Linen

Linen (Courtesy of emmaonesock.com)Description : Linen fabric is made from the fibre of the flax plant. It is a stable, woven fabric that is highly absorbent of moisture - however, linen also dries quickly. It has the property of being cool and fresh in hot weather, due to its high heat conductivity. Linen is two to three times stronger than cotton fabric. The rough texture of linen is due to its cross-sectional shape, which consists of multiple polygons. However, linen has a smooth surface and therefore picks up little or no lint. It gets softer with washing. It also has a relatively high luster. It resists dirt and stains, as well as moths. Linen tends to wrinkle, however, due to its low elasticity. Furthermore, under repeated creasing, the fibres will break. Nonetheless, like cotton, linen is a good choice for beginner sewers to work with. It is more expensive, however, than many other fabrics, due to the cost of extracting the long fibres from the flax plant. The term "linen weave" is also applied to other fabrics composed of loosely woven fibres, although the term "linen" is generally only used with fabrics made from the flax fibre. Good quality linen feels smooth, firm, cool and supple.
Field of Flax (Courtesy of WikiMediaCommons)Fabrication : The fibres are extracted from the stalks of the flax plant. To extract the longest possible fibres, the plants are harvested by hand, which explains the high cost of linen. The fibres can range in length from about 25 cm. to 150 cm. As for cotton, the seeds must then be removed. The woody part of the stem must also be removed. Following this, the fibre is then either spun into yarn, or woven together to form the fabric directly.
Subtypes : Cottonized linen results when the flax is processed using the standard machinery used in handling cotton. This results in a cheaper product, but the result no longer looks like linen.
Dyes, color treatment and washing characteristics : Linen holds color well, and it can be washed at relatively high temperatures without losing its color or structure - however, colors will fade over time at fold lines and edges. Some types of linen may require dry cleaning (especially for garments such as suits, pants, and dresses made of heavier weight linen), but most can be washed directly, although the linen may lose some of its crispness with washing. Linen will shrink, however, and hence should be washed and pre-shrunk before sewing commences.
Linen drape (Courtesy of emmaonesock.com)Draping properties : Drape varies with the type of linen, but tends to be moderate to low - that is, the cloth does not drop vertically well, it tends to hold its own shape. However, it's shear tends to be high, that is, it tends to distort under strain. A high shear means the fabric can be tailored more readily, that is, coaxed into designed shapes. Linen's ability to stretch is relatively low for most linens, however. Linen comes in a range of weights, from light to heavy, depending on the fabric weave or knit.
Cutting properties : Mark the right side of the fabric on all pieces to be cut out. Don't mark with wax, colored chalk or temporary marking pens, as these may stain the fabric permanently. Small safety pins may provide a good marking alternative.
Sewing challenges : In general, linen will need to be moistened when being ironed or pressed, otherwise it won't hold a fold. However, once a fold has been obtained, it will be difficult to press it out afterwards. Furthermore, it tends to fray and hence will need to be finished by serging or with a zigzag stitch, or via a French or flatfelled seam. It has little stretch and hence resist the introduction of ease. Seam slippage may be a problem - you will need to hold the fabric firmly as it is fed to the feed dogs to be sure this does not occur. You may need to "help" the machine needle get through several layers of fabric, for example, by rubbing the seam with soap so as to lubricate the needle, or hammer the multilayered fabric through a cloth to soften the fibres. Seams can be flattened by topstitching them. You may need to reduce the ease slightly for some long seams (such as at the sleeve cap). Underlining the garment will help reduce wrinkling. Suitable lining fabrics include silk, rayon, acetate and polyester.
Example creations : Green Japanese dress, Princess dress, Fisherman's lounge pants, Green linen suit, Dirndl dress,
Flax plant (Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)Uses worldwide : Flax fibre is also used to make certains kinds of damask as well as standard linen cloth. Linens are a choice garment for underwear, including undershirts, chemises and lingerie, and has been used traditionally for detachable shirt collars and cuffs. It is also used in bed and bath fabrics, and for many industrial products. It is also widely used in garments of all types (suits, dresses, shirts, pants, jackets, etc.).
Origins and history : Believed to be the earliest fibre used by humans. Flax is reported to have been used by Swiss lake dwellers around 8000 B.C., was domesticated by about 5500 B.C. in what is today Iraq. Egyptian linen fragments have been dated to 4500 B.C. and a ceremonial hat made out of linen has been dated to 6500 B.C. in Israel. Indeed, hats appear to be the earliest known use of fibre-based fabrics.
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