Buyer's Guide, Understand Quality

Fabrics in Linen: what is essential to know

Linen, at the beginning, is this plant on the photo. It is cultivated either for its seeds, or for its fibres. With them, we do oils, insulators, compost, panels, coatings, … and fabrics. The linen sector made a lot of progress on fabrics. High fashion use them. It’s a material to rediscover.

What are the 12 qualities of linen?

Linen has many benefits, all are good reasons to make it popular.

  • a unique and incomparable touchfeel;
  • the fiber is very solid and resistant (more than cotton or wool);
  • it does not peel;
  • hypoallergenic;
  • breathing;
  • thermo-insulating (the fiber is hollow), it keeps rather warmer in winter, and rather cooler in summer;
  • it absorbs humidity;
  • it dries fast;
  • it is easy to weave, including with wool, cotton, or silk, to which it adds its specific qualities.
  • Rather resistant to heat and sun
  • its cultivation respects more the environment (demanding less water, fertilizers and pesticides than cotton; though, retting can be polluting).

The thermo-insulating caracteristic can surprise, since for many, linen is for summer. Personally, in winter, I prefer to work with a linen shirt or tunic (rather than linen), it keeps me warmer.

What are the 3 disadvantages of linen?

Linen has 3 major disadvantages:

  • its fibre is not elastic; thus, it creases, and can even break (what leads to remaining crinkles, even after ironing)
  • it is more expensive (than cotton); indeed, the manufacturing is longer, heavier; the spinning and weaving are slower;
  • it does not enable beautiful prints (vs silk, cotton, or poly).

What means a linen a high quality?

The linen fiber is in the stem, and we get it after several steps (retting, scutching, heckling, …). The final result is made of fibres with different lengths and thicknesses. Like often in textile, the most interesting and valued fibres are those which are long, thin, and steady. Namely because they will make a better yarn, that will be easier to use for weavers and knitters.

The unit is the Lea; it measures the length of the yarn, for a given wieght. The higher the number, the thiner and longer the yarn, and thus the quality.

The improvement of linen quality, during the last decade, is lining with better capabilities to sort the fibers. Thoese progresses enable now to even knit linen, so to make t-shirts oe sweaters in jersey (thus crease-knitting thanks to knitting), fleece, piqué / marcella, …

Which criteria to evaluate the quality of a linen fabric?

To touch is needed, clearly, and the fabric shall be smooth, soft, well dyed and without break (permanent crinkle).

Since eye can not measure the thickness of a yarn  …

A nice fabric in linen is weaved since a yarn made of thin and long fibres. Then, it will be soft. An excellent exemple? The linen shirts from Hermès.

Top quality linen will have a consistent and uniform weave, without little bulges. This said, if there are, the fabric is not necessarily of middle or low quality ; namely because man can consider that those irregularities are a part of the charm.

Lastly, since linen is not elastic, it can break (creating a permanent crinkle). The presence of “break” is to be looked after when purchasing.

Is a linen fabric more resistant or durables than one in cotton?

Not necessarily, it depends.

There are different qualities of linen and cotton, good ones and less good ones for each. If the linen fiber is more stronger than cotton, the spinning and weaving also matter a lot. A limit of linev, is that it can’t be weaved with high thread count. With finest linens, it’s possible to reach 60, up to 80 threads per cm2.  A good cotton fiber can be weavec at 150, up to 200, and such a cotton fabric lives long. Like the Denim Jeans, time ago, that were living a life. Further, the thickness, and finishing treatments will also play a role. So many variables …

Is it possible to make items in linen that get worn but don’t crinkle?

Yes, and I invite you to see it in my post about the linen belts that I started in spring 2019. I sold many of other, without any complaint, as of now

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