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Weaving Linen


Linen is a fabric I have come very lately to love.  All my life I stayed away from linen clothing because it wrinkles so quickly and so badly.  Why would anyone buy a shirt that as quickly as you put it on, looks like you slept in it?  The fact that people explained how good it felt to wear and how much cooler it was in the summer did not impress me.  I thought of linen as a flash from the past, an odd holdover from the time when people didn't have air conditioning.  Oh, how wrong I was.

My husband and I were in Rome a few years ago and at one of the hotels where we stayed, we slept on linen sheets.  It was amazing.  The sheets were cool but not cold, not smooth like high thread count cotton sheets, but much more comfortable.  I started looking for linen sheets for our bed at home.  Then last year, Peggy and I were demonstrators at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  Of course, we needed costumes.  While the linen chemise was a bit more expensive than the cotton version, I opted for slightly more realism and ordered the linen.  Again, I was amazed.  Linen is heavier than cotton but so much better.  It was warmer on the cold days and cooler on the warm days.  It's texture is somehow comforting to the skin.  Linen is an anomaly among fabric types because it is stronger wet than dry.  It means you can wash it in the washing machine without harming it but must hang it up to dry.  Putting it in the dryer will break down the fibers.

The logical extension of my new found love of linen was to weave with it.  I do a lot of kitchen towels made out of Cottolin, a blend of 60% cotton and 40% linen.  It is strong and absorbent and just keeps getting softer and softer as you use it.  And it can be washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer.  The perfect kitchen towel!  But it is not the same as 100% cotton any more than it's the same as 100% linen so I approached my first linen weaving project with the knowledge that there would be a learning curve.  And there was.

The project was a dresser scarf for my daughter.  Katy has an old china cabinet base that she uses as a dresser.  It came from her grandparents and has seen a lot of wear and tear over the years.  It has some stains on the top and Katy wanted a nice sturdy something to conceal them.  She picked a woven lace pattern in natural unbleached linen.  OK.  It may be that I picked the linen, but I know Katy picked the pattern and color.

Linen yarn is very stiff.  It doesn't feel like it will make something you would want to handle.  I had faith it would soften up when I washed the finished product and I was right.  Here are the weaving details - natural 16/2 wet spun line linen, sett 20 epi, five thread spot huck lace pattern, assumed 15% shrinkage.  Here is the fabric right off the loom:

And here it is after being washed and ironed:

I'm really pleased with the project.  And, of course, there were lessons to learn.  Linen isn't very forgiving when it comes to the selvages so they don't look as good as I hope the next linen project will.  It likes a high tension on the warp and a heavy beat.  It doesn't full very much but does soften.  The next step is spinning flax into linen thread....