Linen has a cool, smooth, breathable texture which makes it such a popular choice for upholstered furnishings. Linen tends to hold up well with proper care— and even gets softer the more it is cleaned! Strong and durable, it can withstand the wear and tear of everyday use. Let’s take a deeper dive into this luxurious fabric.
What is Linen and Where Does It Come From?
Linen is a natural fiber derived from the stem of the flax plant. Linen has been around for thousands of years, notably in ancient Egypt. The use of linen is commonly documented in tombs, pyramid inscriptions and other monuments. Burial wrappings of Egyptian kings were also made of linen cloth.
France is the major producer of flax, and it is generally agreed that the best linen fiber comes from Normandy in northern France. Always check the tags on your fabric to check for quality. Although China is a major producer of linen fiber, the quality is not suitable for high-end textiles.
Linen fiber is soft and lustrous. It is somewhat stronger than cotton. When wet, the fiber becomes as much as 40% stronger. Linen has little elasticity, which is why linen fabrics tend to wrinkle easily.
Linen is often seen in its natural color, ranging from light cream to grayish brown. In this form, cellulosic browning can occur if water or water-based substances are introduced, the good news is it is correctable. Natural linen often contains unrefined “straw-like” fibers, which are visible in the yarns. These fibers have a tendency to get darker with age and can even become unsightly. In some cases, they can make the fabric feel scratchy and uncomfortable against the skin
Cellulosic browning is generally not an issue when linen fabric has been dyed because much of the lignin is removed in the dying process. Although all dyed linens can bleed when wet, dark-colored linens pose the most risk. For this reason, selecting a dark colored linen for a piece that may require a lot of cleaning might not be the best choice as it could look lighter or “faded” over time. Pre-testing for colorfastness in the selection process and before cleaning is always a wise idea, especially if the fabric will come in contact with a lot of moisture.
In a velvet construction, linen creates an especially elegant and lustrous fabric. One problem specific to velvets in general, however, is the tendency to develop shading, based on the crushing of the fibers. Because they are so lustrous, linen velvets are particularly susceptible to this type of shading or light reflection. Regular brushing with a velvet brush can help minimize the problem.
The effect of this “glazed linen” is reminiscent of the polished cotton fabrics that were common many years ago. All glazed finishes are considered “semi-durable.” They are dulled by day-to-day use. The finish can also be affected by cleaning, especially with water-based methods. Cleaning by a professional is a must.
Linen is durable and long lasting when given the proper care. Flipping and rotating cushions, damp dusting, vacuuming, timely cleanings, and a quality fabric protector can extend the “like new” appearance of linen fabrics.
Most linen fabrics are labeled with the “S” cleaning code, which means solvent clean or dry clean only. Unfortunately, dry cleaning will not remove water-based spills or heavily soiled areas on linen fabrics. However, most linen fabrics can be cleaned with water-based methods by an experienced upholstery cleaner who understands fine fabrics.
Fabrics containing linen in a pile construction (velvet, chenille, etc.) need to be cleaned with the utmost care. Linen in pile form can lose its resiliency when moisture is applied, causing the nap to flatten.
Fiber-Seal is Here to Help
No other company has more experience taking care of linen fabrics and all other fine interior textiles. Offering the highest quality protective finishes and professional aftercare services for over fifty years, Fiber-Seal is the most trusted name in our industry.