This post explains what linen fabric is and lists the different types of linen fabric, what it is made of and the most important properties associated with the fabric.
Linen Fabric – defintion
Linen is a strong fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant. The qualities of linen fabric make it one of the most sought-after textiles in the world – for the last 30000 years and more.
Reference: Archaeologists discover linen used by early humans.
What is Linen fabric made of?
Linen is made of flax fibers. Flax is an important cash crop plant that is much in demand for its seeds and fibers. It is an annual plant and just takes about 100 days to grow the flax plant to the perfect condition to be harvested..
The plant has flowers which are violet, blue and white in color and rarely red, which blooms once in its lifetime. The fibrous material inside the stem of flax plant is used to make linen fibers hence linen is also called flax fabric.
The plant grows in cool, damp environments and is mostly grown in Europe. It cannot tolerate high heat. Russia, France and Belgium, China, Egypt, Northern Italy, and parts of Canada and the northern United States are the countries producing Flax plants.
What are the distinctive properties of linen
- It is a soft but crisp fabric and gets softer and pliable as you wash it/ use it.
- It takes rich colors very well.
- It is colorfast and rarely bleeds.
- It is a very durable fiber.
- It is a breathable fabric, so it gives unparalleled comfort to the wearer.
- It is best for warm weather clothing; it makes you feel cool.
- It looks very crisp and elegant.
- It is a very strong textile, far more than cotton.
- It is nonallergenic (Flax plant is grown without as many chemicals and pesticides as other plant fibers)
- It is made of biodegradable fibers.
- It looks luxurious and expensive.
- It has beautiful weaves, colors, patterns, and texture.
- It does not pill or give off lint.
- It does not get affected by heat as much as cotton
- It is easy to maintain and wash.
- It dries fast
- It ages well; The fabric gets more luminous with age.
What is Linen fabric used for ?
Linen is a versatile fabric in that it is suitable for making garments as well as for upholstery and home decor projects.
It is used to make elegant dresses, shirts, skirts, Jackets, suits, vests, Pants, and blouses and also for home accessories like curtains, draperies, bedsheets, dishcloths, cloth napkins, bedspreads, pillowcases, table linens, etc.
How is Linen produced ?
- The flax plant is harvested by uprooting it fully.
- Then it is dried.
- The seeds are taken out (used for oil in cooking)
- Then it is exposed to water/moisture so that the pectin (adhesive material) that binds the fibers together will break down(a process known as retting). This is usually done in a natural environment and takes about 2-3 weeks.
- The fibers are then separated from the outer bark (a process known as Scutching). They are classified as short fibers and long fibers. The short fibers form coarse yarns with a napped appearance, whereas the long fibers produce the fine yarn of linen which has a smooth shiny look.
- They are then made into yarn on spinning looms. They undergo quality checks to ensure top quality.
- The fibers are woven into the linen fabric. Dobby loom is a basic loom with limited repetitive patterns; Jacquard loom is a more sophisticated machine in which sophisticated designs are woven
- They are then bleached, dyed or used in their natural state. Many other treatments like wrinkle resistance etc are also applied at this stage
You can read more of this process in detail in this post – How is linen fabric made.
Why is Linen so expensive?
Flax is difficult to harvest. The full flax plant has to be uprooted, to keep the full length of the fibers which results in a fine yarn. Careful harvesting is necessary to ensure quality.
The process of making the textile is also long-winded and complex. Hence it is very costly to make linen fabric. This results in a very expensive linen material.
But most people do not mind the cost factor – because of the fine qualities of linen – easy elegance, summer readiness etc.
What is the most prominent advantage of Linen?
Linen is one of the most summer-ready fabrics; It is breathable and absorbent.
Linen fabric can absorb up to 20% of its weight in moisture before you can feel any dampness. This is because of its structure which soaks up water to its center. Because of this, linen is very much in demand as napkins and dish towels.
It also releases moisture to the air and remains dry. And it is a good fabric for summer weather – in moderate heat, your sweat will be absorbed, keeping you cool and comfortable.
What are the different types of Linen fabric?
Linen is categorized according to the weave of fibers. Linen is also nowadays blended with other fibers like cotton and wool.
You may also categorize Linen according to geographical regions where it is grown or processed- Irish Linen is the best and most valued. European linen comes next in quality. Scotch linen and German linen come next. Then there are Russian Linen and Chinese linen which are not considered at par with those in Europe.
It is a reversible textured linen fabric, originally from Damascus. It is woven on a jacquard loom. Damask looks very luxurious and is used mostly for table linen and draperies. Infact Damask Table linen is very much valued.
It is a fine linen fabric with a very close weave originally from Cambrai in northern France. It has a lustrous finish, a fine surface, and a great drape. It is great for all kinds of needlework especially cross stitch and shadow work.
It is a rough fabric, usually undyed, made with slubbed yarns, and is often used for towels, table linen, and draperies. The coarsest is called Russian Linen.
Obviously used for making bedsheets, this is a heavier linen.
It was earlier used for clothing and mummy wrappings for Pharaohs and members of the royal court in Ancient Egypt as early as 5000BC. (The Turin shroud is a linen cloth.) The name is now used for a heavy unbleached linen.
Handkerchief weight Linen
This is the finest of all linen. It is very soft and semi-sheer. Perfect for making delicate handkerchiefs with embroidery and blouses and babywear.
Linen-Lycra blend is very much appreciated because it mitigates one of the problems of linen fabric – its wrinkling (not fully but to a good degree).
How to buy Linen? Quality standards to look out for.
Linen follows a different quality standard than other fabrics. For this fabric a lower thread count linen may be the softer type than a higher thread count one. LEA is the standard used in Linen fabric. A lower count in LEA like 40 may give you a thick fabric. A higher count in LEA like 150 will give you a soft comfortable linen fabric.
Care label for Linen Fabric
Linen is usually a very easy-care fabric. It looks even better with age. It becomes softer with every wash. A little steam or a sprinkle of water while ironing can work wonders to remove wrinkles on linen.
How to sew with Linen ?
Sewing success is all about fabric choices. When you have a good fabric with you which is easy to sew you are guaranteed success. Checkout this post on How to buy fabric for sewing.
Linen is one of the best fabrics to sew, and clothes made with this fabric also look beautiful. Designers love to design clothes in linen. It is a favorite for making jackets, vests, and pants. Summer dresses in linen are very popular.
You can sew linen with any needle and any type of thread. Just keep a steam iron close by as you sew. On a bias cut, linen fabric drapes very well.
As linen shrinks about 3-10% in the first few washes, you should prewash linen fabric before cutting it up. Some people even prewash linen 4 times before sewing it to get that smooth finish.
Then iron it when it is still slightly damp to remove the inevitable wrinkles on it. Press as you sew. Press seams open. You may need to finish the fabric edges as the linen frays. But if it is cut on the bias, the edges will not fray.
Some people assume that the right side of the linen fabric can be found by stretching it lightly by the diagonal and if the sides curl to the top, consider that to be the right side of the fabric. But I think both sides of the fabric look identical.
You can use a silk organza underlining for making clothes with linen.
Embroidering on Linen
Linen is one of the most popularly used cloth for embroidery. Cross stitch and other counted thread embroidery work like Black work embroidery can be done very well on this fabric because of the even weave of this cloth.
Hemstitching looks beautiful when done on linen. Because of its crisp nature, pintucks also look good on linen.
Reference : digitalcommons.usu.edu
Check out this video which shows the weaving of linen
What causes the crispness of linen?
Linen has a natural protien called Pectin in its fibers that makes it crisp and stiff. But it can be removed by repeated washing.
What is Lea for linen yarns?
Lea is a measure for yarns (Yarn numbering system). It is the number of 300 yard lengths of yarn per pound.
Updated on January 4, 2023 by Sarina Tariq