Thursday, April 12, 2012

All About Fabrics Series: Linen

Linen is the world's oldest fabric. It is strong, yet lightweight and cool to wear. It has always been popular in the hotter climates of Asia and Europe, but its tendency to wrinkle has limited its popularity in North America.  

 The term "linen" can prove confusing: it can refer to the fabric or the weave or it can refer to all table fabrics (table linens) and traditionally it was the word used for all undergarments!


Linen gets softer with laundering and age.

It is the twice as strong as cotton.

It tends to be  a smooth fibre, yielding lint-free fabrics.

Creamy white to light tan, this fiber can be easily dyed and the color does not fade when washed.

Highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, this fabric is cool in garments. 

Linen wrinkles easily and irons easily as well.

Fabric manufacturers apply a baked-on resin to linen to quell the wrinkling issue.

Some manufacturers age the linen , noting that older linens do not wrinkle as easily.


Sewing Tips:
  • Pre-wash your linen fabric as linen shrinks. Some treated linens claim to be pre-shrunk but why trust that?
  • Linen requires few special notions for sewing (universal needle gauged by the weight of the fabric) and polyester or cotton thread 
  • It is easy to cut with scissors or a rotary wheel
  • Linen fabrics show their weave and so finding the grain is easy.  
  • It can be tricky to keep track of the right side of the fabric, so use safety pins to mark the right side.
  • Do not use erasable pens to mark linen; it can be easily damaged by these and by colored chalk and wax. White chalk, pins, and clipping the fabric are good ways to mark linen.
  • Linen shows off every seam, curve, and detail, so it's perfect for patterns with interesting seams, shaping, and surface details, such as pintucks, stand-up collars, welt pockets, gussets, contour waistbands, stitched hems, and the like. 
  • When adding pleats or pintucks, make sure you are folding on the length-wise or cross-wise grain. 
  • Wear can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased during the laundering. Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily.
  • Top-stitching is common on linen garments, so you may have to tweak your sewing machine tension 
  • Finish seams by pinking the edges or binding them. Pinking is easiest for beginners. It is less time consuming than most methods and it is a classic finish.
  • Embroidery works well on linen fabric.

Ironing Your Linen Fabric:

  • Linen can develop a shine if ironed at too high a temperature, so use a press cloth as a buffer or iron on the wrong side of the fabric.
  • A hot iron can shrink linen fabric - so please, pre-wash that fabric.
  • Use a steam iron if possible. Linen presses easily with heat and moisture.
  • You can starch linens if you want to hold a shape on a small area, like a collar.


Linen weave is actually a plain weave, but it is usually considered to have some slubs, a common characteristic of linen yarn. There are also linen finishes (sizings, etc.) that can be applied to cotton to make it seem more linen-like.

Lawn  can be made from cotton or linen. It is a lightweight fabric that is suitable for dresses, dress shirts and other clothing

Butcher’s Linen Fabric was originally a heavy, sturdy linen fabric used for French butchers’ aprons. This type of heavy fabric was also used for interfacing.

Damask is a jacquard weave fabric. It has a reversable design woven into the fabric on jacquard looms. It can be made from many different fibers including linen.

Irish Linen  is a brand name. It must be made in Ireland in order to bear that name. Irish lawn (a fine plain weave linen) must also be made in Ireland to have "Irish" in front of the lawn.

Venise is a very fine damask table linen fabric consisting of large floral patterns. Venise linen is specially used for pillow covers, bed covers and table linens. It is very ornate, and very fine linen that dates back to the Italian aristocracy.


  1. Great post. I don't think I realized that linen could refer to the fabric or the weave.

  2. thank you for the precious info on linen. Personally I like linen for its organic look. And it's a rather "tough" fabric as compared to silk. Thanks for the ironing tip I didn't know that hot iron can shrink the fabric.


  3. I would have thought wool is older.

  4. Now that I think of it, you may be right. I should revise my post to read "linen is one of the oldest fabrics..."

    1. I looked it up on Wikipedia (good enough for these purposes), and apparently the oldest evidence for woven flax textiles is 30,000 years older than the evidence for woven wool! I never would have guessed!

      In retrospect, woven cloth from plant materials probably derived from basket-making. Wikipedia gives a more recent date for baskets than for the linen textile mentioned above, but I seem to recall much earlier baskets -- they're apparently older than clay pottery, and can even be used to boil water.

  5. Several pattern list linen as a material option, but I just haven;t gone with it. I had a linen suit once and it was hell to iron. The wrinkles were terrible.

  6. what an interesting article. i especially enjoyed the historical aspect at the top. thanks for the info. :)

    1. Thanks! I'm re-educating myself on all the fabrics when I research these posts.

  7. Silk is very old too. Linen, wool and silk are the oldest.

  8. I've always found linen to be very durable. It cost us a fortune but as big camping enthusiasts, we decided to use a nylon/linen blend for our tent. We've never regretted it.

  9. Since it gets softer with age, it is probably a great choice of thrift fabrics!

  10. One thing I've tried with fabrics that shift alot is to iron freezer paper onto the wrong side of the fabric before I cut it. It seems to help the grain stay put while you're cutting. I've done this with charmeuse, so I imagine it would work well for linen too. The other thing you could do is tack it down with pins to a cardboard or ironable (is that a word?) surface before you lay out the pattern pieces.

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  12. This is all really interesting. I've just bought some lovely red linen and since I've washed it the prong test won't help me identify the face side, but I've got a weavers eyeglass so I'm going to have a good look at the fibres and see if I can tell. I know what you mean about it creasing badly, but Id rather put up with the crumples for the comfort and texture of it as a natural fabric. I read somewhere that linen is the only fabric that when creased and crumpled is still considered chic!!

    1. I agree- linen looks fantastic and it ages nicely too. The wrinkles will smooth out over a few years. WHat a great recommendation for an undervalued fabric...Europeans seem to be more appreciative of linen than us North America

  13. I have some dress linen fabric and I do not know which is the right or wrong side. Does dress linen fabric need to be washed before cutting out my pattern?

    1. Yes! you have to wash and dry fabric the way you plan to wash it once the garment is made. All natural fibres shrink, including linen, and it is always better to be safe than sorry.



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