Does Linen Stretch?

  • We adore linen. Yet, it’s prone to wrinkles, and it’s because it doesn’t stretch! If you like to wear linen clothes, you probably have to use iron more often than usual. Otherwise, you can accept linen wrinkles—some believe wrinkles are part of their natural charm, and it’s fine to leave them as they are. Linen made garment is also sensitive to temperatures. When washed in hot water, it will suffer. So go for cool water, a gentle cycle in the washing machine, and a mild detergent. 
  • Clothes made from linen need special attention. But what exactly can happen? Does linen shrink or stretch? The first time you wash linen, it can shrink even 10% if the water temperature is too hot. So reducing the chance of your linen fabric shrinkage during the first wash, ensure the temperature is cool or warm and make sure the material you bought is pre washed. Yet, even pre-shrunk linen isn’t completely resistant to shrinking.
  • In the article below, we are going to tackle the question: Does linen stretch?

Introduction to linen fabric

Linen is one of the world’s oldest textiles. We derive linen durable natural fiber from the flax plant. 

Linen fibers are heavier than cotton and approximately 30% stronger—no wonder the ancient Egyptians used linen for mummification. 

Important: Did you know the US uses linen fibers (blended with cotton) for dollar bills? Don’t try this at home!

This natural fabric is chic, lightweight, timeless, and comfortable. A natural slub variation in the fiber refinement process gives the classic textured vibe to this fabric.

Yet, there is a worldwide discussion going, whether the advantages of this fabric outweigh its disadvantages.

Linen is not only more expensive than cotton; this fabric also needs a fair amount of our attention to keep its shape and “good mood.”

From ironing to washing linen, using only mild detergent to being aware of potential shrinking, to constantly dealing with a wrinkle that appears here and there without warning. 

Care instructions are necessary for linens and linen clothes to thrive in our hands. 

Should that make us less eager to invest in linen fabrics?

Just the opposite. 

Despite being hard to handle, their durability and versatility pay off. Read more about the latter in the next chapter of our linen tale. 

Linen blends and their characteristics

When blended with other fibers, linen transforms to gain some extra features: 

1. Linen with rayon creates a substantially softer fabric. Expect to notice a more fluid drape and a subtle sheen.

2. Linen with cotton is a well-known brotherhood. Like cotton softens linen and reduces wrinkle appearance, it keeps the fullness and a crisp look typical for linen fabric.

3. Linen with polyester washes better, wrinkles less, and keeps color-fastness. Polyester softens the feel of linen in a synthetic way.

What do we use linen for?

Linen feels crisper than cotton at first. Yet, through time and use, this plant made natural fabric becomes supple to the touch.

Do you like wearing linen? We all do!

Linen fiber is very versatile. We use linen for quilting and making:

  1. home décor and household items: 
  • bath and cleaning fabrics: tablecloths, bath towels, dish towels,
  • furnishing: wallpaper/wall coverings, upholstery, window treatments, bedsheets, soft furnishings, curtains;
  1. apparel items: suits, handkerchiefs, summer blouse, dresses, skirts, shirts;
  2. industrial products: luggage, canvases, strong sewing thread;
  3. embroidery on women’s clothes and household items; 

When it comes to linen clothing and sheets, being the most breathable and absorbent fabric, this material is invincible for summer hot high temperatures. 

Does it stretch?

Pure linen fibers don’t stretch. 

Flax plant fibers are very rigid and have low elasticity. Linen fabrics are also resistant to abrasion. 

Attempting to stretch the fabric will most probably damage it. 

With such a low elasticity, linen fabric can also break or deteriorate if it’s:

  • folded, 
  • bent, 
  • creased, and 
  • pressed 

in the same area in a sharp fold over and over. 

Pay attention to linen collars and hems as they can show wear and even break. 

Important: Since forcing the stretch causes the linen fibers to break, we should avoid wringing linen fabrics out. 

The fact that linen doesn’t stretch makes it prone to wrinkles—linen fabric doesn’t spring back readily.

Ironing linen is slightly unnatural for this fabric. 

But there is a way to overcome it. Since linen gets stronger when it’s damp, you can always sprinkle it with water moisture and iron it before it gets dry.    

Tip: Another way to stop your linen from wrinkling is to remove it from the dryer while it is still damp and hang it up to finish in an air dry mode.

How to stretch linens and linen clothing?

We know that pure linen doesn’t stretch. 

Yet, it tends to shrink if we wash or dry it without proper care. 

Neither a process of shrinking nor stretching is our favorite, yet they can cooperate since they are inevitably interconnected.

Meaning, if you exposed your clothing to shrinking, you can work on your material and stretch your garment back to its primal form!

You can also need just a slight stretch of your garment to make it fit perfectly. 

Here’s how to do it:

1. Fill a washtub with lukewarm water. Add a capful of gentle soap or conditioner.

2. Soak the linen in the water for around 20-30 minutes—it’s going to loosen the fibers.

3. Linen has soaked well, so you can gently squeeze the water out. Don’t wring it out!

4. Lay the fabric flat on a towel. 

5. Roll the towel up to help squeeze out any excess water—the fabric should be damp but not wet.

6. Remove the fabric from the damp towel. 

7. Now, lay the fabric flat on a fresh, dry towel.

8. Pull the fabric gently in all directions to stretch it out.

9. Hang the fabric up to air dry.

If you worked on the “shrinkage reverse process,” mind that you may not get the fabric 100% back to its original size or shape. But you should be able to stretch it out a bit!

Keep in mind that linen gets stronger when damp. You can use this moment, drape the fabric over your ironing board, and heat your iron up to medium heat. Press from the center of the clothing towards the edges, without scrunching or twisting. Repeat pressing outwards to stretch it back.

What is Stretch Linen?

Linen does not stretch unless we blend it with other fabrics like lycra, elastane, or spandex. This blend of linen and other fabric is called stretch linen, and we use it for:

  • athletic, 
  • summer wear, 
  • dresses, and 
  • swim coverups;

It’s a mutually beneficial deal. Linen is breathable, and lycra, elastane, and spandex wick the moisture. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

We are used to starching linen items: bedsheets, tablecloths, and napkins, and it's ok to do so. It's a traditional method to keep them crisp and wrinkle free. Spray starch sparingly when applying it during ironing—it can turn your item very crisp. If you use powdered or liquid starch, add it to the wash in the last rinse cycle.
Washing linen 100% in the washing machine is fine as long as you consider the precautions. Too hot or too cold water temperature shocks or damages the fibers, causing linen shrinkage. Cold water won’t cause as much shrinkage as hot water, but the fabric will still shrink. The best option is to use lukewarm water when treating your linen garment with the washing machine.
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