Linen has its fans and foes in the handknitting world. Derived from the stalk of the flax plant, linen fiber produces a strong, lustrous material that lasts a long, long time. But soft and fluffy it is not—and for many knitters, that’s the most important thing.
Fortunately, fibers were meant to be blended, and Soft Linen—almost equal parts linen, wool, and baby alpaca—is a perfect example of a smart fiber blend. The fibers (well blended prior to spinning) are spun into four fine strands that are then plied together into a well-rounded four-ply yarn.
Touch it and you’ll know that there’s something “planty” in there, but you’ll also feel the airy slippery softness of the baby alpaca and a squishy warm hint of wool. And if you hold it to the light, you’ll see a luminous, almost silky quality—that’s the linen talking.
Blending warm- and cold-weather fibers creates a “transitional” yarn that helps carry you from season to season. When the temperatures drop, the wool and alpaca keep you warm; and when the temperatures rise, the natural evaporative cooling qualities of the linen kick in.
The transitional quality of these yarns exists in both the finished garment and the knitting experience itself. When your hands are eager for warm-weather fibers, but the weather outside isn’t quite there yet, you can pick up a skein of transitional yarn and almost feel the tropical breezes—which can be nice when it’s mid-March and still snowing outside.
I confess I’m not that fond of knitting with pure linen. I love the luster of linen, and I love the feel of a well-worn piece of linen fabric. But the yarn itself often feels too unyielding and twine-like for my taste.
Knitting with Soft Linen, however, was a surprisingly pleasant compromise. I was able to wrap the yarn comfortably around my fingers and maintain even tension, and the stitches held my slippery Addi Turbo lace needles nice and snug. The yarn does have some firmness to it, and I did periodically have to let go, smooth out the yarn, and reposition my hands to get a good grip.
Periodically I came across long ends of linen fiber sticking out of the yarn—something that I’ve encountered in every linen yarn I’ve tried. Fearing that the ends would make the fabric scratchy, I pulled them out of the yarn. The key was to pull out the strand parallel to the yarn to minimize disruption to the neighboring fibers.
Only once did my sharp-tipped needles snag the yarn. With some tugging to and fro, I was able to smooth out the strand and tug the loosened fibers back into place.
My stitches were relatively even although they did have some irregularities here and there. In a pure linen yarn I’d be worried because the fibers tend to sit exactly where you left them, no matter how much you block. I hoped that the wool and alpaca would help smooth out the irregularities in the wash.
Blocking / Washing
My swatches washed and blocked beautifully, staying firm and cohesive in the wash and drying—albeit slowly—into perfect shape.
No curled edges, bias, or change in gauge, and those uneven stitches relaxed and flattened into a smooth and cohesive piece of fabric. And even my small swatches had exquisite drape.
Judging this yarn on the skein isn’t entirely fair because linen becomes softer and more lustrous with wash and wear. But even by the time the yarn had made it into swatches, it had a pleasant hand.
After I washed and gently thrashed my swatches for a little while, they became downright soft. I tucked one swatch under my shirt and promptly forgot about it all afternoon—no scratch there.
You can tug the fabric to and fro and it’ll bounce right back to shape, thanks to the wool. In general, both the wool and alpaca dominate enough to make this entirely appropriate for next-to-the-skin wear, while the linen adds a delicious degree of drape.
The swatches did start to produce small lofty pills after a sustained period of friction. The linen component also wanted to wrinkle when folded or crushed for too long, but the crease lines went away after I tugged the swatch and ran my flat hand across its surface. The fabric would probably begin to look a little shabby over time, but not until you’d gotten quite a bit of wear out of it.
I didn’t expect to like this yarn as much as I did. I’m a wool person and tend to steer clear of cotton and bast fibers, which don’t have the innate bounce my fingers like. But this yarn has piqued my interest.
I envision it performing beautifully in a summer tank top, maybe a matching tank and cardigan set. The roundness of the yarn gives it excellent stitch definition. I played with a few basic stitch patterns and loved the seed stitch and feather and fan.
In fact, I’d love to see this yarn in a Shoalwater Shawl using one of the yarn’s 10 colors or mixing and matching them all in a series of earthy stripes. You’d need about 850 yards, or 7 skeins, which brings the bill to $63. That’s a nice price for a garment with central heating and evaporative cooling to keep you comfortable throughout several seasons.