Yesterday's post drew some interesting comments so I decided that I would write a little something about my love of linen.
I have two fabrics that will always be in my fabric collection, wool crepe and linen...guess that covers the seasons! *smile* But I love linen for several reasons:
1. It can make an amazing tailored garment or it can make an amazing relaxed fun weekend outfit.
2. The fabric takes dye well so you can get linen in brilliant and bright colors or soft and shaded pastels. It is also available in prints, plaids and embroidered.
3. It is cool to wear, doesn't hold body heat and is absorbent.
4. The only downside to linen is that it wrinkles...horribly...if underlinings and/or linings are not added to it to support the fabric.
I have used linen in both tailored garments and in more relaxed wear. Pretreatment of the fabric depends on what the end garment will be. If I am making a tailored suit, I will typically wash & dry the fabric once, removing the fabric from the dryer slightly damp, so that the pressing process is not as onerous.
If I am making a more relaxed, casual outfit the linen will be washed and dried at least 3x...yes 3 times! This is to remove all sizing from the fabric and to totally relax the fibers so that the wrinkle factor will be minimal in the finished garment. All of this washing also changes the hand of the fabric so a fabric that once was stiff and unyielding now becomes pliable and drapable.
Now why don't I wash linen 3x for a tailored garment...well that's because I add more support and understructure to the garment, so the initial wash and dry is to remove extra sizing and to prevent shrinkage.
When making a garment from linen I realize that the linen is going to wrinkle...I just decide how much wrinkling I can live with...i.e. Do I want to underline a pair of pants with silk organza and then line them or can I deal with the wrinkle factor? Do I want the arms to crease in a jacket from my movements or do I want to underline and line? Is the dress or skirt for a more relaxed casual occasion? If so, then I pretreat the heck out of it, construct it without the underpinnings and wear it knowing that some wrinkling may occur but not much. These are decisions that you need to make when you are deciding what to do with the linen you have purchased.
Now I know many people can't stand linen's wrinkling properties...I personally think that's what gives it character...but if you don't like the wrinkles there are blends available. However, to minimize the wrinkling pick a piece with a synthetic blend rather than another natural fiber. A linen/cotton blend wrinkles and shrinks...a linen/rayon blend wrinkles just not as much as an 100% linen, and a linen/silk blend while it has a wonderful sheen and doesn't shrink as much will wrinkle without underpinnings.
During construction of a linen garment there are several things to consider...
Linen fibers relax from your body's natural heat...so this should be taken into consideration when making a garment. There are several areas that can be extremely affected by this...the neckline and shoulder seams in a top/dress/jacket...the seat in pants, skirt, dress...the knees in pants...and the waistline in any bottom piece.
If you are making an unlined garment you can solve some of "the growing issues" by taping the seams, adding twill tape or stay tape to shoulder seams and waistbands...necklines can get a bias binding and stay stitching....and to prevent saggy butts and knees you can add a full or half lining to the pieces. To prevent deep arm creases in long sleeves, a lining and/or silk organza underlining will need to be included during the construction process.
I always use a new sewing machine needle, a shorter stitch length and a better quality thread when sewing linen. And even though linen can take some heat, I make sure to use my silk organza pressing cloth when pressing seams open.
There are three fantastic books on sewing with linen fabric:
1. Linen and Cotton Classic Sewing Techniques for Great Results
by Susan Khalje - published by Taunton Press
This book tells you how to sew each garment type, how to get the best results and decorative tips. It is a wonderful step-by-step guide that I believe should be in every sewist's library.
2. Fabric Savvy - The Essential Guide for Every Sewer
by Sandra Betzina - published by Taunton Press
3. More Fabric Savvy - A Quick Resource Guide to Selecting and Sewing Fabric
by Sandra Betzina - published by Taunton Press
Both of these books are fabric encyclopedias telling you what needle to use, what stitch size, sewing machine foot and pretreatment method for almost every fabric/fiber under the sun. Again must haves for your sewing library!
Finally Threads has a couple of articles that I think you would find useful:
*Issue #65 (June/July 1996) has an article by Susan Khalje called "Easy & Elegant Linen"
*Issue #52 (April/May 1994) has an article by Patricia Moyes called "The Working Woman's Linen Jacket."
I love working with linen because it can be made into a variety of garments...it can fit your lifestyle no matter what it is...and because it is easy to work with...sews up like a dream...and can make your finished garment look like a million bucks.
Again, this is what I know...but if anyone has anything to share or if I've left anything out, please feel free to comment on it! And I hope that everyone will look at linen in a different light and be willing to sew with it a little more often!