Linen and silk are some of the most expensive fabrics in the world used for making truly luxurious and exceptional clothing, bedding, upholstery, and many other household textiles. Which is more expensive?
Silk is arguably more expensive than linen and the most valuable fabric is mulberry silk, a soft and delicate textile used for high-end fashion that requires silk farmers to feed caterpillars mulberry leaves to make cocoons over several weeks.
Mulberry silk is very expensive because of its costly production and very consistent quality. It takes more than 5,000 silkworms to produce just one kilogram of mulberry silk.
On the other hand, linen is a woven fabric made from natural flax plant fibers and well-known to be luxurious, exceptionally cool, and breathable. Linen fabric is also expensive because it's difficult to manufacture and has a low availability.
Here is everything you need to know about silk and linen, some of the most expensive fabrics in the world.
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Why is linen expensive
Linen is the most expensive, organic, sustainable, plant-based fabric in the world. It's a woven fabric made from a renewable plant-based resource, natural flax plant fibers. Its production requires a lot of time and labor.
Linen fabric is sold at a higher price than other natural fabrics such as cotton or jute because its manufacturing is costly and the demand for linen remains relatively low.
Linen fabric production costs twice as much as cotton. It can take up to 90 days to harvest flax plants yearly, as it cannot be mowed and has to be pulled up by the roots.
Its production requires the growth and harvesting of flax plants. The final quality of linen fabric depends a lot on the raw material.
Flax plants grow in many different countries around the world. Natural fibers are extracted from the plant, spun into yarn, then woven into fabrics.
More than 85% of the world's production of flax fibers are originated from Europe. And flax remains a rare product as it represents less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide.
To weave flax fibers into linen fabric, the machinery has to run quite slow as the fibers are easily broken.
Linen is a sustainable fabric that offers numerous qualities. It's a natural fabric that is beautiful, durable, comfortable, resistant, absorbent, anti-bacterial, lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying.
Linen is also very strong and rigid, about two to three times more than cotton. Linen fabric is often used in household articles such as pillows, curtains, tablecloths, bath towels, bedsheets, rugs, and wall coverings.
Linen is a very old fabric that has been used for a very long time (over 6,000 years). It was already used for wrapping mummies in ancient Egypt to help with preservation.
In history, linen cloth used to symbolize extravagance, luxury, and preciousness. Linen fabric was used at dining tables in the middle age as symbols of power, to show wealth and authority.
Why is silk expensive
Silk is expensive because it takes thousands of silkworms to produce just one kilogram of silk. The farming, killing, and harvesting of silkworm cocoons are resource-heavy, labor-intensive, and costly processes.
Silk is a luxury fabric and considered one of the finest textiles in the world. It's made from natural cocoon protein fibers spun by silkworms before becoming moths.
In nature just like many other moths, silkworms go through the same steps of metamorphosis: egg, larval, pupal, and adult.
In the silk industry, however, they don't go past the pupal stage. Instead, they are killed by being placed in boiling water to preserve the cocoons' value, thread length, and quality.
Silk farmers feed caterpillars mulberry leaves to make cocoons over several weeks. Cocooning begins in as little as 28 days from the time the silkworm eggs are hatched, which generally takes between one or two weeks.
Silk fabric production is slow. It requires various manufacturing processes such as farming thousands of cocoons, spinning fibers, weaving cloth, bleaching, dyeing, and treatment.
There are many different types of silk depending on the animal species, what the insects eat, and the country of origin. But mulberry silk is the finest and contributes around as much as 90% of silk production.
Compared to mulberry silk, a lot of silk types are low-grade, harsh, durability-lacking, and some even collected from the wild. Mulberry silk is considered the highest quality and the most sought-after silk.
People buy silk because they want a comfortable and luxurious experience. So quality matters the most in silk products. Silk is a versatile and smooth animal-derived fabric.
High-end clothing designers and fashion brands commonly use top-grade mulberry silk to make luxurious lingerie, loungewear, sleepwear, blouses, suits, dresses, shirts, and more.
Linen vs silk
Linen is one of the most expensive and sustainable fabrics in the world. It's much more ethical and eco-friendly than other natural, plant-based fibers such as cotton and animal-derived textiles like silk or cashmere.
Linen fabric is used in many high-end garments as it offers amazing qualities such as breathability, durability, softness, freshness, and lightness.
Linen is made from flax pant fibers, which need very little water to grow. The production of a linen shirt requires 6.4 liters of water compared to 26 liters for a cotton shirt.
On the other hand, silk production is responsible for the mass exploitation and killing of sensitive animals, silkworms. Hundreds of thousand silkworms have to die to make silk textiles each year.
More than 5,000 silkworms are necessary to produce just one kilogram of silk. It takes up to 2,000 cocoons to make a silk dress.
Silk production is as exploitative and cruel today as it was centuries ago. Many silkworm hatchlings die prematurely from dehydration or starvation. All animals deserve compassionate treatment, even insects.
Dropping silkworms and their cocoons into boiling water makes them potentially suffer and kills them.
Collecting cocoons left by insects in the wild could be a more ethical way of producing silk. However, this process is inefficient, costly, and not viable for commercial use.
The commercial farming and mass killing of animals is not only unethical but also disastrous for the environment. The large majority of silk textiles are produced with very low social and environmental standards.
Mulberry plants are grown with toxic pesticides and fertilizers. And silk production involves a high amount of chemicals. They are very hazardous and released untreated into the nearby environment. They pollute the air, soils, water sources, endangering ecosystems, and human health.
Silk is very costly because its production requires lots of hand labor. The silk industry employs millions of workers in the poorest East Asian countries, sometimes under inhumane practices.
Many manufacturers use sweatshop labor for garment production. And children regularly work more than 12 hours a day seven days a week in the silk industry.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.