examples of different linen fabrics

Linen fabric types

This A-Z guide to linen fabrics – from clothes-press – covers fabric properties, main uses in sewing and washing care instructions.

Linen fabrics are crisp, strong and absorbent. Woven in a variety of weights, they tend to be high quality and are generally more expensive than cottons. As they are cool to wear, linens are often used to make summer clothes. Linen tends to crease easily so it’s sometimes mixed with other fibres to reduce this effect.

Main types of linen fabrics

  • Handkerchief linen - fine, lightweight, plain-weave fabric which drapes well and is slightly sheer. It’s mainly used for blouses and, as the name suggests, handkerchiefs. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash, hand wash or dry clean. Warm iron on wrong side while damp.
  • Linen-cotton mix – soft, light- to medium-weight fabric which is often a 50-50 mix of cotton and linen. It keeps the feel of linen but is a bit more robust and creases less. Watch out as you can sometimes get scratchy fabrics – get a sample first if possible if you’re ordering online. Often used for skirts, dresses, tunics, aprons, shirts and jackets. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash. Hot iron on wrong side while damp.
  • Linen-silk mix – medium-weight fabric which is shiny and dense. The silk softens the crispness of the linen and adds extra sheen. It’s used mainly for posh suits, skirts, dresses and trousers. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side.
  • Suiting linen – strong, absorbent medium-weight fabric which has a crisp finish. Available in a variety of weaves including plain-weave, twill or herringbone. Suiting linen creases easily but is comfortable to wear. Often used for summer shirts, dresses, tunics, aprons, skirts and jackets. Care: hand wash or dry clean. Hot iron on wrong side while damp.

Note on washing instructions

I’ve included general care instructions for each fabric but please check any information that comes with the fabric you’re buying. Alternatively, test a sample to check that the general recommendations given here are right for your specific fabric. The temperatures given are the maximum suggested for each fabric – obviously you can do lower temperature washes if you prefer. Fabrics made from natural fibres can shrink quite a bit (sometimes 10%) when you first wash them, so do make sure you buy enough fabric to allow for this and pre-wash it before sewing.

Where to find more detailed information on fabric types

Online resources

  • Google images – I find this is the best place to get a quick idea of what any of the fabrics look like

Books for more in-depth information

  • The Sewing Book – of all the general sewing books I’ve read, I think this one has the best guide to fabric with excellent photos

Read more on clothes-press

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