With an airy weave, a sturdy structure, a versatile appearance and an increasingly soft feel, it's easy to see why linen reigns as a premium fabric choice in many categories. The natural material is a go-to for summertime shirts, breezy pants, warm-weather suits and lightweight frocks — not to mention napkins, tablecloths, window coverings and upholstery. Linen is great for many things, but where it really stands out is bedding.
So, what is linen, exactly? What makes it such an amazing option for sleeping in hot climates, and can it be used year-round for bedding? Find answers to these questions and more about this beloved fabric.
What is linen?
Linen is made from flax plants and is prized for its durability and versatility. Though the medium-weight fabric has hollow fibers, it's also naturally insulating, keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Linen's popularity goes back tens of thousands of years. The textile has long been celebrated for its ability to stay fresh and dry in warm, balmy weather. But there's much more to this linen than its easy, breezy reputation.
How is linen made?
Standing three feet tall with glossy leaves and pale blue flowers, the flax plant (AKA Linum usitatissimum) grows wild in cool climates all over the world, from India to Western Europe. To extract the fibers needed to make linen, the plant is cut or pulled from the ground, then the seeds are removed, and the sturdy flax stocks are soaked.
Soaking causes flax stocks to be broken down by a biological process called retting. This results in a lustrous fiber resembling blonde hair (hence the term "flaxen"). After separating the fibers from the stock, they can be used to create yarn, which is woven into fabric.
Is linen eco-friendly?
Since flax grows relatively quickly and doesn't require a lot of water, energy or other natural resources, linen is also considered a sustainable product. Not only that, but the fabric itself is recyclable and biodegradable.
What color is linen?
Natural linen can come in a range of hues, including ivory, oatmeal, taupe, ecru and grey. The color of the fabric depends on factors relating to the flax plant and the specific processes used to separate the fibers.
When you see bright white linen, you can usually assume it's been bleached in order to achieve the color. For many, the understated natural colors of linen add to the fabric's appeal. However, if you prefer more color in your life, modern techniques make it possible to get linen in various colors beyond those that naturally occur.
Linen vs. cotton: What's the difference?
Linen was a prized and coveted fabric during the time of the Egyptians. In modern times, however, linen has some serious competition from another type of natural fabric: cotton. Like linen, cotton has been around for thousands of years and is used to make clothing, bedding, home decor items and more. While there are a number of similarities between linen and cotton, the differences will help you decide which fabric is the right choice for you.
Linen and cotton are both natural fibers that come from plants. Linen takes longer to harvest and turn into fabric than cotton because working with flax fibers can be challenging. Once the fibers are extracted from the flax plant, they must be stored for long periods of time in order to soften. Taking the extra time to make linen is worth the effort because the fabric is more durable and longer lasting than cotton.
Linen vs. Cotton Bedding
How does linen compare to cotton as a bedding material? In most cases, linen is stronger than cotton, though it depends on the type. For instance, notably durable percale cotton is right up there with linen in terms of strength. However, lighter types of cotton, like percale and sateen, are not quite as durable.
In terms of feel, linen is on the heavier side, though it's also refreshingly breezy and breathable. Sateen tends to be smoother to the touch, and percale has more of a crisp, cool feel. Then there's brushed cotton, which is exceedingly soft but also more insulating than other cottons.
Like most types of cotton, linen is light yet warm, so it's ideal for year-round use. As far as aesthetics go, it's the perfect balance of casual yet elegant. Whether your bedroom vibe is modern farmhouse, laid-back and beachy, upscale industrial or something in between, you can't go wrong with linen bedding.
Does thread count matter for linen?
When choosing a bedding material, people often refer to thread count as a way to measure quality. High thread count cotton sheets have threads or fibers that are closer together and more plentiful than lower thread count sheets. As fabric lore goes, the higher the thread count, the better the material — and yet, this isn't necessarily the case.
For one, there are no regulations in the bedding industry about how to count threads and what claims companies can make. Compared to other fabrics, linen usually has a relatively low thread count, but this is by design. Linen fibers are naturally farther apart than what you can find with cotton.
Its natural softness doesn't come from a high thread count but rather the unique texture of flax fibers. Also, linen gets softer over time — the more you wash it, the more supple it becomes. High thread bedding can be soft and warm, but it won't provide you with the breathability you'll find with linen.
Pros and Cons of Linen
Linen fabric is difficult to create compared to other fabrics like cotton and synthetic blends. The inherently sturdy flax fibers are knitted together on jacquard looms using a complex combination of plain and satin weaves. The result? An ultra-strong and long-lasting fabric.
Not only does linen hold up for years, but as we mentioned, it also gets softer over time. Because of this, linen is often more expensive than other fabrics. But for many, it's well worth the investment.
A potential downside of using linen for bedding is that, unlike cotton and blended fabrics, it doesn't have much stretch. However, it shouldn't shrink in the wash, so you don't have to worry about fitting it onto your mattress, pillows or duvets.
Are linen sheets worth it?
While linen bedding can be a little pricier than other options, the value is undeniable. The material typically lasts longer than other fabrics, plus it resists pilling and fraying and softens over time. Like a good bottle of wine, linen gets better with age — a quality you won't find with other types of bedding.
If you appreciate the casually elegant appearance and want something that'll last you several years, linen is an excellent choice. Not only that, but it's breathable and light but also plenty cozy for year-round use.
How to Care for Linen
Caring for linen fabric is simple. You can machine wash linen bedding on warm using mild, liquid detergent. Dry the linen sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases on low using wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. If the linen is garment-washed and you follow the instructions regarding keeping the heat low, you won't have to worry about shrinking.
Linen can wrinkle easily and, for many people, that adds to the cozy look of linen bedding. If you do want to minimize wrinkles in your fitted sheets, remove them from the dryer while they're slightly damp and put them on the bed right away. Putting the sheets on the bed while damp will allow them to finish drying with fewer wrinkles than if you left them in the dryer to finish. Learn more about how to care for linen in our Linen Care Guide.
Fall in love with linen bedding
The process of making linen has never been easy, but the quality of the fabric makes it worth the trouble. Linen bedding can help you stay cool in the summer and warm you up in chilly weather. Linen is lint, stain and dirt-resistant, which helps increase the longevity. And as an added bonus, the fabric has a smaller eco-footprint than other bedding materials.
Linen is a high-quality fabric that can provide you with the best of all worlds. With linen bedding, you get sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases that'll stand up to daily use, last for years to come and become more supple with every wash.
The Right Linen for You
At Parachute, we're obsessed with linen bedding because of everything it has to offer. It is better for you because it can help you sleep comfortably, will outlast other types of fabric and is free from harmful chemicals and synthetics. (We never artificially soften our fabrics.) Linen bedding is better for the environment because of its durability and the way it is made. You can sleep in comfort and with a good conscience when you choose linen bedding.
Our linen bedding is made in a family-owned factory that has been operating for generations. The combination of time-honored techniques and modern technologies work together to create the high-quality and unique linen bedding you can find at Parachute.
You can find a full line of linen bedding from Parachute including linen sheets, linen duvets, and linen pillowcases in an assortment of sizes from twin to California King. There are multiple colors to choose from, all of which are natural and muted to fit with home décor that ranges from earthy and natural to clean and modern.
You can explore the linen bedding options online and order samples to experience the feel and colors in person. And, if you need a little more guidance, you can get complimentary advice from a home stylist, including personalized product selections to make your house a Parachute home.