Inspired by this too-cute-for-words apron our editorial team explored the myriad of uses of and qualities of linen.
Ah, linen. It brings back memories of that fabulous summer dress that turned into a wretched wad of wrinkles the minute you sat down. What would any self-respecting quilter want with this wrinkle-prone fabric? As it turns out, quilters are turning to it in droves. The fabric sold as “linen” in quilt shops is generally a blend of 55% linen and 45% cotton—and it seems to have inherited the best qualities of both natural fibers.
What is it made from?
Pure linen is made from the stem fibers of the flax plant. As a fabric, it both absorbs and releases moisture quickly, making it ideal for warm, humid days. Since the garments feel light and airy, linen is a traditional choice for summer shirts and dresses. However, because of the poor elasticity of the flax fibers, once creased during wear, they do not relax or spring back readily. Hence the wrinkles, wrinkles, wrinkles.
Why blend in the cotton?
Blending cotton into the mix adds softness, reduces fraying, and makes the fabric much less prone to wrinkles—while maintaining the wonderful depth and texture of linen. Linen also has the benefit of much longer fibers that are two or three times stronger than cotton. Add the gentle texture of the linen with the softness of quilting cotton and it’s easy to see why this fabric has taken hold in the quilting community. And in its defense, linen will soften with each washing and the tendency for sharp wrinkles to form will often soften as well.
Can I use linen blend and quilting cotton in the same quilt top?
Absolutely! Since the weight and the hand of the two fabrics are similar, they are easily interchanged like in this quilt by Brigitte Heitland. Linen blend solids make wonderful backgrounds and are a perfect canvas for sensational quilting in wide expanses of negative space. Linen’s textural quality showcases quilting stitches. Having the slight difference in surfaces also adds a subtle dimension to the finished work. In addition to linen blend solids, check out the yarn-dyed yardage for a slightly more textured look or look for the coordinated collections—Polk from Carolyn Friedlander and Forage from Anna Graham (Noodlehead)—overprinted on Robert Kaufman’s Essex Collections. And for just a hint of glam, some linen blends add a touch of metallic for a subtle sparkle.