Sewing Linen: A Step-by-Step Guide

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There is no other fabric that feels as good on the skin as linen during hot weather. I love how elegant linen looks as well, so I started sewing a linen top. Along the way, I figured out the best settings for sewing linen.

Ideal settings for sewing Linen

Cutting LinenDo not require a nap layout for plain fabrics; Check the direction of prints for printed linen; Use sharp scissors or rotary cutter to cut linen
Sewing needlesSize 14 needle is preferred for medium weight Linen fabrics ; For lightweight linen size 8 or 10 can be used. Use sharp needles for hand sewing; Wing needles for decorative holes.
Sewing threadCotton thread; Polyester all-purpose thread ; Cotton -covered polyester thread
SeamsPlain seams with medium length stitches, flat-felled seams, mock flat felled seam
Fabric Edges Zig zag stitched edges or 3 or 4 thread overlock or Binded edges. Or use anti-fray

Step 1. Choose appropriate Linen for your project

Decide on the type of clothing you are going to sew before buying linen. The quality of different types of linens can vary significantly.

Linen fabric is available in plain, twill and damask weaves. And looser and tighter weaves. It is also available in different weights. Very fine linen to very heavy weight linen (7.1 oz) can be used for different clothing projects.

Gauzy linen is more transparent and lighter than regular linen. Handkerchief linen is very fine. Suiting linen is a heavier weight than all other linen. Heavier weight linen is less prone to wrinkling compared to lighter linen varieties.

Irish linen is a very expensive linen and considered very good quality. Another high-quality option is Italian linen.

I would use the lighter weight linens for tops, overshirts and slips, not for pants, skirts, jackets and dresses.

The main blends of linen are cotton-linen blends and Linen-lycra. Many prefer linen blends or “linen-look” fabrics due to less wrinkling aspect of them, but they are not as breathable or summer-ready or skin-friendly as pure linen.

Cotton-linen is a cheaper version of linen fabric. Not as strong as pure 100% linen. It may also have a loose weave. So may need to buy lining too.

Buy suiting linen for making trousers and blazers. It is usually a tighter weave crisp material that may not need lining.

If you are looking for a wrinkle free material, go for linen with lycra blend. Lycra is added to the linen for its added advantages of wrinkle free, form fitting nature.

You will have to accept the natural wrinkles on 100% pure linen, there is no way out of it. (If it is any consolation, linen’s wrinkling diminishes over time with regular washing and ironing.) A way to combat wrinkles on linen is to use silk organza as underlining (treated as one with the linen) or a similar weight fabric, like muslin.

You have to use the care label instructions of these blends when dealing with these fabrics. For eg. If you use bleach on the linen -lycra blend you have a damaged fabric. Or high heat, which is another enemy of elastic fabrics.

The linen yarn count (LEA) is the criterion for buying good quality linen varieties. It measures the fineness or coarseness of the linen yarn. Higher LEA number indicates a finer thinner yarn. Linen with a higher LEA will usually be smoother and finer. A lower LEA linen may be coarse but quite strong and very durable. Choosing between them depends on the project you have in mind. For bedding a lower LEA is ok, but for a kerchief you will prefer linen with higher LEA. Higher LEA linen is more costly.

Step 2. Pre-washing Linen

As with any fabric made with natural fibers, you have to prewash Linen. Infact some people go as far as washing the fabric more than once. Linen shrinks in the first wash, and this is the primary reason for prewashing before sewing.

Important tip : Serge or zig zag the ends of the fabric before washing or the edges will fray a lot. A hack is to just sew the edges of the fabric together into a tube before washing, with long stitches. After washing, just remove the stitches with seam ripper.

Prewash any lining, interlining etc that you are using with linen.

Linen is said to get better in feel and looks with each wash. Wash in cold water is prefered. This will account for future shrinkage and you will be able to sew smoothly, as the fabric will soften.

Press linen while barely damp before cutting and sewing, to remove the wrinkles. I have read that some people starch the linen fabric to control its softness when cutting.

How to starch linen to make it stiff?

Mix equal parts of water and starch in a container.
Soak the item thoroughly in the starch-water mixture.
For a stiff finish, hang the item to dry.
Once dry, iron the fabric.

Step 3. Decide on interfacing and whether to use lining or not

You may need to add lining on linen if you are sewing trousers with light colored linen. White linen fabric is particularly see through.

Lining linen garments with synthetic fabrics would defeat the purpose of wearing linen to keep cool. You can use muslin or cotton batiste to line linen. Using double gauze as a lining for linen garments is another good option for warm climates.

Match weight of the interfacing to the weight of the fabric. Linen itself can be used as a interfacing. If your pattern calls for a whole area to be interfaced it is better to use self fabric or another woven fabric. Weft interfacing can be used for pure linen.

Knit interfacing should be used for linen-lycra blends.

Step 4. Perfect seams with linen

Linen fabric frays a lot at the cut edges. You HAVE to neaten the edges. So choose one of the following edge finisges – either zig zag the edges or use binging or french seams. Best is ofcourse, using the serger.

Does linen have a right and wrong side?

Linen has a right and wrong side. It is easy to identify on printed linens but on plain fabrics you will have to check these points: The right side of linen is usually smoother and may have a slightly shinier appearance. Another way is to look at the selvedge edge – the smoother selvage edge will be on the right side.

A firm and tightly woven linen fabric is quite easy to sew. Small tight straight stitches work like a charm. No issues there. A french seam is prefered inside thin linen fabrics (a guazy linen top) because it gives a polished look from the outside.

Step 4. Pressing seams

Use steam pressing to press open seams. If you do not have steam iron, spray water as you press to get the steam effect.

Step 4. Embellishments on Linen

All heirloom sewing methods are suitable for linen – including smocking, hem stitching, pintucking, delicate embroidery. A simple rolled hem using a wing needle is a nice finish on scarves or tops made of thin lightweight linen. Some sewing machines will have heirloom stitches that you can use to embellish linen tops.

I added this lace collar to my linen top and I think it looks good.

Related posts: Difference between silk and linen ; Make a pin stitch

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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