I haven't always knitted with wool. In fact it's a fairly recent preference in my knitting materials. Until a couple of years ago, I knitted pretty much exclusively with acrylic blends, mainly due to familiarity and cost. I had been led to believe that I was allergic to wool. I remember my mum telling me she had to make my sweaters using synthetic fibres as "wool makes you itch" and once I started making my own I went with what I knew. Sirdar Snuggly was my go-to yarn for everything for a long time. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with that yarn, and I actively choose it for gift-knits, especially for children's stuff as it's so easy to wash and dry.
Now I realise it wasn't an allergy at all, just probably the slight scratchiness of wool against a small child's sensitive skin.
I have used cotton before, mainly for dishcloths though. On trips to the USA I have stocked up on Sugar n Cream and similar worsted weight cottons in bright colours, because you can't get them as easily here, and certainly not as cheaply. Balls of cotton that cost a dollar or two there are several pounds each here. I've also used Rowan Cotton Glace for baby sweaters for the summer. Cotton can be harder on the hands than wool to work with. It doesn't have the stretch of wool which makes it feel taut when you're knitting it, and achieving an even tension takes a different sort of knitting action than working with wool, for me at least.
But until this month I had never worked with linen yarn before. Willow Yarns Feather is a new linen/cotton blend yarn which I was sent as yarn support for a pattern design. The pattern itself is due to be published by Willow Yarns in the autumn, so until then the actual design detailed are under wraps, but it has been an interesting experience working with the yarn. I hadn't actually thought to work with that one particularly, but Willow suggested it as being suited to my pattern, and having knitted up my sample they're right. As I said, linen is new to me as a fibre. It feels a bit like knitting with string! That doesn't sound a desperately attractive experience and it certainly involved consciously changing my knitting tension to make the fabric even. I found at first my stitches were very loose but once I got the knack of the different "hand" of the yarn from my usual wool it was good to work with, just different.
Thinking about it, it does make sense for there to be some fibres within the yarn. After all, this linen/cotton blend is made of two plant materials. It did make the yarn a little scratchy in places though and I had to be careful when removing them not to damage the yarn.
Blocking the finished piece was also different from blocking wool. I hadn't anticipated at all how very very absorbent the knitted fabric is! To block a wool piece I usually fill a basin with warm soapy water and drop the knitting on the top and wait until it sinks, by which time it is soaking wet. This piece not only sank, it also seemed to soak up most of the water! Again, when you think towels are made from linen and cotton, it makes sense that the fibre should have this property. It took a lot of blotting and squeezing to get it from sopping to damp to block properly.
I wasn't sure how aggressive I could be with the finished piece so as not to damage the yarn but it seems to cope well with being pushed and stretched to size. It had stretched a long way widthways while soaking but it seemed quite happy to be manhandled back to size!
Finally, it has taken some time to dry. It has been 24 hours now and it still isn't quite dry yet, and it's been a warm day. I am pleased with the final result though. The colours are pretty, the stitches are nicely defined, and Willow's adviser was right - the pattern and the yarn are very well suited. I look forward to the autumn when I can introduce you to the pattern itself. Watch this space!!