Clients often ask me what the best uses for different fabrics are and how to properly care for them. So let’s start off with linen.
Linen has a great hand (or feel) to it and can be used for upholstery or draperies. It is one of the oldest textiles around with evidence of its use going back thousands of years. It is primarily produced in Western Europe, namely Belgium, Italy, and Ireland. Linen is produced from fibers derived from the flax plant and is very labor intensive to produce, hence it can be a more expensive option.
So how do you care for linen? It is actually very hardy and strong and can be hand washed, machine washed, dry cleaned, ironed, steamed, bleached and dyed with only moderate initial shrinkage.
The optimum environment for linen is a hot and dry one. Although linen is one of the rare textiles that is stronger when wet than dry, it is also very susceptible to mildew and bacteria. The fibers are quite inelastic, which leads to- you guessed it- wrinkles. One of the best workouts I can (not) recommend is wrestling linen slipcovers onto two 8 ft. long sofas. By the time I ironed the covers, got them onto the sofas, then steamed out all the remaining wrinkles (which were all the ones I started with) I had burned probably 500 calories. If you are a person who is wrinkle averse, linen slipcovers are not the way to go.
Linen lends itself well to both draperies and tight upholstery. In draperies it has a fine elegant look but with a casual, not-too-stuffy feel because of its more textured weave. It makes a beautiful sheer but I recommend doing a linen/cotton or linen/poly blend as white sheers have a tendency to yellow in the sun after a few years.
On upholstery it has a smart tailored look, great smooth feel as linen is virtually lint free, and gets softer the longer it is used. It is naturally resistant to dirt and stains and very resilient in extreme heat and sunlight.
Linen is a popular choice for beach houses because of that aforementioned “elegant but not stuffy” look. However I would recommend always doing a blend to give it more stability with the humidity and also pre-washing the fabric before fabricating draperies in order to get rid of that initial shrinkage.