Let's talk about the properties of linen, since I've been sewing with it lately!
Just looking at that list, you can see why linen has been preferred for undergarments, shirts, tableclothes, napkins, and sheets for centuries! I have some fine linen napkins that I have used for various tea parties, and no matter how much blueberry juice or raspberry jam or spilled tea they get on them, the stains simply fall out of the fabric in warm water with liquid laundry detergent. It's amazing!
Traditionally, linens were unbleached natural or bleached white. After all, the fabric doesn't hold dye well, and the items had to be washed to get soiled spots clean. (I talked to a textile chemist a few months back who said that scientists are working on developing more effective mordants to make linen colorfast, but they're not perfected nor very environmentally friendly at this point. I'm not an expert, so if I'm wrong, please correct me!)
Linen is often blended with other fibers in order to reduce its cons. For instance:
In the Middle Ages, fustian was a fabric made with linen threads on the loom and cotton threads woven through (linen warp and cotton weft). This was a very sturdy fabric (because linen is strong when wet and cotton strong when dry), and could be dyed pretty colors (because cotton takes dye well). Nowadays, "fustian" refers to sturdy cotton twills or velveteens, so it's no longer a linen blend.
LINEN/COTTON or LINEN/RAYON BLENDS:
Modern linen blends make the threads of mingled fibers, instead of using one fiber for warp and one for weft. This has mixed benefits and detriments: for instance, making a single yarn of linen and cotton requires cutting the linen fibers shorter to match the cotton fibers for spinning, and this make the woven fabric less prone to wrinkling (benefit) but also weaker (detriment). You can tear a linen/rayon blend with minimal distortion, but tearing 100% linen shreds and ruins whole inches of the torn edge. I speak from experience! If linen is blended with cotton or rayon, the fabric will be more colorfast than linen alone.
This luxury blend makes the silk cooler to wear and the linen more lustrous to see. On its own, silk is quite warm (there's a reason Wintersilks long underwear is a thing!), but linen cools you down by conducting your body heat away from you. Linen's fibers, meanwhile, have crosswise striations on them (like bamboo), so they don't look shiny, but silk fibers are smooth (with shallow lengthwise striations) and reflect light marvelously. Linen/silk blends are used for ladies' suits and summer jackets, and are usually dry clean only.
I think this blend is made along the same rationale as linen/silk, but it makes no sense to me. The care instructions of linen and wool are opposite of each other! Wool doesn't want to be washed much; linen loves a regular bath! Wool needs a cool iron to avoid scorching; linen wants a hot steam iron. So how do you care for linen/wool? I guess dry clean, but I think the whole concept is silly.
A REAL DEAL!
So, recently the Mill End Store was selling short cuts of linen at $9.99/yard. Plus I had a 35% discount that day. I have long been wanting linen pillowcases, and this put them finally in my price range! I bought two pieces. Here's the cost:
1 yd * $9.99 = $9.99
0.83 yd * $9.99 = $8.29
less 35% (6.40)
The linen is really lovely stuff! One piece, French linen, has a woven stripe of white-on-white... a textured stripe. I'll bet there's a name for that. The other is a plain weave. Both have a medium weight and feel wonderful.
Once I get them home, I wash and dry the fabric to pre-shink it. Then it's time to true the edges. After all, if I'm gonna make a linen pillowcase, I'm gonna do it right!
Then I take an old cotton pillowcase and lay it on the fabric to get the right size. I fold the linen over, an voila! All I need for a pattern!
These finished pillowcases are slightly larger and definitely heavier than any pillowcases from a store, but I don't mind a bit! The extra length of the facings allows me to tuck the cases in and around the pillows. They are very inviting on the bed, and cool and lovely on my face.
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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