Linen is a highly popular fabric for summer clothes thanks to its soft feeling and breathable nature. Despite its popularity, many people have misconceptions about linen, such as whether it stretches or shrinks.
So, does linen stretch? No, linen does not stretch. The natural fibers of linen, taken from flax plants, have a very low elasticity and do not stretch. They’re highly durable and breathable, and may shrink if not washed and handled properly.
Before purchasing a length of linen fabric to make clothes with, or purchasing a linen garment, it’s important to know the basics of linen.
What Is Linen Made Of?
Linen is a type of fabric made from fibers derived from the flax plant. They’re typically taken from the stem, where the fibers are naturally strong and durable.
The fibers are harvested and manufactured through a multi-step process, similar to other natural fabrics, to prepare them for weaving into fabric.
Linen fabric is most similar to cotton based on the plant fibers and manufacturing process, but has a lot of differences that we’ll cover below.
Does Linen Stretch?
No, linen does not stretch. The fibers of linen come from the stem of a flax plant, which are strong and durable. They have nearly no elasticity.
Linen fibers are so stiff that if the fabric is often folded or creased too much in the same place, the fibers will start to break and tear, wearing down the fabric.
This can happen from someone ironing the same creases in the same spot too many times, or folding it tightly in the same way too many times.
You can prevent this by hanging linen fabrics on a hanger or folding them gently to rest on a shelf, changing the way you fold them each time.
On their own, linen fabrics don’t stretch, but linen blends might. If you purchase a fabric or clothing item that is a blend of linen and spandex, for example, it would provide a decent amount of stretch.
Just remember that the fabric still includes linen, so you won’t see the same amount of stretch as you might with just spandex, or spandex blended with another stretchy fabric like cotton.
Does Linen Shrink?
Yes, linen shrinks if not properly washed and cared for. Since linen is made from natural plant fibers, it’s more prone to shrinking compared to synthetic fibers. Plant fibers are more fragile, so they’re more likely to have wear and tear like shrinking and stretching.
Of course, just like other fabrics made of plant fibers, linen is mostly susceptible to shrinking when washed in hot water or dried on high heat.
It’s the heat that usually causes the shrinking to happen. Linen garments will shrink a small percentage, less than 5%, every time on their first wash. Some manufacturers wash the linen fabric before the sell it, but others don’t.
Keep this in mind when washing your linen for the first time. It may shrink up to 5% if it was not pre-washed.
How Do You Loosen Up Linen?
Once it’s shrunk, linen often doesn’t return to its original size. However, you can try a trick that may help you to loosen up your linen and give it a little more room.
First, you’ll need to dampen your linen. The best way to do this is to soak your linen in warm water, then squeeze it gently. You want to avoid wringing because this will pull too much at the fibers and can cause breakage.
Once you’ve squeezed out most of the water, allow the linen to air dry until it reduces to a damp feeling. It shouldn’t be soaking wet, but it shouldn’t be dry – somewhere in between.
When it’s damp, lay it flat on an ironing board and iron it. We recommend starting in the middle of the garment and smoothing the iron over the fabric towards the edge, moving from the center to the outside.
This will help to almost pull the fabric, in a sense, to stretch it out a bit.
Should You Size Up In Linen?
This is a great question that entirely depends on how you plan to wear your linen. Some people like a snugger fit with their clothing, and if this is you, we recommend buying true to size.
Linen garments are often designed to be a little loose and breezy anyway, so buying something in your own size still won’t make it skin-tight.
Keep in mind that your linen garment may shrink, so it’s a good idea to try it on and gauge the fit. If it already feels to tight, maybe try sizing up.
Sizing up can also be a good idea if you like the loose nature of linen and want it to always have that breezy feeling.
How To Care For Linen
Properly caring for linen is about both how you wash the fabric and how you store it. Let’s start with washing it. The best way to wash linen is to hand wash it in cold water and either dry it on a low heat setting or allow it to air dry.
You can also wash linen in your washing machine, as long as you run it on a gentle cycle with cold or warm water. Never use hot water or high heat when washing linen.
The goal is to use lower temperatures, whether cold or warm, and avoid any heavy stretching or pulling of the fabric. Even though linen is made with strong fibers, those fibers are prone to breaking if not handled correctly.
Most washing machine agitators may pull on the fabric too much and can cause damage over time. This is why it’s best to use gentle cycle or hand wash. After you’ve washed it properly, we recommend hanging linen up in a closet or folding it gently to lay on a shelf.
As we mentioned earlier, if linen is constantly creased or folded too tightly in the same position over and over, it will deteriorate over time and the fabric will lose its integrity.
It’s best to let it hang on a smooth hanger where the fabric can remain flat, or to fold it loosely and lay it on a shelf.
Trying to press it into a stack of clothes shoved into a drawer may also lead to wear and tear at the creases. You can also try folding it different ways each time you fold it to prevent repeated creases.
Is Linen More Stretchy Than Cotton?
No, linen is actually less stretchy than cotton. Although cotton is made with natural fibers, which are typically less flexible, cotton has a certain level of stretchiness.
It’s not as stretchy as spandex, but is certainly more stretchy than linen. One of the reasons so many people love cotton is that not only is it soft, but it has a certain amount of elasticity that makes it comfortable to wear.
Linen, on the other hand, is soft, but it’s not stretchy. Instead, it has a better level of breathability than cotton.
Each fabric has their own advantages, and are typically used for garments that play to the fabric’s strengths rather than its weaknesses.
What Can I Make With Linen?
Although linen isn’t stretchy, it’s still a fantastic fabric that’s used to create a wide variety of textile items. Some of the main products made with linen fabric are clothing, curtains, tablecloths, napkins, and bedding.
Clothing is obvious, of course, as there are many common linen garments on the market. It’s usually used to make summer clothes, since it has that light and breezy look to it. It’s loose and always a little wrinkled, but that’s all part of the aesthetic and charm of linen.
Linen also works great to make lightweight curtains, giving a home a soft and gentle look. A term often heard when discussing linen is “table linens,” which refers to the different pieces of fabric used at a table – the tablecloth and the napkins.
Although these are generally used for special events such as weddings, baby showers, bridal showers, and anniversary parties, linen tablecloths and napkins can be incredibly useful in a home.
Rather than having to constantly wipe down the table or use disposable napkins, you can use linen for both. After meals, when the linens are dirty, you can give them a quick wash in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with cold water.
Lay them out to dry overnight and use them again the next day. Linen bedding is also quite common. Whether it’s pillowcases or top blankets, linen fabric works great for lightweight and breathable bedding.
It’s best for bedding in a hot climate where you want that extra breathability in the fabric. It may be too light to use in an extremely cold climate.
If you live somewhere with both hot summers and cold winters, you can switch out your bedding for the seasons. Use a warmer fabric for the winter months and use your linen bedding for the summer.