Hi there, friends!
This newest installment to my fabric substrate series has definitely been a long time coming (check out part 1 on Double Gauze or part 2 on Rayon Challis if you haven’t yet). I am so excited to finally be able to share more with all of you all about an incredible substrate that just keeps selling out whenever I get it in the shop.
Linen is an absolute classic for apparel sewing, and is particularly amazing for summertime apparel. Linen fabric is lightweight, crisp and soft at the same time and gets softer every time you wash it. Clothing sewn with linen whooshes (a technical term) lightly around you when you walk and always make you feel very chic and like the boho goddess you always knew you were meant to be, the one who is very good at adulting, and gets to go on lots of lovely vacations.
But before we go any farther, the first thing we should probably talk about is basic fabric types. All fabrics fit into one of two categories: woven or knit. This is dependent on how the fibers are combined to turn thread into fabric. When looked at up close, woven fabrics will have a cross hatch pattern to the threads, whereas knit fabrics are made up of a lot of little loops. These loops give knit fabric stretch (sometimes lots and sometimes just a little, but that is a topic for another post). The cross hatched threads of woven fabrics, can be thin or thick, and they can be woven tightly or loosely. These factors all play into the softness, drape, structure, opacity (or lack thereof) and overall end result of the fabric and of the sewing projects you will want to create with them.
Everything You Need to Know About Linen Fabric
How it is Made and What That Means for Your Sewing:
When you are shopping for linen fabric online, you can not feel it, like when you are fabric shopping in person, and that can be tricky. It is hard to know how thick, stiff, smooth or drapey a fabric is. One of the best clues to answer all these questions is by looking for the weight per square ounce.
This is a number I used to pretty much ignore. One day, though, I ordered some “lightweight” denim for the shop and was shocked by how truly lightweight it was! The denim used for most store bought jeans is around 12-14 ounces per square yard. The Chambray Union I have in the shop right now is only 3.3 ounces per square yard, and the Rustica Chambray is 5.1 ounces per square yard. How heavy the fabric is, whether it is chambray/ denim, jersey or linen depends on the size of the threads used to make the fabric as well as how tightly they are woven or knit together.
Linen fabric can be woven with thick or thin strings or fibers, and woven tightly or loosely. With thin fibers woven loosely, the linen will be around 3 ounces/ square yard. This fabric will be soft to the touch, cooler and flowier. With thicker fibers and a tight weave, linen will be around 7 ounces/ square yard. It will feel a bit rougher on the skin (but soften with each wash), less breathable and will hold its shape more. Any weight between will be somewhere on the spectrum of both how it is made and how it behaves.
White Essex Linen- you can clearly see the individual threads that are woven together. They are all a bit thick, but also a lit loosely woven. This linen is 5.6 ounces/square yard.
Indigo Limerick Linen - the threads are finer here, and woven more tightly. This linen is 3.52 ounces/ square yard.
The thing about linen that makes it so much more lovely than quilting cotton (#sorrynotsorry QC) is that it is made of Flax! Flax is a plant, and once it is a broken down (a process that involves bacteria, crushing between metal rollers, removing the other usable portions of the plant like linseed and removing the short, woody unusable portions of the plan) you are left with long soft fibers.
These long fibers add to both the softness of linen fabric and the strength of it. Linen fabric is stronger than cotton fabric, and is even stronger wet than dry. The reason we love that is because it means we do not need to feel guilty about machine washing our linen clothing instead of some laborious or expensive hand washing/ dry cleaning situation that none of us want to deal with.
The linen fibers also have a tendency to bend or even break, which causes the wrinkles that are so characteristic of linen fabric and clothing. So when we wear those amazing linen dresses, wrinkles and all, we are celebrating the natural characteristics of this classic fiber, friends! It has nothing to do with being too lazy iron. We are in this together!
Some linen fabrics are actually a blend of linen and other fiber types, usually cotton or rayon. These blends allow the fabric to exhibit the good characteristics of both fabric types. Cotton/ linen blends will be a bit more crisp, hold their shape and “stay still” making it easier to cut and sew with. Essex Linen is a cotton/ linen blend that comes in a huge variety of colors, weights and weaves types. Their metallic linens are particularly amazing and I try to keep them in the shop for all of you as often as possible. Rayon/linen blends will be smoother, flowier and softer, which will feel amazing in your handmade wardrobe, but can also be slipperier/ trickier to cut and sew with. I just ordered my first rayon/linen blends for the shop and I can not wait to share them with all of you in all of their amazing, beautiful, glory!
Projects it is Perfect for:
My number one favorite use of linen is for apparel sewing. Dresses, skirts and shirts for myself and for my children and even button down shirts for men! Linen is dressier than plain cotton or knit fabrics, so it is great for summer wedding attire or for any vacation where you want something light and cool to adventure in, but that also looks nice for dinners out and in all those family pictures. My sweet and amazing friend, Jill of Kneesocks and Goldilocks on Instagram is an incredibly source of inspiration for linen apparel sewing projects. And her beautiful photos are all also great inspiration for that chic, boho queen life we previously discussed that we would all love to be living.
The Cheyenne Tunic by Hey June Handmade is one of my favorite patterns to sew and to wear using linen. It is classic, comfortable, looks good with everything and I am always so proud of myself finishing all the perfect details. Her patterns are all so well drafted and well written that every time I sew one it is like taking a sewing class with an amazing teacher. I mean, seriously, look at these details!
I also love to use linen for home decor projects. It makes incredible curtains! Now, don’t get me wrong, these curtains are not going to keep all the light out, so maybe don’t choose linen for curtains in your kids’ room, but they will look crisp and clean and you can choose a color that brings exactly what that room needs! And nothing could be better for tea towels! Ooh, maybe I should write a little tea towel tutorial up in another post, so easy and fun to have some handmade beauty hanging in your kitchen.
Who Designs it, Who Makes it, Where Can I Get Me Some:
Because linen is almost always a solid, it does not really have “designers” like the quilting cottons, knits and rayons that came in such a wide variety of beautiful prints that we love, but it does have manufacturers and specific lines you can get to know and trust.
My number one love when it comes to linen (and denim/chambray actually) is Robert Kaufman Fabrics. They have a huge variety of lines, colors, weights and fiber blends, and I can always trust the extremely high quality of every fabric they produce.
Essex Linen, manufactured by Robert Kaufman, is a huge line with many linen variations that are all a blend of 55% linen and 45% cotton. They have great structure and are easy to cut and sew. Jill @kneesicksandgoldilocks sewed these gorgeous dresses for her youngest daughter using the Essex metallic linens and I am basically obsessed with how amazing they are.
Limerick Linen is another line manufactured by Robert Kaufman. It is 100% linen, a perfect weight for summer tops and dresses and is exactly the perfect, classic linen you picture when you think of linen apparel. Jill used Limerick Linen to sew the dresses for her daughter and herself that are in the image at the top of this post. I used Limerick Linen to sew my first ever Cheyenne Tunic and my incredible and incredibly talented friend Melissa of A Happy Stitch sewed this dress using Limerick Linen as well. It’s safe to say we are all obsessed.
The newest linen line from Robert Kaufman that I am getting in to the shop next week that I am so excited about is the Brussels Washer Linen. It is also a blend of 55% Linen and 45% rayon. It is soft, silky and comes in beautiful saturated colors and I can not wait to sew some amazing inspiration with it to share with all of you.
And obviously, yes! You can get you some from me! I have a whole section of my shop dedicated to the incredible substrate that is linen. I also offer presale of all fabrics to the members of my Facebook group exclusively, and some linens I have brought in recently have sold out there before I even get a chance to put them up for sale in my shop. If you want to be sure you get your hands on any of this incredible fabric as soon as I get it in stock and before it disappears, be sure to click that link to join my group, then hit the "Join Group" button.
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That is it, friends, all you need to know about linen! Please, let me know if you have any more questions and leave me a comment letting me know what other fabric substrates you are dying to learn more about!