How to weave linen fabric
If you're a keen crafter or weaver you might fancy trying weaving with linen fibers to create your own piece of woven linen fabric. In this post we'll look at the great qualities and natural characteristics of linen fabric, and give you some tips on how to weave with this wonderful fiber.
Why weave linen fabric?
You may know that linen fibers come from the flax plant. This ancient plant has been used around the world throughout human history, thanks to its strength and durability when woven into linen fabric. The finest flax is grown in Northern Europe, where the climate is ideal for this beautiful purple-blue flowering plant.
Some manufacturers still use traditional hand looms to weave the flax fibers together and produce linen fabric. The flax plant itself is a sustainable crop, using fewer resources to grow than cotton and being naturally biodegradable, and because linen is so long-lasting it reduces waste.
So, how do we weave with flax fibers?
First, it's useful to understand the key characteristics of flax fibers before you start weaving. Once the flax fibers have been separated from the woody stalks, the process leads to scutching, retting and spinning to produce linen fibers that are ready for weaving into linens.
Linen yarn has a bit of a reputation amongst weavers for being tricky to weave, but if you get to know the natural features of the flax fibers, and make yourself familiar with specific weaving techniques for linen, you'll get the best results.
It's worth trying linen yarn as it produces such fine, hardy and stunning textiles.
Here are the basics to note:
- Linen is not elastic and will feel stiffer than cotton
- The high sheen surface is also anti-bacterial and stain resistant, making it great for homewares and clothing
- Linen is highly absorbent but also dries quickly, which is why it's often used to make towels
- Off the loom, linen cloth doesn't shrink much so is less forgiving of an uneven beat during the weaving process than other yarns
Types of linen yarn
There are different types of linen yarns, so work out which is the best for your weaving project or loom set-up:
Line-linen is high quality and spun from the longer, finer fibers with the most lustre. It works really well as a warp thread.
Tow-linen is spun from shorter flax fibers that have a coarser feel than line-linen. This yarn is strong and has a natural rustic charm. It's often used to make table linens and towels.
Dry-spun linen is produced from flax without using water, giving it a rougher feel.
Wet-spun linen has been spun with water, which produces a smooth, shiny finish. It's particularly effective as a warp yarn.
Cotton-linen blend yarn is a cheaper alternative to pure linen yarn and can be used as a warp or weft yarn to produce soft yet sturdy cloth.
Weaving with linen
Once the spinning process is complete, and you've chosen your preferred type of yarn, it's time to get weaving! Whether you're making linen fabric for clothing or textiles, there are some important things to remember when working with linen.
The main thing to focus on is keeping your tension firm. Linen is a strong fiber and can seem to have a mind of its own, so a tight, even tension keeps it under control on the bobbin and while weaving. Some weavers like to tie-on the bouts with a cord to the loom apron rod. Spraying the warp with a little water will increase moisture in the yarn and make it less likely for your tension to slip before you get started.
Linen is easier to work with when slightly damp, so keep moisture levels fairly high while weaving. You can do this with a simple spray bottle to spritz the warp thread, or use a humidifier in your room. Some weavers store their bobbins with a little water to keep them damp, which can also help add moisture to the linen when on the loom. Avoid making the loom itself wet, however.
Using a temple or stretcher will help produce even, neat edges.
Beam the warp back to front for increased control as you work.
Advance your warp frequently to create a smooth, strong surface.
Experiment to find a suitable shuttle-hold that will stop the linen coming off the bobbin.
What to do with woven linen off the loom
Once you've completed the weaving, the finishing process is vital to producing the ideal cloth for sewing textiles and other uses. To create a soft, less rustic cloth, wet finishing is the perfect solution.
Wet finishing turns the item from a loose collection of threads into a cohesive piece of textile. Linen responds to a firm wet finishing, and we recommend running your woven cloth through a machine wash on the delicate setting, or hand washing in lukewarm water.
You can hang or tumble dry the finished fabric, and press with an iron to fully set the yarn. Wet finishing creates a lovely soft cloth that feels comfortable against the skin and is ready for sewing.
If weaving isn't your thing, you can always buy some linen fabric by the yard and get started on a sewing project instead!