Medieval And Modern – History Of Silk Part 2

Medieval And Modern – History Of Silk Part 2

medieval silk history

The history of silk changed gradually with the spread of sericulture across the medieval world, altered by a sudden plague, then changed again due to the industrial revolution. Despite its ancient origins, the use of silk has not really changed over time, from the earliest discovery it was known to be the garments of kings and nobles, regardless of the expense.

silk in the medieval West

Primarily as a result of the crusades, the Western European kingdoms came into more direct contact with their Byzantine and Arab rivals. This exchange gave them many things, one being the spread of sericulture, particularly to Italy and Southern France. These locations became important sources and manufactories for European silk and endured up until the first World War. These quickly increased the supply of the textile, which had been one of the rarest of luxuries in the known world. This served to open the marked to a wider range of the nobility and wealthy classes.

Silk became so popular that, like we’ll see in the East, sumptuary laws were passed in many nations restricting the kinds and ranks of people who could wear silk. Depending on the country, silk was either seen as too effeminate or too rich for all but the highest of noblemen. For women it was generally allowed so long as one could afford it.

As technology advanced Western silks could come closer and closer to the Eastern competition, but the standards were tough and the demand for finer and finer weaves simply continued to grow. The Black Death, and a severe silkworm plague almost wiped out European silk for good, but with the return of wealth in the renaissance silk production quickly returned.

Silk In The Medieval East

medieval silk history

Despite being the birthplace of silk, in ancient and medieval China who could wear silk was even more restricted. The farming of silk worms was originally completely restricted to women, and at times a very large proportion of women were involved in the industry. Silk was such a sought after luxury that the use and wearing of silk became the sole right of the imperial family.

For more than a thousand years the emperor and his most valued vassals reserved the right to wear and deal with silk. Silk became one of the most valued gifts and diplomatic tools, which gradually spread the textile through Chinese society and abroad. Peasants did not have the right to wear silk until the Qing dynasty (1644-1910).

medieval silk history

By the late middle ages silk and sericulture had long since spread to most regions of the Eastern world. While Chinese silk was always the most desirable due to their superior loom and weaving technologies, Japan, India, most of the nations of South-East Asia, built their own respectable industries.

Trade Conflicts

Silk continued to slow west from China and India via the silk road for centuries. Despite attempts to have a domestic industry, the western nations were almost always in a large trade deficit. Combine the western demand for silk, with other luxuries like tea, spices, and precious stones, and there was a great monetary incentive to expand East wards

With the taking of India, Hong Kong, Philippines, Vietnam, among others, Eastern luxuries flowed in greater and greater volumes. Combine this with the rapid rise of industrialisation and the volumes of silk across the world again rose, becoming more available to more people.

Silk In The Modern World

The role of silk has changed little since the industrial revolution. No longer is it one of the rarest and most valuable things in the world, yet it is still prized as the best of all the textiles.

Silk followed the same trend as most other textiles, though not being particularly well suited to industrial looms at first. For a time it was thought that silk could never be industrially spun, as the fibre differed greatly from the wool and cotton those machines were originally built for. Much of the original benefit of industrial machines was the spinning of fibres into thread, but this did not benefit silk as it is already naturally a thread.

In 1845 a serious silkworm epidemic struck Europe. Among many, the famous scientist Louis Pasteur was tasked with studying the disease. It took until 1870 for the fungal epidemic to be resolved leaving behind and devastated industry. This combined with the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, allowing for much cheaper imports from China and Japan, effectively doomed European sericulture and silk and the most prized comodity.

With the creation of modern, stronger and cheaper, synthetic fibres silk has also lost position the materials like Kelvar for niche uses (like parachutes, armor, and other uses that require particularly strong fibres).

The Future Of Silk

Despite its fall from such great heights, silk is still the textile fo luxury and power. The silk tie and the silk dress are both holdovers from a time that only kings and emperors were allowed to wear them. The future of silk is likely to continue to decline, as though many traditional cultures continue to wear full silk garments, a combination of synthetics and better woven alternatives are more practical and affordable.

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A Brief History Of Silk – Part 1

A Brief History Of Silk – Part 1

History Of Silk

For thousands of years, silk has been one of the most iconic and defining symbols of wealth. From Japan to France silk has been the chosen textile of royalty and the elite alike. The history of silk is a long one, with evidence of complex weaving being freshly discovered in China dating to more than 5,500 years ago.

silk tray

Silk has gone through a unique journey of history, beginning as something closer to myth than reality, then becoming one of the most valuable and widespread luxuries, then a subject of conspiracy’s and heists, then a widely cultivated product, then returning back to a rare and sumptuous luxury.

What Is Silk?

Silk is a product of quite a large number of number insects. Silk is mainly created by the larvae of insects undergoing metamorphosis (caterpillars into moths for example). The best-known silk comes from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm, these domesticated species are the source of the silk textile (though silk can be made, but with much more difficulty, from other types of moths).

History Of Silk

Silk is not only produced this way, webspinners like spiders also produce silk, as well as some species of bees, ants, leafhoppers, and many more arthropods.

History Of Silk

The fiber itself is made of natural proteins, mainly fibroin. And its trademark shimmering appearance is given by the prism-like structure of the fiber.


The silk of the mulberry silkworm is used in a great variety of applications aside from the obvious use as clothing. Its unique appearance, ease of dying, strength, and durability has secured its place as the most valuable natural textile ever since its discovery. Some interesting commercial uses include parachutes, gunpowder bags, and surgical sutures.

Mythological Origins

The origins of silk trace back to the far depths of ancient China. According to the ancient sage Confucius, in the 27th century BC (over 4,700 years ago), a silkworm’s cocoon fell into the tea cup of the young empress Leizu. When she extracted the cocoon from her drink the long thread began to unroll, sparking the idea to try and weave it. With support from her husband, the Yellow Emperor, she began to instruct in the raising of silkworms, founding what is known as sericulture. From this point, she became the goddess of silk in Chinese mythology.


Although the Chinese exported great volumes of silk, they closely guarded the secret of its cultivation for centuries. Therefore there sprung a great variety of ideas and imaginations of how the wonderous fabric was made. A notable exception to this is found in the writings of Pliny the Elder as he describes in his Natural History, the spider-like weaving of the silk moths. It is unknown how he came to understand this.

silk fiber

Silk Spread Out Of China

Despite the Empire’s best efforts (defending their monopoly under punishment of death to anyone attempting to export silkworms or their eggs), the ways of silk cultivation did in fact spread. First to Korea, and Japan, then later to India (where it remains an important cultural and industrial product). Following the opening of the Silk Road, it was only a matter of time before an enterprising merchant found a way to smuggle the precious insects further west.

silk road

This moment came under the rule of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 552 AD. He sent two monks east to smuggle silkworm eggs back to the capital. According to the story, the monks hid the eggs in rods of bamboo, or a cane, depending on whose source you read. The Church was then able to find some of the first sericulture in the Mediterranean.


Around the same time, the Arabs, who’d also obtained the ways of sericulture, conquered their way across the Middle East. They spread their knowledge of silk farming and weaving, serving as another focal point of the development of silk in Europe.

Despite losing its monopoly, China maintained itself as a major silk supplier, continuing to dominate the silk market via the legendary Silk Road. In fact, the spread of sericulture seemed to do little to diminish demand. As we will see in later eras, the West’s demand for Eastern silks never ceased, and as prices did fall and availability increased, the volumes simply grew.

Silk making

It wasn’t until the crusades that the techniques of silk production began to spread across Western Europe. With the sack of Constantinople in 1204, many of the leading Byzantine artisans left, mainly concentrating in Italy and southern France, where they would go on to supply domestic silk in the Medieval world.

french silk


In the next part, we will look at the interesting development of silk in the medieval world, where it came to dominate fashion, and yet also become more accessible and cheaper.

Check out some other histories, and let me know what you thought in the comments below.

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Sewing Projects For Leftover Fabric Squares

Sewing Projects For Leftover Fabric Squares

leftover fabric squares

One of the best ways to use leftover fabric pieces and fabric scraps is to cut them into small squares. From there, you have a variety of options for utilizing the fabric. Because of their uniform, geometric shape, fabric squares can be used to make a quilt, skirt, tablecloth, or bag. Choose fabric squares that are in the same color family if you would like to coordinate the fabrics, or choose a mix of different fabrics for a more eccentric look.

leftover fabric squares


People typically use fabric squares to make quilts. You can make a quilt out of essentially any kind of fabric square, ranging from printed muslin fabrics to cotton t-shirts that have sentimental value for you. To make a quilt, gather many fabric squares, depending on how large you would like the quilt to be. Arrange them in a way that you like before you start sewing. Then use a sewing machine to attach all of the different fabric squares together to create one large quilt. If you would like, attach some muslin or other cotton fabric to the back of the quilt afterward, to make it sturdier.

leftover fabric squares


To make a skirt out of fabric squares, start by attaching the fabric squares together. To sew a basic skirt, you need a piece of fabric that is at least 45 inches wide and approximately 2 yards long. In the case of this project, you will be creating this piece of fabric by sewing together the fabric squares. Once you have a large enough piece of fabric, follow a skirt sewing pattern to create the garment.

fabric squares


Similar to a quilt, a tablecloth is a simple yet unexpected way to utilize fabric squares. Since you can use a combination of coordinating patterns and colors with the fabric squares, this kind of tablecloth is an effective way to brighten a space or match the décor that you already have. To make a tablecloth, first, measure the table that you would like to cover. Ensure that you sew it large enough that there will be at least a few inches of overhang on each side. Attach the fabric squares and line the tablecloth if you think it is necessary.

leftover fabric squares


Pillows are fun and easy projects and a good way to use leftover fabric squares.  If you need some ideas about pillow and pillowcase patterns, please check out this huge roundup of designs and free patterns.

fabric squares


With a basic pattern, it is relatively simple and quick to make a cloth bag. For a more interesting cloth bag, you can create the fabric that you will use for the bag out of the fabric squares. Determine the fabric yardage that you will need based on the specifications of the pattern. Sew enough squares together to create that fabric yardage. Then attach the fabric to the sewing pattern to cut out the pieces to the correct size. Sew the body of the bag as well as the cloth handle, following the pattern as directed.

leftover fabric squares

I hope you do something fun with these simple projects for leftover fabric squares. Be sure to share your work and comment below.

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An Introduction to Sewing Sweater Knits

An Introduction to Sewing Sweater Knits

sewing sweater knits

Ah, sweater knits! These highly textural, stretch fabrics can be cozy, lacy, casual, or sophisticated. With a good sweater knit and a little practice, you can cut and sew a sweater in a day or less, even if you can’t knit or crochet. Yes, they’re enabling. And they’re beautiful. If I sound a little biased, well… full disclosure, I’m a designer of sweater knits and I love what I do!

sewing sweater knits
“Saratoga Rib” sweater knit fabric, 100% cotton,
photo credit: Debbie Iles of Lily Sage and Co

What exactly is a sweater knit? All knits are fabrics that are made by interlooping of threads or yarn; that is, by pulling one loop of yarn through a previously made loop of yarn, row after row, and column after column, depending on the type of knit. A sweater knit is made with heavier yarn and bigger stitches than what you find in a standard t-shirt fabric. You’ll know a sweater knit when you see one because the beautiful textures, often with quite complicated stitch patterns, immediately make you think “sweater”. Any color patterns in this type of knit are usually produced with different color yarns, as opposed to having the colors printed on the fabric. The sweater knits that you find at a fabric shop have all been made on industrial knitting machines.

sewing sweater knits
“Mesa Plaid” sweater knit fabric, 100% cotton

If you’ve never worked with sweater knits before, they can seem a little intimidating at first. Some, though not all sweater knits, can be surprisingly stretchy or unstable or thick. Those pretty stitches that make the fabrics so appealing need to be properly finished in order to prevent the fabric from fraying or running. But once you’re familiar and comfortable with the basic properties of sweater knits and know how to work with them, the fabrics are lots of fun. Your reward is a beautiful sweater to keep or give. I hope these tips, grouped into four categories, will get you started on a creative sweater knit sewing journey!

Getting to know your sweater knit

Before you even choose a sewing pattern, I highly recommend that you choose your fabric first. This may be opposite to the way you’re used to working, but your fabric may help in your choice of sewing pattern. (We’ll get to suitable sewing patterns later.) Choose a fabric that you love and get familiar with its basic qualities. If this is your first cut-and-sew sweater, look for a sweater knit that’s relatively stable and with a good amount of natural fiber, at least 55% cotton or wool, if possible. I’ve found cotton, wool, and linen are the easiest of natural fabric knits to sew. Fabrics that are primarily made of natural fibers work well with the steam from your iron. Though there are a couple of exceptions to the rule, when you work it’s best to hold your iron about a half inch above your sweater and allow steam from your iron to penetrate the fabric. This method will help preserve the stretch and texture of your fabric. Avoid applying pressure with a back-and-forth motion as you might do with a woven fabric. You’ll use this steaming method to make flat seams, hems, etc.

If you’re just making a practice garment and feel more comfortable practicing with less expensive fabric, try your cutting and sewing techniques on a natural fiber sweater from the thrift shop rather than using 100% synthetic fabric. If you must use fabric with a high percentage of acrylic, polyester, or other synthetic, omit the steam and high heat, which could ruin this type of knit.

Each sweater knit will have its own “personality”. Cut a small rectangle and fold over an edge. Get to know the fabric’s properties by stretching the fabric at the fold. Now fold and stretch in the direction perpendicular to your first fold. Make note of which direction stretches the most. Now stretch the cut edge a little. Now stretch the cut edge a bit more. Does it run easily? Probably not. Usually, only the laciest or slippery fabrics will run easily. Sweater knits just may be sturdier than you imagined!

sewing sweater knits
“Washington Square” sweater knit fabric, 100% wool

Choosing your sewing pattern

If you’re happy with your fabric, you’ll want to feature its wonderful texture and color(s). Look for a basic sewing pattern designed for knits and with few seams. I’m thrilled to see both major and independent pattern companies publishing more and more patterns specifically designed for sweater knits. Know, however, that your tried ‘n true t-shirt or sweatshirt pattern may also work wonderfully with your sweater fabric. Just make sure your chosen fabric meets the stretch requirements listed with the pattern. This Pinterest board may be helpful for sewing pattern ideas

sewing sweater knits
“Commercial Sewing Patterns Suitable for Sweater Knits”
Pinterest Board

Setting up your sewing machine

Use a ballpoint needle (sometimes called a “jersey” needle) of appropriate size for the weight of your fabric. Sewing with polyester thread and a narrow zigzag or stretch stitch is best for seams that need to stretch. I personally prefer the narrow zigzag, because the stitches are easy to remove if I need to change anything. If your sewing machine is refusing to sew sweater knits smoothly or wants to “do bad things” to your fabric, don’t panic. If you can, lessen the pressure of your presser foot. Some machines may need a little more help. Try these tips for smooth sewing and be sure to practice all settings on the test rectangle first!

Finishing your edges and seam allowances

There are several good choices for edge finishes — bands, bindings, facings, hems. Your sewing pattern will provide instructions for this important step. When you become more comfortable with sweater knits, you may discover your absolute favorite finish and use that one all the time!  Or you may want to diverge from the pattern instructions and swap out an edge finish just for the fun of it.

Sweater knit seam allowances can be finished in a number of ways. They can be serged or overlocked. (Tip: If using a serger to finish a sweater knit seam, the differential feed setting will almost always need to be set to 1.5 or higher.) A serger is not mandatory. Some of my favorite finishes are actually made on a regular sewing machine! They can be zigzagged and trimmed, bound, topstitched, taped, or covered. We all know that finishing seam allowances makes the inside of any garment look nice, whether it’s made with a woven fabric or a knit. With a sweater knit, a finished seam allowance also protects the seams from fraying or running after repeated wearings and washings. No matter how you decide to finish your seam allowances, always practice on your the cutaways first.

Like so much of sewing, there are many approaches when working with sweater knits, and there’s really no one “right” way of finishing a detail or accomplishing a task. The more you work with sweater knits, the better you get. Enjoy the process of learning which techniques work best for you, your particular fabric, and your style. Use and modify these recommendations as needed in your own sweater sewing adventures.

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Olgalyn Jolly is a knitted textile designer and teacher based in Soho, New York City. She has studied fashion and textile industry techniques at Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology and has many years of experience developing stitch designs for leading fashion designers and retailers. Olgalyn’s specialty is sweater knits and designed the fabrics pictured in this article. You can read more about Olgalyn and sweater knits on her website O! Jolly! and blog Crafting Fashion.

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A Super Quick History Of Linen

A Super Quick History Of Linen


The flax fields are blooming in a beautiful display of blue-purple flowers.  Bees fill the air with their happy flight, children duck and dive through the waist-high stalks.  The seasons eventually change and soon the stalks will begin to ripen into a bright blonde, signaling the farmers to begin their harvest.  The clipped straw will lay there, steaming in the hot sun and soaking in the dawn dew.  When enough time has passed the villagers will gather and begin the taxing process of turning the straw into one of the world’s most valuable fibers.  Time and trade will see the fruits of their labor travel across the Mediterranean Sea to lands they could have never dreamed of, their efforts are now a part of the ancient history of linen.

history of linen
Flax in bloom should be ready to harvest in a couple of months.

Last week we dove into the exciting history of cotton.  Today we’ll look at an even older textile, a textile known across the ancient world from Pharos of Egypt to the Kings of Europe and the Emperors of China. That textile is of course Linen.  Join me today to take a quick look at the history of linen.

What Is Linen?

Linen is made of the processed fibers of the flax plant.  The flax plant is suited to cooler climates and has a long history across the Old World and Asia.  The plant is both a food and fiber crop.  The oil (called linseed oil) and the flax seeds are both edible, although the oil is more often used for varnishing wood or in paints.

Linen is a very strong and hardy fabric.  In fact, it is one of the few fabrics that is stronger when wet than dry. The fibers are not flexible and do not stretch.  However, because linen fibers have very low elasticity, the fabric eventually breaks if it is folded and ironed at the same place repeatedly over time.

The plant grows up to four feet tall and has beautiful blue-purple flowers.

The Ancient History Of Linen

The history of linen goes so far back that our very language has been shaped by this remarkable textile.  The word comes from the Latin word for the flax plant; linum, and the earlier Greek λίνον (linon).  This word has given birth to a number of other terms:

  • Line, comes from the use of a linen thread to determine a straight line.
  • Lingerie, via French, originally meant underwear made of linen.
  • Lining, because linen was, and is, often used to create an inner layer for wool and leather clothing.
  • The term in English ‘flaxen-haired’ denoting a very light, bright blonde, comes from a comparison to the color of raw flax fiber.

The oldest evidence of Linen production may go as far back as an amazing 36,000 years ago!  This was an impressive discovery of a prehistoric cave in Georgia that contained dyed wild flax fibers, suggesting the crafting of dyed linen fabrics.  Imagine that, even cave-people loved the cool, luxurious feel of linen.

history of linen
Linen yarn, thread, fibers, fabric, and stalks.

More “recent” records show evidence for flax yarn and fabric dating to about 8000 BC in a Swiss lake dwelling.  There is evidence of domesticated flax in India and China dating to about 3,000 BC, and a similar time period for Germany and further Western Europe.  Flax was first domesticated in the ancient “Fertile Crescent” region, which is a place home to some of the earliest human civilizations.  The region is primarily made up of Mesopotamia and The Levant (modern Iraq, Syria, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon).

The ancient Egyptians used linen to wrap their dead Pharaohs.  Amazingly, after more than 3,000 years some of these wrappings have remained in perfect preservation.  Our earliest evidence of structured linen production comes from Egypt, written by the Greeks on the famous ‘Linear B Tablet‘.  It mentions the Egyptian women workers cataloged as “li-ne-ya” (λίνεια, lineia).

The ancient Greek historian Plutarch mentions Linen as being the preferred garb of the priests at the temple of Isis.  The Greeks, like the Egyptians, saw linen as a symbol of divine purity and cherished it deeply.

An ancient price edict by Emperor Diocletian setting the prices of three different grades of linen.

The Phoenicians (originating in Lebanon), who, with their merchant fleet, opened up new channels of commerce to the peoples of the Mediterranean, and developed the tin mines of Cornwall, introduced flax growing and the making of linen into Ireland before the birth of Christ.  Many credit their merchant fleets as one of the main reasons flax is so widespread (among other crops/crafts that originated in the Levant).  The Phoenicians traded Egyptian linen extensively throughout the Mediterranean.

The Romans were great purchasers of Egyptian linen, as well as growing substantial amounts within the Empire. Notably, they used Linen to make their sails.

When the Roman Empire fell the production of linen and flax declined rapidly.  Production only recovered by the time of Charlemagne (770 AD) who widely publicized the health benefits of linseed oil. Eventually, Flanders became the major center of the linen industry in the European Middle Ages.

history of linen
Flax tissues, Tacuinum sanitatis, 14th century

Linen In Recent Times

During the Victorian era, the majority of the world’s linen was produced in Belfast, earning it the nickname Linenopolis.  Belfast remains one of the most famous linen-producing centers throughout history.

The processing and weaving of linen greatly advanced with the industrial revolution, but to a far lesser extent than cotton.  Linen can be woven with the same machinery as cotton, but it loses its distinctive linen weave making it an unpopular choice.

history of linen
1912 Industrial spinning room. Not actually for linen, but it serves the same purpose. Photo taken in Fall River, Massachusetts by Lewis Hine

The modern centers of high-quality flax production are primarily found in Western European countries and Ukraine.  Linen products range from lower quality bulk from Eastern Europe and China to the highest quality which is found in Ireland, Italy, and Belgium.

How Is It Made?

We all know linen to be an expensive textile.  This is due to its difficulty in growing, harvesting, processing, and weaving – all of which are labor-intensive.  Of course, the development of modern mechanization has greatly changed the process, but the steps remain largely the same, just done more efficiently.

The flax plant is grown in loose, high in organic matter, and loamy soil.  It does not require the use of many fertilizers and pesticides.  Heavy clays are unsuitable, as are soils of a gravelly or dry sandy nature. Flax is often found growing wild just above the waterline in bogs.

Flax is ready to harvest after about 100 days, this is about a month after the plant’s flower, and two weeks after the seeds have formed.  The clear sign is when the base of the plant begins to turn yellow.  There are two methods to harvest the ripe flax plant.  The first is mechanical, where the plant is cut as low as possible for the greatest length of the fiber.  After it is cut and dried a combine then harvests the seeds similar to wheat or oat harvesting.  By hand, the plant is pulled up with the roots to maximize the fiber length.  The flax is then allowed to dry, then the seeds are removed.

Flux drying in upright bundles.

After the flax is threshed (separating the seeds from the straw, either by machine or hand), it is then retted.  Retting is getting the woody center of the flax stalk to rot away, leaving the fibers available.  There are three methods of retting, the most used and the one that yields the highest quality fiber is retting in the field.  Retting in the field is as simple as leaving the cut hay in windrows on the ground to collect dew (and rain) and steam in the sun.  Depending on the climate this can take two weeks or up to two months. When complete the straw is rolled up and moved to processing.

The next step is scutching.  Scutching removes the woody parts of the stalks by crushing them.  This is commonly done between two metal rollers.  The fibers are removed and the other useful parts of the plant are set aside for other uses (linseed, shive, and tow).

Next, the fibers are heckled.  This is where the short fibers are separated with ‘heckling combs’ that combs them away, leaving only the long fibers.  Now the fibers are used to be spun into yarns.  This is also a delicate process as the linen fibers cannot stretch, and the individual fibers can break easily.  The yarns are then woven or knit into linen textiles.

history of linen
Threads on a linen loom.

Wow… Now I think you can see why linen is so pricey.  Compare all that work to the relatively simple process of spinning cotton or wool!

What Is Linen Used For?

Our use of linen has changed significantly in recent times.  In the 1990s about 70% of linen production was for apparel textiles, compared to the 1970s only about 5% was used for fashion fabrics.

Linen has a diverse range of uses, from bed sheets, tablecloths dish towels, wallpaper, shirts, skirts, and suits, to industrial products like thread, luggage, and canvases – to name a few.  Before more modern synthetics linen was the preferred yarn for hand-sewing, particularly with shoes.

Historically, undergarments, both men’s and women’s, were often made in linen (if you could afford it).  In the 20th century, the linen handkerchief was the standard decoration of a man’s suit.

Linen fabric is one of the traditional supports for oil painting.  Linen is preferred to cotton for its strength, archival integrity, and durability.

In the middle ages, linen was notably used for shields, bowstrings, and gambesons (padded cloth under armor), as well as sometimes for books.

The United States and many other countries use a 25% linen and 75% cotton paper for their currency.

The Future Of Linen

Linen will always have a place in wardrobes across the world.  No other material can match its comfort in hot weather coupled with its durability.  Also, since it is a food crop, there is even more reason to continue to grow the stuff.

However, even with our advanced processing and manufacturing processes, we have yet to find a less time-consuming method to make linen – which means it always will be a low-volume textile with high prices.

A field of yellow flax.

These problems are unlikely to be solved with genetic modification, or even more automated processing, as so much of the work comes from the simple nature of the plant.  You can’t have the fiber without the strong and hard-to-break apart woody-layers that make it so hard to work with.

Thank you for following this quick history of linen.  Always when talking about history you inevitably have to pick and choose what information to share, otherwise, this simple article would turn into a book! Let me know if I missed anything important and thanks for your feedback on the last history article.

Comment down below if you have any topics you’d like me to write about.  Anyways, Until Next Time, Happy Sewing!

P.S. Inspired to try out an all linen project?  Check out the Linen V-Top Pattern!

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Quick Tips For Sewing Difficult Fabrics

Quick Tips For Sewing Difficult Fabrics

Sewing Difficult Fabrics

Knowing good basic sewing skills always comes in handy.  But sometimes, challenging fabrics can still be too much to handle.  Indeed, what may seem like simple tasks of folding and cutting fabric can become frustrating –not to mention the difficulties that will be encountered when we start running our sewing machines through these uncooperative fabrics.

Generally, when dealing with challenging fabrics, there are some things we can do to immediately improve the situation. Adjusting your machine’s thread tension up and down until you identify the best setting for the particular fabric can do wonders.  Speeding up as well as slowing down the sewing may make your sewing machine run smoothly over the fabric.  You may just have to experiment a little.  Simply making sure that the fabric is free of dust or any adhesive residue may also make it cooperate better with your sewing.

However, if these quick tips don’t work, then you can read on and take note of some of these helpful hacks and tips for sewing difficult fabrics.

Fragile and Thick Fabrics

sewing difficult fabrics

Sometimes we work with fabrics that are so fragile that there is a possibility that they tear up when we try to cut them. Soaking these delicate fabrics in lukewarm water can give us better results.

Long-bladed scissors are also helpful in cutting these fabrics aided by a heavy ruler along the edge so that there is less stress exerted on the fabric.  You might also try a rotary cutter.

Use strips of starched fabric under the seams that will provide extra resilience to your delicate fabric when you start sewing. Simply pick the starched fabric off after you finish.  And make sure that you are using fine sharp needles.

Another great tip is to let the hems take on a rounded shape as opposed to pressing your hem flat. And as much as possible, try using the least number of pins on your fragile fabric.

sewing difficult fabrics

If you cut through thick fabric and it seems like cutting through leather, then it is time to use a craft knife. Place your fabric over a piece of wood or cutting mat wrong side up when you cut. In this way, you will not scratch the fabric surface if you accidentally slip with the knife.

When storing thick fabrics, it is sometimes best to roll them up like you would a poster to prevent permanent creases from forming in your fabric.

In some cases, thick fabrics don’t need edging, while other thick fabrics may need a double row of close stitches without a fold to make a hem.

Leather-grade heavy needles are best suited for thick fabrics to prevent your needle from breaking. It is also important to use strong thread with thick fabrics and finishing is often best done by hand.

Slippery and Furry Fabrics

sewing difficult fabrics

The problem with slippery fabrics is that they usually don’t stay in place while you are sewing on them. Putting your slippery fabric between two layers of tissue paper should prevent them from slipping away from you and your sewing machine. This can also help you avoid snags that could destroy the smooth surface of the fabric.

Always press from the wrong side of shiny fabrics.  You should always use a pressing cloth if you ever need to press the right side.  You may also want to put paper under your seams when you press them open to avoid making creases on the right side of the fabric.

When preparing hems and seams of shiny fabrics, tacking by hand or hand basting is a good idea before you use your sewing machine.  This will help prevent distortion in the final product.

Lastly, try using some regular spray starch –the kind you’d use for ironing a shirt– and applying a light spray across the fabric.  This will stiffen it up the fabric making it much easier to handle while you’re cutting.

sewing difficult fabrics

Furry fabrics, on the other hand, can prove to be the most difficult to sew especially when the long fur fibers get entangled with your stitches.

Before you start sewing, brush your furry fabric using a soft hairbrush and make sure all the fibers are lying in one direction. When sewing and make sure the fibers are flat and in the same direction, arranged parallel to your stitches.

Remember that furry fabrics tend to have fragile bases so use double rows of stitches for your seams. A coarse thread and long stitches will also help in securely gripping your furry fabric.  For more tips on sewing with fur, please review the linked article.

Final Thoughts on Sewing Difficult Fabrics

There is no doubt that working with fragile, thick, slippery, and furry fabrics can sometimes become a troublesome task.  Each of these fabrics has special characteristics that can make cutting and sewing them a challenging job.  Some of these difficult fabrics have the tendency to move during the cutting stage so having neat edges could prove to be elusive. Others can prove to be a handful when you try to feed them through your sewing machine.  Deciding what stitch to use on these fabrics to produce the best result can already be intimidating to many.

However, producing something beautiful out of these challenging fabrics can give you a kind of satisfaction that is certainly worth all your efforts.  So, roll up your sleeves up and start taking the challenge of working with these unpredictable fabrics!  If you have any special tips for sewing difficult fabrics that you can share with the group, please add them in the comments below!

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