Choosing Fabric: Linen
Choosing fabric for clothes can be an intimidating and confusing process.
This Choosing Fabric series aims to demystify the types of fabric you will likely come across in the shops, and make helpful suggestions on what to use for your intended project.
What is linen?
Linen is one of the world's oldest textiles. The fabric is thought to date back to 8000 BCE, and perhaps even further. The below example of linen was recovered at Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea – likely a scroll jar cover from the first century BCE.
In its purest form, linen is woven from flax. Modern "linen-look" fabrics usually consist of cotton or hemp fibres.
How does it feel?
Linen is smooth and cool to the touch, thanks to the properties of flax. The flax fibre is hollow, meaning that textiles woven from it are highly absorbent and breathable.
The weave of linen is usually visible, often with little "slubs" of thicker thread giving it its characteristic texture.
What is it good for?
Linen is ubiquitous as both a garment and household textile. Blouses sew up beautifully in lightweight linens, while heavier linens are best for dresses and jackets that require a bit more structure.
What isn't it good for?
Note that linen is typically a warm weather fabric, so it won't lend itself well to wintery get up. Rather stick with blouses, skirts, dresses and lightweight summer jackets.
Also be aware that linen creases like crazy. So think twice about those beautiful linen trousers if you're not that keen on ironing.
What is it like to work with?
Linen is great for beginners to work with as it's not slippery or stretchy.
The main things to bear in mind when sewing with linen is fraying and shrinkage. Handle your cut edges gently to reduce fraying, or better yet, finish them with an overlock or zig zag stitch. And always pre-wash your linen. There's nothing worse than a perfect garment shrunk in the first wash.
What if I can't find linen?
Hemp has a similar look to linen as well as being as cool and breathable – although sadly, just as crease-prone! So although linen is widely stocked, if you're looking for an alternative, hemp will be your best bet.