Linen is a fabric made wholly from the fibers of the flax plant. The most common and humble flax plant fibers transformed into a most extraordinary textile called Linen – this is a special gift from nature. The qualities of Linen fabric makes it one of the most sought-after textiles in the world – for the last 30000 years and more
What are these distinctive properties of Linen
- It is a soft fabric and gets softer as you wash it/ use it
- It takes rich colours very well
- It is colour fast and rarely bleeds
- It is a very durable fiber
- It is a breathable fabric and it makes you feel cool
- It is best for warm weather clothing
- It gives unparalleled comfort to the wearer
- 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 patterns and texture
- It doesnot pill or gives off lint
- It doesnot get affected by heat as much as cotton
- It is easy to maintain and wash. Checkout linen washing tips.
- It dries very fast
- It gets more luminous with age
- It is suitable for making garments like dresses, shirts, skirts, Jackets, suits, vests, Pants, blouses and home accessories like curtains, draperies, bedsheets, dishcloths, cloth napkins, upholstery, bedspreads, pillowcases, table linens etc.
What is flax plant ?
Flax is an important cash crop plant which 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 perfect condition to be harvested. The plant has flowers which are violet, blue and white in colour 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.
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 breakdown.(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.
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 result 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.
Why does linen absorb water well?
Linen fabric can absorb upto 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).
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 with and clothes made with this fabric look beautiful as well. 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 type of 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 may want to prewash linen fabric before cutting it up. Some people even prewash linen 4 times before sewing it to get that smooth finish.
Then iron 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 would 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 works 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.
Check out this video which shows the weaving of linen