Linen, produced from flax, is known for its body, strength and variable fiber bundles. Primary limitations are low resiliency and lack of elasticity, leading to wrinkles. Unlike other natural fibers, flax’s length and dimensions are not clearly definable. The more flax (and linen yarn) is processed to attain uniformity, the greater the likelihood there would be a reduction of durability; therefore, it is to be expected that a quality linen fabric will contain some variances.
It is these very characteristics that are commonly misconstrued as flaws or deficiencies. More often than not, it is a lack of knowledge about bast-fiber product that causes designers and specifiers to run into problems. For example, linen fabrics are often replete with “slubs,” which are extreme manifestations of swollen fibers. Although inherent to the yarn, they are frequently perceived as misweaves. It is essential that a client be informed of their prevalence during the specification process — not after the fabric has been installed.
Secondly, flax is subject to several processes from harvesting to finishing; prevailing conditions (including Mother Nature) will dictate quality and appearance. It is important to understand that every lot will vary; additionally, dyed linen should be treated with the same degree of circumspection. Always insist upon a cutting from the reserved piece to match with the original sample.
A common complaint is the distinct odor that sometimes emanates from unrefined linens. Usually the odor vanishes in time; however, dry cleaning will accelerate the process.
Spots and stains are easier to remove from linen than from other natural fibers and linen is also more resistant to bacterial action and mildew. The general rule is to pre-treat all stains immediately in preparation for the dry cleaner. Never use chlorine bleach because it will weaken the fiber.
Any person who has ever worn a linen garment knows that linen wrinkles, period. Still, it would probably be a good idea to remind your client about creasing and wrinkling during the selection process.
Linen, like other natural fibers such as cotton, is hydro-sensitive and will respond to environmental fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Many different factors contribute to the hydro-sensitivity of linen, including the soil quality and irrigation conditions during the life of the plant; linen is comprised of living fiber. Changes in the length of draperies may be evident within the first few days of an installation as the fabric becomes acclimated to its new environment. One might observe noticeable shrinking of draperies during the cold, dry months of winter, and a subsequent lengthening in the warm humidity of summer. The same linen installed in two separate homes may perform in a completely different manner due to humidity, temperature and light exposure differences between the two environments, regardless of whether the linen originated from the same lot or even the same piece.
There are post-processing services that can be employed to mitigate — but not completely eliminate — this natural fluctuation in the fabric. Try making an inquiry to a professional dry cleaner or post-processor regarding the stabilization of the linen fibers. Usually this process will involve the introduction of chemicals into the fiber to reduce the hydro-sensitivity. A chemical treatment may not be desired by all clients. Many end users are tolerant of the drapery fluctuations because they want the natural, healthful, environmentally friendly qualities of the linen in their homes, rather than turning to the more predictable consistency of a synthetic fiber. Naturally, it is better to discuss these issues with a client before the fabric hits the workroom.
Info From Calvin Fabrics, Medford Oregon. To the Trade Only