You’ve probably heard and used the term “bed linen” without giving much thought to what linen fabric actually is (or whether your bed sheets are, in fact, made from linen!). So, what is linen made from? Read on for the answer—and everything else you need to know about this fabric.

What Is Linen Fabric?

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What color is linen? It’s often a neutral shade unless dyed.

Let’s start with the basics: What is linen made of? Linen fabric is made from flax plant fibers, so it’s a natural fabric. It’s similar to cotton in that it’s breathable, moisture-wicking, and breezy. It tends to be quite expensive, but linen items can last a long time. 

And what color is linen? Naturally, it ranges from beige to grey. It takes dye well, though, so it can be dyed a variety of different colors.

Color Your Linen Clothing

Botanical Dye 101: Create Sustainable, Natural & Stylish Clothing

Fabric Qualities of Linen

yellow dress
Source: Instagram
Linen is a good fabric for summer clothing.

Strong and Durable

Linen fabric tends to be quite thick, and it’s one of the few fabrics that is actually stronger when wet than when dry. This makes it long-lasting and easy to take care of.

Absorbent but Fast-Drying

One reason why linen has traditionally been used to make bed sheets and pillowcases is that it’s very absorbent but also fast-drying. This also means it’s a good fabric for summer clothing in hot climates. It will absorb sweat and help keep you cool, but not stay wet for long.


Linen is not stretchy and is often thick or coarse, too, depending on the weave of the fabric. This makes it better for loose items of clothing, rather than anything too form-fitting.

Linen Vs. Cotton

pink bed sheets
Source: Instagram
Linen bed sheets can last for decades.

Linen and cotton look and feel similar, but they’re not the same. They’re both natural fabrics made from plants: Linen is made from the flax plant, while cotton is made from the cotton plant. They also have some different qualities. Linen is almost as absorbent as cotton but it dries faster. Linen is generally more durable than cotton, but it’s not as flexible. Cotton also tends to be softer and smoother than linen, although linen tends to get softer in time.

How Is Linen Made?

purple flowers
Source: Pixabay
What is linen made of? Fibers from the flax plant.

A flax fabric? It’s true: Linen is made from cellulose fibers from the stalks of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum). The fibers are “degraded” from the plant through a process called retting, which decomposes the fibers (and takes quite a long time). The very fine fibers are collected, combed, and spun into yarn that is then woven into sheets of linen fabric.

Why Is Linen Expensive?

Linen tends to be more expensive than other similar fabrics, like cotton, because it takes longer to make and is more labor-intensive. But it also tends to be stronger than other similar fabrics, so a more expensive linen bed sheet or item of clothing is likely to last much longer, bringing greater returns on your investment!

Is Linen Sustainable?

Linen is one of the most environmentally sustainable fabrics out there, so it’s a great option if you want to be more ethical and conscious with your clothing and homeware choices. Linen takes much less water to produce than some other natural and semi-synthetic fabrics (such as cotton or viscose). It also includes the use of fewer pesticides and fertilizers. The flax plant can grow in poor-quality soil that isn’t suitable for growing crops, meaning that linen isn’t produced at the expense of food. Organic linen is better, but even non-organic linen is pretty sustainable. Plus, linen items tend to last a long time, meaning you don’t have to replace them often.

What Is Linen Used For?

Learn how to sew linen pillowcases like these.

Linen is ideal for bed sheets and pillows. It’s also great for summer clothing because it wicks moisture away from the skin and dries quickly. If you wear a linen item in the winter, however, be sure to layer well because the hollow fibers don’t retain heat well.

How Do You Wash and Dry Linen?

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Linen clothing usually needs a good iron.

First, always follow the care instructions on your linen item. Secondly, note that linen tends to wrinkle. When dealing with linen bed sheets, don’t leave them wet in the washing machine or dryer for long; remove them and hang them up right away, and then fold them neatly for storage. With linen clothing, you’ll probably need to give it a good iron on a high setting (many irons have a linen setting). Again, remove wet linen items from machines quickly to prevent wrinkles setting in. 

Other than this, linen is quite an easy-care fabric because it’s strong and sturdy, even when wet. And the best news is, it rarely shrinks in the wash!

Make Your Own Linen Pillowcase

Easy Sewing: Origami Pillow

Written By

Elen Turner

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