Linen was a major fabric in the Egyptian dynasties: pre-680AD they had what we identify as huckabuck; tabby with a looped pile; herringbone, lozenge and rosette twills; honeycomb weave. Other weaves are recorded in guild regulation in 1456 and have been found in central and southern Rhineland graves.
There were fine linens with thread counts of 22/20 per centimeter and 22/18 per cm. found in London digs from the 1200’s and extra fine linen gauzes even earlier in Egypt (etc). The Vikings didn’t have to wear burlap-looking linens!! They had the ability to make finer and had the ability to “obtain” finer if they wanted. For Pete’s sake!!….my own grandmother spun, wove and sewed linen on a Pennsylvania farm in the early 1900’s that was a fine shirtweight! (end diatribe)
The above paragraph not withstanding, there was a use of the ‘tow’…the short, waste fibers left after combing the longer ‘line’ fibers from the flax….to make ‘tow cloth’. Tow was spun into thicker, fuzzier threads and used for cheaper fabric. Tow cloth was used for utilitarian things like sacks, servant and slave wear, and other cheap clothing.
The swatches have had their color manipulated, coaxed and cozened to try to match the original fabrics as close as possible.
All fabric is 100% Linen unless otherwise labeled.
LINEN WEIGHT: The linen I get is usually a seasonal run from the fashion industry. It is left-over after the original clothing run is completed or it was a bolt sent to a design house to make up a sample piece. When I get it, there is no information on the oz. weight of the fabric.
A linen importer sent me swatches with weights listed:
handkerchief linen is 3 1/2 oz.
shirtweight is about 4 1/2 to 6.3 oz.
bottom weight is over 8 oz.
HOWEVER…… today, just as it was in the middle ages and every age before and after, those who make and sell fabric can label it any way they want to make it more attractive to the buyer. One fabric is called one name for 30 to 50 years and then when the call for it decreases, they slap another fashionable name on it and hype it some more.
Industry can call any weight by any name it pleases. The weight doesn’t mean that it has the same size threads or the same thread count….just that a certain yardage weighs a certain amount. Call it an approximation.
And linen is made in different ways. A lot of the fashion linens today are made on cotton thread machinery…. cotton fibers are shorter than linen fibers and these machines use short fibers of linen instead of the traditional long fibers we see in those glorious old linen table cloths and vintage clothing. The long fiber linen is “stiffer”…drapes with those large folds and doesn’t get “fuzzy” after a lot of washes. The shorter fiber linen feels softer from the start.
I found out that one manufacturer, at least, is still “Sanforizing” linen. This is a process that was used a lot in the 50s through 70s for cottons and linens to pre-shrink them and give them better wrinkle resistance. I got some that even reacts like it is “mercerized”. This is when short cotton (and according to one textile reference book from 1968, linen also) fibers are specially chemically and mechanically treated and they bend and form over and under the other threads. They can then stretch and recover. If you look at a single thread, it will look like the crenellations on a castle wall. I’m going to call it a “mechanical stretch” in the descriptions just to distinguish it from lycra stretch.
If you want your linen to stay crisper and less fuzzy looking, DO NOT DRY IT IN THE DRYER!! It breaks and loosens the fibers and the ends stick up more. Check your lint trap….you lose a lot of your fabric there. I machine wash my linen garb, then take it out and shake it, hang it up and hand stretch it to smooth most of the wrinkles out. It only takes a couple minutes, and the linen looks almost like new. If I wanted, I could iron it while it was still damp and the shine would be lovely.