Linen is my all-time absolute Favorite Fabric for hand embroidery, and there are many good online sources for purchasing quality linen. At the request of some readers, here’s some information about buying linen for hand embroidery.
The range of types and quality of linen for hand embroidery is pretty vast. It’s Very Vast, actually. In sharing my experiences with linen, I’ll only be talking about a limited selection of linens available for needlework. I’m always happy to hear about different types of needlework linen, where it’s available, and what people like about it – so if you have any input on this subject, please do leave a comment below so that we get as broad a view as possible on different types of linens.
That being said, some linen made for needlework I just can’t stand. Have you ever gone into the local craft store – Joann’s, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Hancock Fabrics, etc. – and explored the fabrics in the needlework section? You’ll sometimes find linen there – it comes folded in bags hanging on hooks or rolled in plastic tubes. I’m not sure of the brands off the top of my head, but I fear some of those packages are probably DMC. Now, I like DMC stranded cotton for an everyday embroidery floss, but golly. Those packages of linen just don’t do it when you want a quality fabric. They’re ok for learning on, I suppose, but when you’re ready to kick things up a notch, it’s time to look for better linen.
So, here’s some linen talk that may help you decide on what kind of linen you want to use, and some sources for buying linen for needlework.
First of all, what is linen? It’s a fabric made from the inner skin of the flax plant. It’s been around as a fabric for thousands of years. Way back in history some four or five thousand years ago, the Jews of the Old Testament used it, the Egyptians used it (before they got into cotton, I suppose!), as did the Greeks and the Romans, and eventually, it moved north into Europe with the re-civilization of Europe after the fall of Rome. We can say that flax has been woven into fabric, then, across pretty much all the known ages of the written history of Western Civilization. It’s Old Stuff.
Linen has always been somewhat expensive, and this is due to the way it must be harvested, processed, and woven. If you want to read about the making of linen – from harvest to weaving – from an historical perspective, with nice photos along the way, take a look at the article “Linen Weaving” on Maggie Blanck’s website. It’s really interesting! I stumbled across it a while ago when I was preparing a teaching unit on the book Silas Marner.
When considering linen for needlework, it’s necessary to determine ahead of time what type of project you’re planning to stitch, because the type of project will determine the type of fabric you want to use. For example, if you’re stitching a counted cross stitch piece, you’ll want “even weave” linen. If you’re stitching a crewel work piece (or something similar to it), you might want to use linen twill. If you’re stitching goldwork and you want a linen ground, you don’t necessarily need something as heavy as twill, but you’ll want a good, sturdy linen (probably with a closer weave, higher thread count – but not necessarily even weave). If you’re working regular surface embroidery – say, a fine needlepainting project – you’ll want a lighter weave of linen (but not too light that it’s flimsy), with a higher count thread that’s firm enough and closely woven enough to support all the stitches. Oh, so many things to consider!!
Then, of course, there’s the question of quality. Are you stitching a project in which you are investing much time and money, to produce a work of art that you want to last for a long time? Then you probably want to use a good quality linen.
In considering quality of linen, you have to go back to its origins – the flax crop. Flax crops around the world vary in the quality of flax they produce. Flax is grown in many countries, and linen is woven in many countries – from Ireland, to Germany, to Egypt, to Italy, to China, to the US, and so on. It seems to be the common opinion, though, that flax grown in Belgium and other close-by areas of northern Europe is the “best” flax for making linen. Belgian linen is usually considered good linen. Though my experiences in fabric do not encompass every type of linen made in every region of the world, I have tried lots of different linens for stitching. I have to say that I have never used a Belgian linen I didn’t like. Even the less-expensive Belgian linens I’ve tried have been pretty nice.
And that brings us to the question of expense. By less-expensive Belgian linen, I’m talking about $30 – $40 / yard. Many fine quality needlework linens are more expensive than this.
My all-time favorite linen is Legacy linen. It’s a Belgian linen woven with nice plump threads, and though it is not all even-weave fabric, even the plain weave comes close to being even weave, as the warp and weft threads are generally pretty evenly sized. It has a great hand. It’s got body, but it isn’t stiff – even after washing, it still retains its nice drape along with linen crispness. It irons beautifully. I just love Legacy linen. But… it is … whew. Expensive.
On the bright side, we don’t normally use a whole yard of linen for a needlework project, do we? So retailers often make good linen available in popular-sized cuts.
If you’re looking for good linen, here are the brands that I think range from Very Good to “ok”, and readers are welcome to add their input for their favorite types of linen in the comments below, too:
1. Legacy linen – my all-time favorite. I think it’s the best linen on the market, personally.
I buy different types of Legacy linen through various sources:
Hedgehog Handworks now carries a good range, especially if you’re looking for linen suitable for historical needlework. Out of the linens listed there, I love the alabaster angel, alba maxima, and ecclesiastical. They also carry Strathaven linen, which isn’t a Legacy linen, but is a very nice plain weave for surface work.
Needle in a Haystack carries a decent line of Legacy linen, including even-weave.
Wyndham Needleworks (it takes them forever to fill an order – if you don’t mind waiting two or three weeks, though, it’s a decent source).
Lakeside Linens, by the way, offer some hand-dyed Legacy linens, so if you want the hand-dyed look with the quality of Legacy linens, see what Lakeside Linens has to offer in this line. I haven’t tried any of the Lakeside Linens, because I don’t normally work on colored fabric, but I’ve got a project brewing in my head that requires a nice light buttery yellow ground fabric – I may be contacting Lakeside Linens or one of their retailers to see what they have.
2. Weddigen linen – this is a new-to-me linen that I discuss in this article on Schwalm whitework. I’ve also given the source for it in the article. It’s available in two even-weave thread counts, approximately 32 threads per inch and 50 threads per inch. It’s a nice linen, and I intend to use it in the future for other projects besides Schwalm.
3. Church linen – I have ordered excellent linen from Church Linens and Vestments. Elizabeth Morgan stocks one kind of linen and it is perfect for church linens as well as any kind of surface embroidery that you want to work on white linen. It’s a nice quality linen for surface embroidery and very reasonably priced at $27 / yard (54″ wide). I like it a lot, and I’m pretty sure she’s still selling it. I need to order more!!
4. Other types of even-weave linen, from Zweigart to Graziano (Italian linen) to Lakeside Linens can be purchased through various needlework shops online. Lakeside linens are actually other types of linen (like Legacy, Zweigart, Graziano, etc.) that are hand-dyed – I mentioned them above under Legacy linen.
Some sources for a variety of linens:
I like Shakespeare’s Peddler – she has a good selection of fabrics and is very friendly and easy to order from (she can send a Paypal invoice, which is very convenient).
Nordic Needle carries a wide variety of popular even-weave linens. They don’t seem to carry higher end linens (like Dower quality linens – Legacy, Strathaven, etc.) but they have a good selection of decent even-weaves.
Needle in a Haystack – already mentioned above – has all kinds of different types of needlework linens, including some of the higher-end linens like Legacy.
You’ve probably noticed that my sources overlap, but that’s the way it is – I order from a fairly limited selection of shops, but they all carry good linen, have great service, and fair enough prices.
What about you? What type of linen do you use and where do you buy it? What’s your favorite type, and why do you like it? Feel free to comment and help me broaden the topic a bit, so that readers can benefit from your input, too! Thanks heaps!
Enjoy the weekend!