Theory Thursday: Warm Weather Yarns

On Theory Thursdays, I’ll be tackling (in brief) a question about design theory/overall approach/yarn selection, etc. These aren’t really “technique” questions, in the sense of how to execute something in your knitting, but they’re questions to think about before you get started. This one does double-duty, a bit, because it’ll also hit on some yarn ideas for our Mapleshade KAL.

Magpie Fibers’ Solstice, a wool-silk-cotton blend, is one of my favorite spring/summer yarns. I used it for last summer’s Larkspur tee, and I’m using it for my Mapleshade this year.

Magpie Fibers’ Solstice, a wool-silk-cotton blend, is one of my favorite spring/summer yarns. I used it for last summer’s Larkspur tee, and I’m using it for my Mapleshade this year.

Q: So, I know you’ve said knitting should be a year-round sport, but even if I’m knitting in the summer, I’m not really sure I want to wear or work with wool all year round. What kinds of yarns work well in hot weather, but still work well for cables and textured knitting?

Yay! You’re knitting in the summer, and I’m thrilled about it. Honestly, I tend to think summer is when we should be knitting for fall, but I get that that may be a bridge too far for some folks (“you want me to make a cabled shawl-collared cardigan in June? Are you crazy?”). So, you want to knit in the spring and summer, or, perhaps even better, you want to wear your knits in the spring and summer, but you’re not sure what to use. Here are a few potential approaches, along with some of my favorite yarns. As usual, there’s a spectrum, with a couple of extremes and then a middle option.

  • Go all plant-fiber: abandoning wool entirely in favor of non-protein fibers like flax, hemp, linen, cotton, bamboo, etc. is a time-honored warm-weather-knitting tradition, and for some folks, it works really well. There are some great new-ish linen yarns in particular out there, like Quince’s Sparrow and Kestrel, for which a huge range of really lovely patterns have been written. Here’s the thing, though: these yarns behave very differently from wool. They can be harsh on your hands, depending on how picky you are, they tend to be pretty unforgiving in terms of stitch wobbles, rowing out, etc., they won’t take to cables and texture the same way a wool yarn will, and, critically, they have little to no elasticity. If you want to knit with these yarns, at least the first few times, I’d stick to a pattern that was written for a yarn with the same fiber. Once you get a sense of how they behave in your hands compared to wool, you can branch out (WITH CAREFUL SWATCHING).

  • Ignore the weather and knit with whatever you would knit with in the winter: This one works, too. Fingering and sport weight wool pullovers and tanks are great in the summer, and cardigans up to about DK weight will keep you warm if you live in a place that, like we do here in California, has warm days and cool evenings and mornings. The success of this approach likely varies with your climate and your general preference for “seasonality” in your knitting.

  • Try a wool-and-plant-fiber blend, like a wool/linen or wool/cotton blend: This tends to be my preference. 100% plant fiber yarns are lovely, but they are not a great match with the kinds of work I like to do (perhaps we’ve met: I’m Sloane, and I like to design cabled sweaters). They also don’t feel great on my hands, and I have raised my “only knit with what feels comfortable” bar of after a bout of DeQuervain’s threatened my knitting life a few years ago. Fortunately, there’s a fix for both of these problems: add some wool back in. I find that these kinds of wool blend yarns are a really great compromise between the hand-feel, the elasticity, and the design flexibility of 100% wool yarns and the “summer-weight” vibe of 100% plant fiber yarns. My favorites—yarns like Luma, from the Fiber Company, and Magpie’s Solstice (pictured above)—also include some silk content for additional drape, sheen, and feel. For best results here, in terms of a wool-like feel, I’d aim for wool content in the 40-50% range, but you can go as little as 20-25% and still see a noticeable difference from a 100% plant-fiber yarn.

  • Use a light-weight wool-silk blend: As many of my students know, wool-silk blends are some of my very favorite yarns, particularly for accessories, and I think they make great warm-weather yarns, as well, in lighter weights. Shibui has several in a variety of weights that work well here, and I also like Quince’s Tern for summer-weight tees (like Emily’s beautiful Gingkophyte for the spring issue of Pom Pom Quarterly).

  • Go wild-bunch and use something else: I love Quince’s wool-mohair blend Piper for summer-weight garments (keep your eyes peeled…), and I really like some of the garments they’ve designed with it as part of their spring Piper collections for the past couple of years. Technically a heavy lace weight, Piper will knit up at gauges approaching sport weight, making it something of a shapeshifter. Shibui has some of my favorite crazy-blend warm weather yarns, too, including their new Vine, which is a blend of silk, cotton, and…paper? Swatch carefully when you stray this far from the wool fold, and look carefully at what kinds of patterns and FOs you see on Ravelry before proceeding.

Do you knit year round? What do you like to knit, and knit with, in the summer?