up to 5 different types blended together, talk about experimenting to see what works the best! There’s probably a yarn out there with 6 or more! Let me know if you find one!
For example, cotton blends will still have some of the good properties like moisture control and washability while the other fiber(s) in the blend may help reduce wrinkles, making it an ideal combination. If you want to use linen or hemp but your pattern needs ribbing or needs a little elasticity, look for a linen or hemp blended with other fibers.
Blended yarns to start your own research:
What about Silk?
Silk is another popular summer weight yarn but is produced by an animal. I felt like leaving it out and focusing on plant-based fibers for this post… maybe we’ll get into it another time.
Tips for using summer weight yarns:
● They feel different when knitting compared to wool and alpaca. They behave differently, too.
● I recommend that the first time you use cotton/bamboo/linen/etc., use a pattern written specifically for that fiber. Then once you are comfortable with it, go ahead and experiment with substituting yarns.
● As a bonus they don’t weigh a ton on your lap to make you hot while knitting them.
● There are different yarn weights, not just super fine, in these fibers. Adjust the thickness of the yarn to suit the project. The finer the yarn, the lighter the result. Summer fiber yarns in a thicker weight can be a nice bridge between summer and fall garments.
● Lacey patterns for better airflow and less weight
● Pattern needs to be well fitting since you most likely won’t be wearing too much underneath it. Layering can work but see how the pattern deals with bodice length and strap length. These are things that can be adjusted as you go.
● Is it soft or going to be soft? Most of these yarns will be soft eventually. If you have sensitive skin you may want to skip the ones that require time and wear to get soft. Or you could wash it and move it around (beat it up a little bit?) to simulate wearing it? This is not something I’ve tried, just trying to solve problems on the fly.
● Washable yarn: Get something that you can wash the way you want to. Don’t like handwashing, get something machine washable like certain linen yarns.
● Make sure the yarn suits the end use of the garment by making the most out of the fiber properties.
Notes on sustainability:
Most of these plant-based fibers are much more earth friendly than animal based. They obviously do not require any animal by-products which eliminates the need to feed and care for the animals which alone uses a lot of resources.
The growing, harvesting and processing of these kinds of fibers require less water and human power (except linen, it’s just super finicky and needs coaxing to become yarn and cotton, it requires a ton of water).
Here is one comparison worth mentioning. I could go on and on with all the other comparisons but that would take way too long!
Hemp vs Cotton
I’m going to geek out on this, this is way too much information unless you are really interested in sustainability.
Here are some figures I found, now I do not know the validity of all information but I am seeing the same consensus across resources.
● Hemp uses way less water in the growing and processing of the fiber than traditional cotton.
● Hemp produces more per acre than traditional cotton.
● ORGANIC cotton overall has less of an environmental impact than hemp, mostly due to water consumption
● Processing hemp right now is more expensive due to the lack of the technology/machinery. Resources have not been directed toward more efficient strategies because of the lack of interest by the US. Mainly because up until recently, hemp plants have been illegal to grow, even the varieties with less THC.
● Hemp can be harvested more times in a year than cotton, it grows faster
I found this link to a more reliable source: https://mediamanager.sei.org/documents/Publications/SEI-Report-EcologicalFootprintAndWaterAnalysisOfCottonHempAndPolyester-2005.pdf
FULL DISCLAIMER: I am not an environmentalist. I haven’t reviewed a paper or quoted from one in over 20 years since I graduated from college with a degree in biology. I’m familiar with the process but don’t take this as pure fact, I’m just trying to get information from the most reliable resource I can find. This paper seems to be the best I can find without diving in super far. It is written for the UK, but I do not think the industrial practices are so different that this paper is not at least somewhat accurate. Read at your own risk!