Working With (And Against) Linen

It’s summertime here, so I’m sewing with linen.   I could see most of my clothes becoming linen.  Not so much an alchemical transformation of cotton to linen- just continually sewing with it, it’s my favorite fiber.  A good quality linen is literally cool to the touch when you lay your palm on it.  That’s a quick way of sensing the difference between linen and cotton in the fabric store.

I enjoy reading “basic” guides to anything to do with sewing.  This week, I found an excellent article on linen at Threads online.  The article covers its care and properties, how to sew with it, and techniques peculiar to linen.  Almost immediately, the article pointed out one of linen’s loveliest characteristics: “…old, soft linens wrinkle less obviously than new, crisp ones…”

This is true.  Remember my Blueberry Parfait?  I scarcely took her off last summer. She is perfect for “mommy in public on obscenely hot days” activities.  I wear a loose sun jacket, as well.

I wore this dress two days running during my staycation.  This is the end of the second day.  I ran errands, lounged, drafted, sewed, went for walks and all but slept in this dress.  Aside from a seam on the shoulder that needs mending, the dress is in better condition than when I made it 15 months ago.  Linen ages beautifully.

Pockets from the Oliver + S Ice Cream Social Dress

Here’s four pockets from my most recent linen excursion.  When I make a garment from linen, I tend to fuss and obsess more than usual because I know I’ll wear it for years.  I made the piped pockets first and tried to talk myself into accepting them.  I just couldn’t, they’re icky and too heavy.  The second set will do nicely.

Lesson: Armoweft = Not awesome interfacing behind linen patch pockets.  It’s too drapey and heavy.  I needed crisp and light, but sometimes I can’t know for sure until I try.  The second set were interfaced with a lightweight fusible cotton woven, and I didn’t get fancy with offset grainlines and piping.  I must remember to Keep It Simple.

Do you sew with linen?  Would you like to?  Do you ever completely write off a part of a garment?  What do you do with the rejected pieces?


47 comments

  1. It’s a great dress on you! I’d wear into the ground!
    I have only sewn with a linen a few times. It’s actually nice stuff to work with. Come to think of it, I should do it more! :-)

  2. I am in love with linen too – it’s amazing stuff. I don’t think I’ve sewn with it yet….but I did just cut a dress which was going to be a ‘test’….or wearable muslin. It’s a bit big in the bust and shoulders as most things are on me. I’m hoping I can take it in enough to be wearable still as it’s the most perfect shade of green. And it it will be excellent for summer….You know, I love how linen softens with age….
    Which brings me to another dress – it’s OLD – the brand is Young by Puritan from the 50′s…its white linen embroidered with blue and green flowers. It’s literally falling apart – the fabric is pulling at the darts and it’s so so soft from who knows how many washes. It fits like an absolute dream, like it really was made for me. I know I should take it apart to make a pattern from it but I just can’t bear it yet.
    Linen is definitely one of my favourite fabrics! Nothing is better for summer and it’s so versatile :-)

  3. I made a replica of a 1890s walking outfit out of linen. My first attempt at such a thing. And for a beginner, it looks awesome. I was disappointed at how easy they thing wrinkled. Good to hear that it will get better with age!

    • Age, wear, and washing… I tend to wash my lengths of linen several times with like colored clothes… It “wears in” the fabric beautifully and I don’t have to worry about shrinkage etc.

  4. My Ceylon blouse is made of wool and linen. It hasn’t been washed enough to soften the linen yet, though. I’d sew with it more but it’s generally very expensive around here and doesn’t often make it to the big sales and bargain bins I usually scrounge. ;)

    I do have a couple of metres in stash, earmarked for a shirt for the hubs. I really should get to that one of these days…

    • I never tried wool and linen, and only timidly venture forth into wool… Must be the extremes of our climates. :) Australia has more sheep than people, but just TRY to find any decent wool around here..

      I made mine a few linen shirts… He loves them for tromping through the forest and fishing… Keeps the mosquitoes off without resorting to nasty chemicals.

  5. I adore linen! Last summer made a linen sundress lined with cotton batiste for an outdoor luncheon. Perfect! I was well-dressed, yet still cool and comfy. I’ve yet to make linen pants though. I suppose you’d have to find a bit heavier weight?

    • I don’t think so… I often use a medium weight for bottoms and dresses… A heavier weight would last longer I should think, and take longer to wear in.

  6. I bought a few pieces of linen (and some linen/rayon blend) when it was on sale (as Tanit-Isis says, it’s a rare thing and still a bit of an investment for me) but I haven’t yet cut into it. I have washed them 2 or 3 times, I read multiple washings was good to get it to that softer state sooner. Here’s hoping. Like Tanit-Isis, one day some of it will be a shirt for my husband, and some will be work appropriate dress for me. One of the offices I work at is really inconsistent with the AC, it’s always good to dress cool and bring a sweater.

    • It’s not the cheapest fabric here, but more often than not it’s just the best value for money given what’s available. Multiple washings DO help, that’s what I do. :)

  7. I haven’t made clothing with it yet, although I’m gearing up to make a pair of 1930′s pants: http://vintagepatterns.wikia.com/wiki/Pictorial_Review_6036 … I hope linen will be a good fabric choice? I also have an interesting black textured linen I purchased gosh, 6 years ago now, that I plan on making into a straight skirt with button detail on the front side.

    I have, however, made a ring sling shortly before Lily was born using a lovely black linen. It was very crisp at first and a dream to sew and after a few washes and use – it turned into an absolutely lovely, soft and comfortable fabric. I just recently traded the sling (as Lily is too heavy to carry in it…and I traded for a steam mop!) and the mother I traded it too couldn’t stop raving about just how much she loved the feel of it. I have some of the fabric left over, that I hope will be enough for the pants mentioned above.

    • Ooooh what cute trousers!! They’ll be great for it, I have several pairs of pants made from linen along similar lines. They’re the most comfortable summer wear I can think of.

      I loooove textured linen.

      Trading is fantastic, that sling sounds just lovely. For a steam mop? How does that work? I wondered if they’re as amazing as they look, or if they don’t stand up to hard work?

  8. I sew with linen all the time! I *love* it. But I’ve been sewing with linen blends and faux linen… then I got my hands on some of the real deal for a church project (we are making a replica of the Tabernacle, I’m making the priests’ white robes).

    HEAVEN. So lovely to sew. The draping. The feel the… ahhhhh. I’m definitely going to have to get some of the good stuff for myself – soon.

    • Hehhee. I know what you mean about draping- the way it moves… I notice that Hemp and Linen move in the same way… I have to wonder if it’s because they’re both bast fibers. New hemp and linen garments almost “tremble” with every breathe I take, though that seems to relax over time.

  9. With cotton linen is my favorite fabric for summer too … I would even say that wrinkles make it more interesting, the only disappointment I have with these two tissues is that the colors quickly disappear into them when washing them several times.

    • I have been know to re-dye linen clothes.. The black clothes, mostly, I don’t mind the faded look for other colors. You are right, though, the color relaxes as the fibers themselves do.

  10. While I do have some linen in my stash, most of it is actually a linen/cotton blend. Partly because of the expense, but mostly because all the REAL linen I find is in colours I could never wear, while the cotton blend is in colors that I can and do wear all the time. Very very frustrating – I’d rather shell out more for fewer items in the good stuff, knowing it would weather and last better.

    How wonderful would it be to find a way to instantly transform existing items into linen though?

    • Linen cotton blends can be quite delicious, too. :) I have a few mixed into my wardrobe and honestly I’d be hard pressed to tell you which separates are pure linen and which are blended with cotton.

      What colors do you wear as a rule? Are you warm or cool complexioned? I might be able to point you to a better source.

      I rather like the idea of somehow being able to change my clothes into other fiber contents at will… ;)

  11. I love linen – my favourite skirts are of linen, and I have tonnes in my stash. I’m fortunate that I can often get it quite inexpensively here. I also love ramie, though it’s more difficult to find. It has many of the same properties, but it’s just so cool it’s made out of nettle. :)

    • Yes! Where do you get your ramie/nettle??? I’ve been scouring the internets and all I can find are articles about how awesome ramie is, yet I can’t get my hands on ANY! Rarr! I’m interested to see how wearing the cloth aligns with the hype…

      “Here” is where?

      • Here is Vancouver, BC. There’s a store called “Atex” or “Designer Fabrics” that sells designer offcuts, where I get my linens now (It’s a bit of a hidden treasure because it’s in a not-so-good area of town.). They’re between $5 and $10/metre, and I scored a couple novelty printed ones that were ~$5 a metre (vintage ladies holding umbrellas!!). There’s also a place called “Dressew” that has amazing stuff. I’ve found ramie there, and while thrifting. If I find more, I’ll keep you in mind. :) All I have left is a coarse rusty orange, that I have more plans for.

        Dressew is a bit hit-or-miss. They have all sorts of vintage trims and weird items, and it’s so easy to get lost in the store. To find ramie, you have to look at everything, which is a bit intimidating…

  12. I’m a pretty new sewer and had no idea linen aged well and became less wrinkly. I have purposely never used it because of the wrinkles but thanks to your post I will need to get some…I want to make a light summery and airy jumpsuit.

  13. I have sewn with linen. It was a pleasant experience, but I really don’t like it. It was the perfect fabric to wear in the subtropics, but I doubt it will figure much in my Hobart wardrobe. As for abandoning parts of a pattern, I do it all the time! If I’ve already cut them out and I abandon them during construction, they live on my sewing table – sometimes for months because I feel guilty – and get used as a coaster for my tea, for testing stitches or cleaning the dusty mess that gathers all over my sewing table. Once I even used an abandoned sleeve to clean up snake wee.

  14. I like linen and especially a linen/rayon blend. I only wish linens kept that “sheen” from when they are new–it’s so lovely. Linen pants are the best in Austin. I have four pairs and barely took them off this summer.

    • MMmmmm…. Linen pants. I think I know what you mean by the “sheen”…. Hemp wears a lot like linen, definitely improves with age, and has a gentle “glow” that comes out over time, especially certain colors.

  15. When I was in Cameroon , I used to wear a lot of linen stuff because the weather at home was really hot. But since moving to the UK, I don’t think I’ve owned up to 10 linen things. I probably should make something from linen this coming summer. Thanks for the tip about it getting better with age. Never knew that.

    • Wow, you lived in Cameroon? Cool. I’m dying to ask you all kinds of questions about smells and foods and textures and colors now. :)

      I don’t suppose linen is the “best” fabric for the UK climate, though people did wear it for centuries as “next to the skin” garments… I do hope someone who does historical re-enactments will chime in with how that works out for them…

  16. I sewed with linen when I lived in Hawaii, but since moving to NZ I’ve only had occasion to use if for 18th c historical garments – it’s just not warm enough in Wellington!

    I find linen raime blends in op-shops all the time (well, I have to guess that they are raime, but I’m pretty good at that). If I find any I think you’d like I’ll send you pictures.

    All of my ‘didn’t work out’ sewing pieces go in my scrap bins. Small bits of nice fabrics (silks etc) generally get turned into flowers and other trim pieces. Not so nice fabrics I donate to children’s class teachers where they end up being used by small people to trim dolls and puppets and other crafty things.

    And then I have a whole box of really nice white and cream scraps and ‘didn’t work’ pieces for the day I have a lot of free time and can make the all neutral yo-yo quilt I’ve been dreaming of.

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  21. Ooo, I missed this post. Sorry to comment on an older one, but I was poking around your “linen” tag to get pointers and stumbled on this one. Glad to see the parfait aging nicely! It’s such a pretty dress, I adore the colour. Have you found that it’s faded with time and washings?

    I want to sew a skirt (similar in shape to your Minerva skirt) for the summer, but I want it professional enough for work, black in colour (or lack thereof), but not die from over-heating. Remembering everytime you mentioned that linen was a great summer fabric because of it’s breathability, I’ve picked up a length of linen. (Well, linen/cotton blend, does that count?)

    Seriously, I’ve always thought that linen was for old men (why? I have no idea where this stereotype came from), but you sold me on it. Actually, I look at a lot of fabric differently because of your posts. :) I’m still on the look out for bambo knits in my local shops!

    • Heheheheh! I love that. Linen is for old men.. I guess older men would wear linen suits..?

      I actually think my Minerva is a cotton-linen blend… And she was such a great versatile work skirt like you wouldn’t believe. What pattern will you use?

      Maybe I’ll write soon about Bamboo knit and our fraught and dysfunctional relationship… I love it, I hate it, I swear off, I go back.. Sigh.

      • I’ve been itching to make a few versions of Simplicity 5914, especially view B. I think a fitted skirt works well for me, but I like flair around the knees. I think that this skirt is the perfect combination of both! Plus the 6 panels in the skirt means it’s easier to fit the skirt where I need it!

        I’m glad to hear that a cotton/linen blend worked well! I’d be interested in a post on bamboo knit, although you have talked about some of the good and bad with it in other posts too. I should dig those up, actually. Oh such a chore, clicking around your blog!

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  24. Rather late to the party here. Oops!

    I love linen and I really enjoy sewing with it. It’s so well behaved, you can finger press it. My first foray into sewing linen was re historical costuming. Cotton doesn’t move or drape like linen, so if you’re working from period images, linen is the way to go if you can find/afford it. It’s generally though of as cool, but I have a long tunic made of a heavier linen and it’s rather warm.

    Lots of rtw linen garments have synthetic lining, which I think defeats the purpose entirely as it prevent the fabric from breathing. Actually, linen is the original lining material – the verb ‘to line’ meaning add an inner layer of fabric comes from the same root as ‘linen’.

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