Quick Tips for Handling Linen Fabric

Since yesterday’s post on linen and sustainability sent several commentators to their cupboards to fondle stashed linen fabrics, I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up while working with linen.  This is the way I handle the fabric, and so far has worked out quite well for me.

Prepping:

  • Prewashing- it’s always a good idea to prewash a length of fabric in the same manner you plan to wash the finished garment.
  • It’s usually best to pre-wash linen 3-4 times, drying completely between washes.  I finish the raw edges of the fabric, then toss the length in with like-colored loads.
  • To dry- I prefer to hang the length of fabric on the line, smoothing the wet fabric with my hands and gently aligning the selvedges.  Once it dries, I don’t need to painstakingly press the entire length of fabric.  I give it a quick once over (if that).
  • Otherwise, it’s a good idea to put the fabric in the dryer and take it out while still a little damp for pressing.  It’s easier to press well than crispy fabric that was wadded in the dryer for a few days.

Sewing:

  • Use sharp needles, in a weight that matches the weight of your fabric.  That is, heavy needles for heavy linen and light needles for lightweight linen.  Click here for more tips on choosing needles.
  • Linen presses well, and prefers steam.  Use the highest heat and plenty of steam- a dry iron will scorch the fabric.
  • Linen usually tailors well, but keep it relatively simple.  For example- a single welt pocket (well interfaced) will look better longer than a double welt over time.
  • Take care with “appendages” like pocket flaps.  They will always need ironing to look good unless you take into account the nature of the fabric.   My favorite trick is to sew down appendages.  Or, in the case of a pocket flap, try a button in each corner of the flap.
  • Other design features like pleats, darts, and even seam allowances can be top-stitched down with relative discretion and it makes for easier care later on.

Laundering:

  • Linen is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-microbial.  The shape and nature of the fibers also repel dirt.
  • That doesn’t mean linen doesn’t get dirty, but a linen garment need not be laundered as often as a cotton tee.  Just hang up the garment (or if you’re like me, drape it over the top of the bureau) after wear.  If you wad it up, you’ll have a big gross wrinkly mess.
  • Use warm, cold or hot for linen.  I like to wash darks on cool settings, and lights on warm.  I use a mild detergent I make myself, and often toss a little vinegar in the rinse cycle which freshens the fabric.
  • Dark colors or reds will fade long before the fabric gives out.  I like to drop a little packet of iDye into my blacks every now and then, and occasionally in my reds.  It’s amazing how a little bit of dye.

I hope that helps!  I’m always on the lookout for tips, so if I left something out, please tell me about it.

Wondering where to get linen? Click here to check out linen fabrics from a large range of online retailers.

Next- I think I’ll make a binding foot video to show how I hold my hands and manipulate the fabric.  Perhaps.  An ode to my binding foot- How do I love thee, tiny piece of metal?  To the length and breadth and depth of my soul….


29 comments

  1. I was looking at my husband’s lone and beloved linen shirt (which has been worn almost to tatters at this point) and thinking that I really should get on replacing… hmm…

    I would love to see a post/video/tutorial whatever on binding feet. I have one for one of my machines and it perplexes me thoroughly. :)

    • I made mine a pair of linen shirts years ago… I don’t like the way I sewed some of it, but he wears them constantly out in the field and they’re holding up well… If only they’d die and I could make something better!

      I think I might get myself caffeinated, put the machine somewhere interesting and go for it… There’s a few quirks to using a binding foot, but after reading KLine’s post, I really want to help.. The binding foot saves me mountains of time.

  2. Again, great post. I had read about multiple pre-washings, I have used the couple of pieces of linen I have to fill the odd fabric load. With one being white, another black and a third a coral-y print, one of them usually fits with whatever I’ve purchased. I will admit that knowing I’ll wash them again, I just fold them up and put them back in the stash rather than adding ironing to the process.

  3. Heading off to the washing machine now to re-wash my linen! Thanks for the tips, they are, as always, very enlightening.

    • Thanks, Maria. :) It helps me feel like all the mistakes I’ve made are somehow less hideous if I write about what I’ve learned…

  4. Thanks for the tips. A handy tool I have used for linen and cotton garments is a spray bottle of water. When I take a linen or cotton shirt or dress (or whatever) out of the washer I shake it out well and hang it up. But it seems like it’s still pretty wrinkly when dry. However, if I give the dried dress or whatever a few good squirts from the spray bottle set on fine mist, I can shake it out again and the wrinkles just shake away! I got the ide several years ago – OK, maybe it was 15-20 years ago – when a product called Wrinkles Away was on the market. From what I could tell, it was just water in an aerosol, so I started making my own ‘wrinkles away.’ :-p

  5. Good to know about the multiple washes! I think I’m going to mentally bookmark linen for when I am not relying on a laundromat, though…makes it difficult to throw in an odd piece here and there. And oh, to have a yard for a clothesline!

  6. What thread do you use to sew linen. I have issues with pressing linen garments in that the “linen setting” on my iron melts polyester thread, and I was wondering if this is a standard issue or whether the iron is hyperactive!

    • I haven’t had any issues with thread melting, regardless the fiber content except when I use unbranded or “old” thread…(meaning- stuff I inherit from other sewing rooms and have no idea the exact age but it looks old.) The cheap stuff that comes on blank rolls is universally inferior stuff. Machine embroidery thread also behaves the same way- melting…

      I use Mettler, Gutermann or Rasant threads… You could also try using 100% cotton thread, it’s usually sold as quilting thread but I never had any problems using it for plain sewing. Hope that helps! :) It’s so irritating when a freshly sewn seam disintegrates.

  7. Great post on linen and how to prepare it and on using the binding foot. Another Janome foot that come in the Rotary Attachment box can bind seams and edges before or during construction or alterations. Here is a view of it: http://www.itsmysite.com/cgi-bin/itsmy/go.exe?page=11&domain=1&webdir=joannely
    The difference between regular binding, having both edges turned under and Hong Kong binding is the HK only turns under one side and leaves the other flat and as it is bias cut it will not ravel.Looking forward to see tricks with the binding foot and linen projects!

  8. Maybe I should go throw my linen in the machine again… its only been washed twice.

    Do you find using the dryer has any particularly degrading effects on it? I generally treat my fabric rougher than I plan on treating the finished garment (just in case my husband does a wash, or it rains for 2 weeks straight, or I’m having a non-thinking day and hit the wrong button on the machine), but I’m always nervous of throwing linen in the dryer for some reason. Silk and wool don’t bother me, but linen… theres my crazy brain again.

  9. i have used linen for years and love, love, love it … however, only for bags, not clothing … i have acquired a stash of linen for some capris or cropped pants and am dying to sew it …

    before washing any linen, i found and learned the hard way: if you do not want to lose inches of fabric and have huge edge ravels … SERGE THE EDGES or finish them in some way before washing — ….. we ONLY wash AND rinse on cold (long story but there is no *hot* to the washer) then i throw the fabric (most all, really) into a very hot dryer …. i only do this once ….

    where do you purchase your linen? i’m looking for a good place; i buy mostly from fabrics-store.com out of la, cal …. they send more per cut than you order, which is great for edge-raveling and their service is perfect, always quick in sending the package …

    love your postings on linen … keep em up …. darlene

  10. I hope I can learn how to get back to this section. I have a whole roll of linen our in my garage that I tried to use and hated it. I didn’t know to wash it mutiple times. I even made curtains out of it and was going to have them dry cleaned until I found out how much it was going to cost. Now I’m going to go get that roll, cut off a nice length and wash it, dry it on the line and repeat until I like the results. This is my first time on pin in and I sure hope I can figure out how to get back here and share my linen results.

    • i’m probably pretty *bossy* but i would sincerely advise you to serge or overcast the cut edges of your linen … i use a lot of linen and when i don’t, i have seen inches of loose thread that came out when the fabric was washed … not dried, but washed … so, now i serge the cut edges and life is happy once again ….

      i hope you get a lot of use out of your linen … what weight is it — heavy, med, light? color?

      i’m jealous, too …… take care …. darlene

    • my tip disappeared, so, once again:

      i have used linen for years (i purchase a lot at http://www.fabrics-store.com … best linen, best service, too!) anyway, what i do is serge or overcast the cut ends of the fabric (not the selvage) ….. when i have forgotten or been too lazy to do this, i can see an inch or more of wavey, loose threads hanging from the linen, meaning i have lost an inch or more of fabric … when serging/overcasting, you don’t lose anything … again, it is from washing, not drying … i dry in the dryer, too, in case the product/project needs washing — that way the linen has already shrunk … hope this helps you …. darlene

  11. I had some nice linen pants that I washed, hi g to dry and hemmed. I then put them in the dryer, and they came out too short. No big surprise, right? The next time I hung them to dry, they were the right length again. It wasn’t permanent. Not sure if this is true for all linen or even most, but keep an eye out – it might not shrink the way you expect.

    As for finishing the raw edges before washing, I don’t bother and have never had trouble. However, I suspect it depends heavily on the properties of the specific piece of fabric you’re working with. If you like to finish edges, great. If not, it may not be the end of the world.

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  15. this is a very helpful! thank you so much for posting this but i have a question. i have been using linen to try and sew a doll’s head but when i cut out the pieces i use a no fray glue that allows it not to come apart. When i then sew the pieces together it is sort of stiff due to the glue do it ends up in a weird oval shape. do u think if i instead pretreat it w/o the glue it will end up as a a 3d sphere and still not fray? can u please give me advice. this is my first time sewing w/linen fabric.


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