At the beginning, this is this plant (flax). It is cultivated either for its seeds, or for its fibers. With it, we get oils, insulators, compost, coatings, …. and fabrics.
The linen has many advantages, and many good reasons to be popular:
- a unique, incomparable touch-feel;
- it’s very solid, durable fiber (more than wool or cotton);
- it is lint free;
- thermo-regulating (hollow fiber), it helps to feel warmer in winter, and cooler in summer;
- moisture absorbent;
- dries rather fast;
- easy to weave with wool, cotton or silk, to which it adds its own qualities;
- Rather resistant to warmth, sun;
- Its culture rather respects the environment (demanding less water, pesticides and fertilizers than cotton; retting can be polluting);
The linen has 3 main drawbacks:
- its fiber is not elastic, and thus, the fabric is wrinkles and creases more easily; it can also break (what generates permanent wrinkles);
- it is more expensive (than cotton), because its production is heavier, longer; spinning and weaving are slower;
- it does not enable nice prints, like silk or cotton.
What is quality linen?
The fiber is in the stalk of the flax, is obtained after several steps (retting, ginning, crushing, threshing, hackling). The final result is made of irregular fibers, with various thicknesses and lenghts. As often for textile, the most valued and interesting fibers are those which are longer, thiner, and more uniform. Namely because they will make a yarn of better quality, which will be better used by weavers.
The unit for linen is Lea. It measures the yarn length for a given weight. The higher this number, the thiner the yarn, and then the better the quality.
The improvement of the linen fabrics, during the last years, is mainly linked witht the ability of sort fibers. Those improvements even enable now to weave sweaters or tee-shirts in jersey (thus almost crease free thanks to weaving), fleece, etc.
Which criteria to evaluate the quality of a fabric in linen? That it is smooth, soft, well dyed, and with broken fibers (permanent wrinkle).
Since the human eye is not able to measure the width of such a fiber ….
The nicest linen fabrics are weaved with uniform, thin, ande long fibers. What will make a smooth and soft fabric. A very good example is a shirt in linen from Hermès.
The premium linen fabrics will have a consistent yarn and weave, without slubs. Though, if the slubs are present, that shall not mean that the quality is average or low, since they are a part of linen charm, and could be there just to confirm that the fabric is really in linen.
It’s also important to check that there is no permanent wrinkle (which can happen if folded in same position for a too long time). What can also have happened to the bolt.
Is the fabric in linen stronger or more resistant than a fabric in cotton? Not really, it depends
There are different qualities of linen, and of cottons. Good ones and less good ones. If the linen fiber is more solid than the cotton fiber, the spinning and the weaving do matter. A limit of the linen is that it can’t be densely weaved, ie with a high thread count (60 to 80 threads max per square cm). A cotton can be weaved with 150, even 200, and such a fabric, even thin, will last a while. The Denim jeans of the past (in cotton) could last a lifetime. Lastly, between the price, the thickness, the quality, the finishing and chemical coatings, ….
Hoping this will be useful