Linen fabric is an incredibly popular material in the dressmaking world in spite of its tendency to crease easily. It is a versatile fabric to work with as there is a multitude of different weights and textures for you to choose from, each suitable for different sewing projects. No matter whether you are dressing up for a formal event, corporate environment, or you are aiming for a more casual look - linen has the capability to work for every occasion and especially in the warmer months. Here at Fabrics Galore, we have put together this blog to highlight the characteristics of this material and the different types of linen you can typically use.
History of linen fabric
As one of the oldest textiles in the world, linen fabric has a very rich history, dating back over 30,000 years ago in the modern Republic of Georgia, where flax fibres were found in caves. There is also evidence that linen was mass produced in Egypt over 4,000 years ago, and this process eventually made its way to Europe in later centuries. Throughout history, it has consistently been used for outer clothing, undergarments as well as bedding, and still enjoys huge popularity throughout the sewing community and fashion industry.
How is flax used in linen fabric?
Flax is a plant-based fibre, extracted from the woody stem of the flax plant, which was thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe. Linen is known for its exceptional properties as a material, especially when creating garments for the summer months, and flax is the reason for its high natural absorbency and quick-drying characteristics. Flax is an annual plant and only grows in certain regions, where the manufacturing process is laborious due to the inelastic nature of the fibre which makes it difficult to weave. As a fibre, flax is composed of 70% cellulose, which gives the fibre its ability to create absorbent and breathable garments, so it is no surprise that this ancient and useful fibre is still in huge demand in spite of the high manufacturing costs.
What are the properties of linen fabric?
As we have already mentioned, linen has excellent absorbency and quick-drying characteristics, just to name a few sought-after traits, but what other properties does linen have?
Compared to other fabrics such as cotton, linen is incredibly resilient and is known for being very robust as a material. As the fabric is made from the flax plant, this is the world’s strongest fibre which explains its incredible long-lasting ability. It can withstand frequent, vigorous washing at hot temperatures, even becoming softer and more pleasant to the skin over time. The natural durability of the material makes linen a smart investment which can last a lifetime.
Especially in summer, one of the key aims is feeling comfortable in your clothes. Linen is the best material choice for these warmer months, as its good moisture absorbency properties mean that perspiration is readily and quickly absorbed. Linen fabric allows air to circulate freely and removes moisture that builds up, wicking it away from the body. Combined with the smoothness of the fabric, you are guaranteed to be feeling comfortable all year round and certainly in the warmer summer months. Linen fabric is actually known to have a light massaging effect, and is even known to have a distinct, distinguished texture and delightful softness.
The reason that linen fabric is cool for the wearer is that it is highly breathable. This is because it has a lower thread count than cotton which is why it is preferable in warmer climates. This highly absorbent material removes moisture from the body while not sticking to the skin at all.
Although you need to make sure the fabric is cared for properly, this can be done in a very simple manner. Linen is a very sturdy and durable material, so you do not need to need to worry about care of your garments, as you can safely hand wash and machine wash linen at 40 degrees centigrade without shrinking the fabric. Consider using lower temperatures such as 30 degrees on bright coloured linens or higher temperatures up to 60 degrees on white linen fabrics.
What are the different types of linen fabric?
When it comes to selecting your fabric, there is a whole array of different weights and textures for you to choose from, and it depends entirely on your intended use. Here are a few of the most common types:
Damask linen fabric
With a smooth texture and reversible pattern, this type of linen fabric is woven on a jacquard loom. It is often the go-to choice for furnishing projects, such as tablecloths, napkins, table runners, placemats and other household goods. If you are looking for the perfect fabric for your next furnishing project, this really is an excellent choice.
Sheeting linen fabric
If you are looking to make bedsheets, you need a sturdy fabric, which is when sheeting linen fabric is the most suitable option. It is highly durable and machine washable, coming in widths large enough for bed sheets and available in a wide variety of different colours. Although mostly used for sheets, this type of fabric is also perfect for linings, tablecloths, tents and any other larger projects.
Blended linen fabric
Browse our beautiful linen dressmaking fabrics
For a dressmaking project, blended linen is a softer alternative to the traditional, crisp linen fabrics and reduces the creasing associated with 100% linen. Depending on the blended linen you choose, the characteristics of the material will help you acquire additional properties in your garment. For example, if you decide to use a linen/cotton blend, this will help keep the fullness of the material and reduce the wrinkles. A linen viscose blend will provide a better drape than 100% linen, whereas a linen silk blend provides a smoother, shinier finish to your garment and is popular for smart suits and dresses.
Suiting linen fabric comes in a variety of weaves and is a strong, absorbent medium-weight textile ideal for use in summer linen suits. It should be noted that it does crease easily but it is very comfortable to wear and creates a less formal, yet sophisticated look, popular in Mediterranean countries.
Is Linen Better for the Environment?
The cultivation of the flax plant to produce linen fabric uses less resources such as water than other plants like cotton and in addition, the entire flax plant is used so it leaves no environmental footprint behind. If you choose bio-washed linen, the environmental impact is reduced further as the material is washed in bio enzymes rather than chemicals which also enhances the softness of the fabric.
Linen is also 100% biodegradable if you choose 100% linen fabric and if you want to go even further with linen’s environmental credentials, then choose organic linen which means that the flax plant is grown without any chemicals and using crop rotation to preserve the farmland’s bio-diversity.
What is the Difference Between Linen, Ramie and Linen Handle Fabric?
Fabrics Galore range of high quality linen handle fabric
Linen fabric, originating from the flax plant, is renowned for its durability, breathability, and natural sheen. It's a go-to fabric for warm climates due to its ability to wick away moisture.
On the other hand, Ramie fabric, derived from the Boehmeria nivea plant from the nettle family, is even more absorbent than linen and highly resistant to bacteria and mildew. It's often blended with other fibres such as cotton to enhance its natural shine and strength.
Lastly, linen handle fabric isn't a separate type of fabric, but rather refers to other fabrics that have been treated or woven in a way that gives them the appearance and feel of linen. So, when you see 'linen handle', think of it as a fabric that mimics the properties of linen, without necessarily being made from the flax plant.
Linen handle fabric can be made from a variety of different materials, including cotton, ramie, polyester, rayon, or a blend of these. The key is in the treatment and weaving of these fabrics to mimic the unique texture and feel of linen. For instance, cotton can be woven in a certain way to give it that characteristic 'slubby' texture of linen. Similarly, synthetic fibres like polyester can be treated to have a more natural, rough texture similar to linen. So, the term 'linen handle' is more about the feel and look of the fabric, rather than its actual composition.