If you've just received clothing, sheets, furniture made of linen as a gift, or if you're planning to purchase them at a second-hand shop, vintage market, auction, fashion fair, you might want to know if the fabric is truly linen.
The easiest and most common method to know it's linen is to take a close look at the fabric, check for natural colors, strong fibers, wrinkles, obvious slubs, or moisture-wicking properties.
This is how you can tell that the fabric is real linen when tags, labels, copyright, brand name, care instructions, and certifications are missing.
The second-hand market is growing rapidly. A lot of people are buying old and vintage items from sales or boutiques made of linen. Especially in the fashion world, linen fabric is gaining popularity.
Garments made of linen have the notoriety to be particularly cool in hot weather and very luxurious. It's the most expensive sustainable clothing fabric in the world.
Made from a renewable plant-based resource, the flax plants, linen fabric is woven and sold at a high price compared to other materials because of its relatively low availability and costly manufacturing process.
Conscious consumers choose linen because of its high quality, eco-friendliness, natural look, and feel. But it remains a rare product, representing less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide.
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The origin of linen
More than 85% of all linen fibers are originated from Europe globally. The European linen industry involves about 10 000 businesses in 14 countries.
Linen has been used for a very long time, over 6,000 years, originally for wrapping mummies in ancient Egypt to help with preservation. It's a very ancient type of fabric.
Linen quality largely depends on the raw material, the growth and harvesting of flax plants. It can take up to 90 days to harvest flax plants. It's an annual crop.
The largest producer of flax fiber and tow worldwide is France with about 660,000 tons produced in 2018, followed by Belgium, Belarus, and Russia.
China is the biggest producer of linen. India, the United States, Italy, Ireland, France, and Belgium also produce linen, but in much lower quantities.
The natural fibers are removed from the flax plant, spun into yarn sent to textile manufacturers, then woven into linen fabric.
Linen cloth represents luxury, preciousness, and extravagance since history. It used to symbolize wealth, power, and authority.
Linen is used today for clothing, but also household articles such as towels, bedsheets, rugs, wall coverings, pillows, curtains, or tablecloths.
All around the world, luxury fashion brands and designers use linen for their collections. Here are some of them:
Why buy linen
Linen is very strong and rigid. The fibers are about two to three times stronger than cotton.
The fabric is exceptionally cool and helps us stay dry in summer. Linen is also very absorbent, anti-bacterial, moisture-wicking, durable, comfortable, lightweight, and breathable.
These are amazing qualities that make linen ideal for men's and women's clothing alike.
But linen has poor elasticity overall. It can wrinkle very easily and create creases.
Linen is difficult to weave. Its manufacturing is laborious and time-consuming. Its production costs are two times higher than cotton. The fibers are easily broken. So the machinery has to run very slow.
Concerns for sustainability are rising in the fashion industry. Linen has a key role to play because it's a very environmentally friendly fabric.
Linen is a natural fiber, biodegradable, and recyclable. It's much more sustainable and luxurious than other natural plant-based fibers such as cotton.
The flax plant growth requirements in water are quite low. To make a linen shirt, 6.4 liters of water are needed compared to 26 liters for a cotton shirt.
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index gives linen a water scarcity score of 3.3, which is much lower than 50.4 for cotton.
It's a good idea to buy certified organic linen that protects the environment from harmful chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers.
Read up my article on the best certification standards for textiles to know what to look for.
How to check linen fabrics
Because linen is rare and so expensive to make, fake linen is everywhere. Don't mistake natural, luxurious, and eco-friendly linen with fake linen. Many fabrics made from synthetic fiber blends, such as polyester, nylon, rayon, or acrylic, are often mislabelled as linen.
Try out the following to know if a fabric is made of linen:
- Look for natural colors. The natural color of undyed linen is pale yellowish-gray. Depending on its fabrication, the color of natural linen can vary between beige, taupe, grey, cream, ecru, sand, and ivory.
- Because linen isn't very elastic, search for wrinkles throughout the fabric. Natural creases are often a great indication of real linen.
- Linen fabric is very durable, resistant, long-lasting, and strong. Examine the fabric for its sturdiness, no trace of wear, or tear.
- Linen is highly absorbent and moisture-wicking. Moisten the fabric gently, press it with your fingers, and see how fast it absorbs liquids. Moisture also doesn't make an even wet spot but follows the threads of linen.
- Imperfections are the sign of true linen and what makes it so appealing. You can see slubs in linen fabrics, small bumps throughout the weave, and feel them with your hand. Fake linen is very flat and even in appearance.
- Look up close as the linen fiber is much coarser and thicker than other natural fibers such as cotton yarn. It's rough as well but gets smoother over time.
Linen is a great environmentally friendly material to make high-quality and luxurious fabric. It's a natural, biodegradable, and recyclable plant-based fiber.
It has a natural look and feel as well as amazing qualities for clothing or furnishing. Linen is breathable, absorbent, durable, and lasts a long time.
One of the best ways to be more sustainable with our purchases is to buy less but higher quality products. Linen is an ideal choice.
Do you own linen cloth? How has your experience been? Let us know in the comments below.
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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.