Your ultimate guide to linen

When it comes to sustainable fabrics, there are so many types, and they all have different sewing strengths. So how do you decide which one is best for your #memade garment? In our blog series, we will help you discover more about some of the more eco-friendly textiles on the market – covering all the details you need to create your very own masterpiece while being kind to the planet.
We’re now moving along to linen – the strong, sturdy fabric everyone has heard of, but you might not know how it’s made, how old it truly is, and why it’s one of the more sustainable fabrics on the market. Discover all that and more below.

Linen – the facts

What is Linen?

Linen is one of the oldest types of fabric available – and it’s stood the test of time for good reason. The material is made from the cellulose fibers inside flax plants, which grow in the ground and can be cultivated in almost any climate.

While linen is relatively easy to grow, it requires a lot of work to turn from the fiber into yarn and eventually fabric. For this reason, it can be more expensive than the likes of cotton. But the result is a material that is strong, durable, and is also light and cool on the skin.

A couple of fun facts about linen; as it’s made from flax plants, it’s technically a vegetable! And the material has been around since as far back as 36000 years ago. It was even used by the Egyptians to dress mummies in ancient times. With such ancient origins, linen has been the inspiration for other words in the English language including ‘line’ and ‘lining’. It’s certainly got a big history behind it!

Is linen eco-friendly?

Linen has a lot of great things going for it in the eco-friendly department – it’s biodegradable (when untreated by dyes) and recyclable, and it can be reused across multiple industries (even things like the car industry!). The flax plant can also be used for many products – including, for example, linseed oil – and the fibers are produced using very little energy.

Linen comes from flax plants that don’t need more than rainwater to grow, making the plants easy enough to cultivate. Because the fabric can absorb moisture without holding bacteria, it’s very durable and will last long after fast fashion items lose their shape and texture.

The thing to look out for with linen is how the dying process takes place, as well as the conditions of the workers where it is grown and turned into yarn. As this is a labor-intensive fiber, it’s important to be aware of where and how it was made.

One of the best ways to be sure your linen has been made by companies that are treating their workers with dignity and paying them appropriately is to look for both the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). This covers social responsibility when creating fabrics and make the process from plant growth through to fabric creation transparent. If you are concerned there are harmful substances used in the dying process, look for linen with the OKOE-TEX certificate. Find out more about these certifications here

Is linen more eco-friendly than cotton or lyocell?

Linen has properties that make it eco-friendly, but how does it compare to the classic cotton and the modern and innovative lyocell?

Firstly, with cotton, the water consumption involved in keeping a flax plant for linen is far lower than what is needed to grow the shrubs that produce cotton. If linen is cared for correctly, it will last longer than cotton – up to 30 years. This is why it’s often the chosen fabric for things like curtains, sheets, and upholstery.

Lyocell and linen are closer to one another in terms of their eco-friendly properties, and both have their pros and cons. While lyocell is designed to be as eco-friendly as possible from start to finish, it requires more water to grow the plants than linen. It’s also not as readily available, and it can be more expensive.

But lyocell (when it’s the official (TencelTM) from the Lenzing company) is eco-friendly, whereas with linen the standards for things like the production, and the making of the fiber can vary widely. Remember, linen is a fabric that has been around for centuries and it’s made all over the world.

Making your linen #memade garments

What are the benefits of sewing with linen?  

One of the reasons linen has continued to be popular for so long is its ability to last and fit a wide range of purposes. But the material itself is also great to wear; it’s soft and smooth to touch and gets softer the more times you wash it!

The material is very breathable, so if you’re wearing it in the summer months you won’t feel unnecessarily warm. The absorbent nature will remove any perspiration, and it will dry out much faster than the likes of cotton.

Linen falls along the body in a very flattering way and doesn’t damage easily. And it’s eco-friendly and natural qualities mean it can be worn by people with sensitive skin, such as young children or older people. Just be mindful of the dying process, choose a linen that is OKOE-TEX certified to make sure there weren’t any harmful substances used in this process.

What types of linen are there?

In general, lighter linens can be used for things like summery clothes. They will hang nicely and be very light on the skin. Midweight linens are more suited to items like trousers or suits, or evening wear as they provide more warmth.

Linen can also be blended with other materials to get the best of multiple fabrics. We offer linen blended with lyocell (TencelTM), bringing together the benefits of both. While lyocell offers a softer and more cotton-like feel, linen brings breathable and lightweight qualities to the table.

Another blend we have is linen with Sorona. Sorona is a yarn. In this fabric, it is combined with linen, viscose, cotton, and of course, Sorona. While the linen, viscose, and cotton make the fabric soft and stain-resistant, as well as very strong, the Sorona adds some stretchiness.

Is it easy to sew with linen?

As we mentioned, when you look after your linen well it will last for decades. If you’ve created a garment for evening wear or something like a suit, due to the structure it is better off dry cleaned. Otherwise, you can throw your linen into the washing machine with confidence!

Just make sure you wash it on a cold or lukewarm cycle – while linen can withstand high heat, it also shrinks, meaning a hot cycle is no ideal. Particularly if the color is dark, you should go with a cold cycle to keep that dye intact.

A mild detergent is also advised to ensure that the clothing is not exposed to any nasty chemicals during the washing cycle. And when it comes to drying your linen, we mentioned that it easily and quickly dries – so take advantage of this and particularly in the summer months, skip the dryer to hang it out! Doing so will minimize the possibility of shrinkage.

Finally, if you want to iron your linen, make sure it’s damp first – it will be very difficult otherwise. Use a high heat setting with lots of steam.

There are loads of inspiring pieces across the web made from linen – check out just some on our Pinterest board here.

Where can I buy linen?

We have a great range of linen in our online shop, and it’s all certified so you know you’re getting only eco-friendly options for your #memade garments. Check them out here and be inspired!

Happy Sewing! 

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