Tips: Summer knitting and crochet with cotton

At this time of year we often think about using cotton yarns to create cool, summer garments.

If you are used to working mainly with wool, cotton can behave differently so we have collect some useful tips to help you with your warm weather projects. Thank you to everyone who contributed tips on social media.


Your choice of needles can make a real difference to your experience of working with cotton. Many people prefer bamboo needles over metal to get the most accurate tension.  Metal needles can allow the cotton to slip and slide a bit too much.

The other downside of combining metal needles with cotton can be splitting. Because of how the fibres form in cotton yarn, particularly sharp needles can easily slip into the yarn rather than a whole stitch causing splits.


Cotton yarn is very popular for crochet. It forms very crisp well defined stitches and firm fabric. So choose your crochet pattern with that in mind. 

Finished fabric

Cotton yarn behaves differently to wool, so if you decide to substitute cotton in a pattern written for wool, the finished item will look different. This can be a good thing but it is worth swatching carefully.

cotton yarn

You can see here how on the green swatch, which is in wool using the same yarn weight and needles, the rib is pulling in more than the cream cotton yarn.

Because cotton softens over time and can be heavier than wool it is a good idea to choose patterns with firm tension to avoid sagging – some people go down a needle size when working in cotton.

Swatch and then wash your swatch to get a good idea about how a particular cotton yarn behaves.


Never without… some scrap yarn

In a discussion about what we would never be without in our knitting kits, there were lots of suggestions – tape measures, scissors, crochet hook, safety pins, and many more. But for me there was one clear winner, a humble length or two of scrap yarn.

knitting yarn

Here are a few of the uses you can put it to:

Impromptu stitch markers

Make slip knots in short lengths of scrap yarn to create instant stitch makers to help you keep track of your pattern.

knitting tips

These are very useful if you have to cast on a couple of hundred stiches. Place a scrap yarn loop every 20 or 50 stitches so you don’t have to count from the beginning the whole time. Because the loops are slip knots, they are easily removable once you have the right number of stitches so they don’t distract you when establishing the pattern.

You can also use scraps of yarn looped through the end of rows to track your progress – mark every 10th row to make counting easy.

 Stitch holder

Rather than carry a large safety pin style stitch holder, just thread the stitches on to a length of scrap yarn. This is also more flexible than a metal or plastic holder which can be useful if you are checking size or shaping.

knititng tips

Securing a dropped stitch

If you find yourself spotting the one that got away at a time when you can’t immediately pick up the stitch loop some scrap yarn through it to stop further unravelling.

knititng tips

Trying on a garment in the round

Sometimes when you are making a garment in the round, it would be useful to try it on but the circular needle isn’t quite long enough to allow it. Transfer the stitches on to scrap yarn and try on to your heart’s content

Provisional cast on

knititng tips

A smooth length of scrap yarn is essential for this lace technique where you will want to pick up stitches from the start of a piece of knitting. Make a crochet chain in scrap yarn with more chains than the stitches you need to knit. Pick up the right number of loops along the chain with your knitting needle and work the first row of your pattern into these with your main yarn. Later you can “unzip” the crochet yarn and put the loops created on to a needle.

Do you have a “never without…” item in your knitting or crochet kit? Let us know what it is in the comments below