You may have heard, especially if you’re new to weaving, that working with linen can be challenging. This shouldn’t put you off from trying this ancient fiber! We’ll discuss some tips for working with linen to get the best results possible. We’ll also take a look at the different types of linen: tow linen and long-staple linen, and we’ll call out fine French linen – which is what we sell from Maurice Brassard.
What is linen and why is it a challenge to work with?
Linen is one of the oldest fabrics in the world. It is a natural bast fiber that comes from the stalk of the flax plant. Separating the fine fibers from the rest of the flax plant is a tedious and painstaking process, but the fiber’s fine attributes are so desirable that it remains in production after thousands of years. Some of its positive characteristics are that it is strong, absorbs moisture well, and dries quickly. Linen fabric is cool to the touch, has a lustrous sheen, and is hard wearing.
A number of unique properties of linen fiber can make it challenging to work with. It lacks elasticity and is also prone to shrinking and stretching, so needs a little more care than some other materials. If overworked, it can easily break. The finished fabric is susceptible to wrinkling and creasing and often requires ironing.
Types of Linen
There are two main types of linen – tow-linen and long-staple linen. The type you choose will depend on your needs and preferences. Here we’ll take a look at the differences between tow-linen and long-staple linen, and discuss which one might be right for you.
Tow-linen is made from short, coarse fibers that are extracted from the flax plant. As a result, tow-linen is less expensive than long-staple linen and it has a rougher texture. Tow-linen is best suited for projects that require durability – like upholstery or tablecloths. It’s also good for making bags or other items that need to be strong and sturdy.
Long-staple linen, also known as line linen, is made from longer, finer fibers that are extracted from the flax plant. As a result, it is more expensive than tow-linen and has a smoother texture. Long-staple linen is best used when you want a high-quality finish and is ideally suited to projects like table runners or transparencies.
French Linen – What makes it different from other types of linen?
French linen is made from the longest, finest fibers. Flax grown in France, where the climate is ideal for flax production, is renowned for its long, fine staples that can be tightly twisted into thread that makes strong, drapable fabric. It is more expensive than tow-linen and has a smoother texture and higher sheen. French linen is well suited for projects that require precision and delicacy – like lace or fine embroidery.
French Linen has a long history dating back to the 17th century. It was first used by the French aristocracy for high-end projects like lace and fine embroidery. Over time, French linen has become known for its quality and durability, making it a favorite among crafters and sewers all over the world. Today, there are many different types of French linen available, each with its own set of quirks.
3 Tips for working with linen successfully
When it comes to working with linen, the key is to take your time and be careful. Even though it is such a strong fiber, linen can be easily damaged due to its lack of elasticity. Here’s a list of several things you can do to minimize the chance of breakage during your weaving.
1. Moisture is your friend
Avoid hot and dry conditions when working with linen – this includes things like setting your loom near furnaces, vents, fireplaces, or in direct sunlight. Linen is significantly stronger when wet. Since it tends to break more easily when it is dry, your project will go more smoothly if you keep the fiber moist while working with it. Is your workspace dry? You might add a humidifier.
Options to keep moisture directly on your warp include using a mist sprayer filled with water to moisten the warp behind the heddles. A less messy option is to lay a damp cloth for a short period of time on the warp behind the heddles. The moisture from the cloth will absorb into the linen, after which you can remove the cloth and weave. Repeat the procedure as you continue to advance the warp.
You may want to keep that spray bottle or damp cloth handy if you find you need to leave your project – as mentioned before, linen dries quickly, so you may need to apply the dampening methods above before you continue working on the project. Some people run their weft thread over a damp cloth as they wind the shuttle, winding only enough weft for one day’s worth of weaving. Remember, dryness equals brittleness in linen.
2. Tension and the Beat
It is best to warp back to front in order to keep a tight, even tension on the warp. The warp should be fairly tight to keep those linen threads in check. You’ll also want to avoid advancing too much at once – keep the warp short where you’re beating. Linen responds well to an even beat. Approach your project when you’re relaxed, get into a rhythmic mode, and you’ll find your linen works with you. If you feel frustrated or rushed, your linen can get kinky and uncooperative.
3. Caring for linen
Once your fabric is complete, wet finishing is recommended as it will produce a softer end product. Linen works well in cold temperatures and can tolerate up to 300° F. Higher temperatures may cause discoloration. While you can wash the fabric in a household machine using warm water and regular laundry detergent, you should not wring the cloth out or spin in the machine, as that can cause permanent wrinkling. The fabric should be hung to dry and cold pressed or cold mangled when still damp to complete the finishing process.
Give it a Whirl
Try our techniques above to work through a linen project. Apply moisture judiciously, stay away from heat sources, and approach your linen when you’re calm, cool and collected. You’ll create heirloom-quality products and be able to say you’ve tamed the beast!
We offer a selection of fine French linen by Maurice Brassard here in our shop. It’s put up in half-pound spools containing 1,850 yards of 9/2 linen that weaves beautifully at 22 to 24 ends per inch. The spools gleam with this lustrous fiber. Drop by to check out all 14 vibrant and deep colors, or visit our selection online!