Maine, United States

Chaparral Overalls / Tips for Working with Linen

Chaparral Overalls / Tips for Working with Linen



As I mentioned in the last post, linen is my favorite fabric to sew and wear.  If I haven't worked with it in a while, I'll move a linen project to the top of my list and immediately feel refreshed after sewing it. Linen is the fabric that made me fall in love with sewing my clothing, so it has a special place in my heart.  To me, it's one of the easiest fabrics to work with because it's very forgiving with imperfections and easily gives garments a professional look. It's also a durable fabric, so it lasts a long time and can be worn in a variety of environments. Additionally, it's very organic looking, often containing little flaws that I think add to its charm and uniqueness. 

If you're newer to sewing or wearing linen, here are some tips to help you fall in love with it if you haven't already. 

Use a Serger or Zigzag Stitch to Finish Edges 

Because linen has such a loose weave, it unravels easily, so it's important to finish off all raw edges, such as side seams and hems. Finishing the edges will make the interior of your garment look tidy and keep the seams from unraveling, which prolongs the life of the garment. 

Washing Linen

Every fabric distributor has different instructions for washing and caring for linen, but I've always washed it the same way despite how instructed. I was taught that it's essential to wash the fabric before cutting and sewing to eliminate the possibility that it will shrink. So, before I cut linen, I always wash it with hot water to try and eliminate the possibility of shrinking later. After the garment has been made, I wash it with cold water only and dry it on a medium temperature. Even though I wash my clothing with cold water, I still like to prepare the fabric by washing with hot water just in case I ever forget to use cold water in the future. However, even after being washed with hot water before being sewn, linen garments typically shrink up a bit as the fibers tighten in the dryer (this can be eliminated by air drying). After being ironed, though, they go back to their original state. Some linen may not shrink much at all, some a little, and some a lot. All fabric is different, so it might be best to do a few tests on your material before beginning a project. And you can always stick to the distributer's instructions or wash your linen by hand. 

Iron Before Cutting

Because the fabric will typically shrink up a bit after being washed, as discussed previously, it's important to iron your fabric before cutting pattern pieces. It may seem like just a tiny bit of difference, but that little bit could end up making a big difference when it comes to getting the fit you desire. 

Keep in Mind That Linen Grows & Stretches With Wear 

Since linen is a soft, natural fiber, with a somewhat loose weave, it tends to stretch out with wear. This stretching is why you probably wouldn't want to use linen for a tight pair of pants because they will end up stretching out in areas of tension. For looser clothing like these overalls, it's the perfect material. 

Types of Linen 

There are many different types of linen, lightweight and heavyweight, linen/cotton blends, linen/rayon blends, and others. Each type has its benefit and specific look, so sometimes it can be challenging to determine which is best for your project or which you prefer. I'd suggest ordering swatches beforehand, and walking a local fabric store to feel the different options and to start learning about the subtle differences in the variety of linens available.  

If you're looking for something a little more lived in and worn looking, washed or laundered European is your best bet. I like Merchant and Mills laundered linen, Polar Grey and French Clay are my two favorites, but I also think Knapsack would be stunning for the Chaparral Overall pattern. 

For crisper linen, choose something that has a little more stability. Purl Soho's Daily Linen is a great option and is the fabric I used for my overalls in color Warm Clay. For this pattern, I'd suggest a mid to heavyweight linen. 

Despite how the material may initially feel, linen is an evolving fabric, continually changing and softening the more it's worn and washed. I love this about the material because it reminds me that this is what it also looks like to be a human being and that the process of change is a beautiful thing. 

Tip: If you like that lived-in look but aren't using a laundered linen like the ones I suggested from Merchant and Mills, and are using something with a bit more stability like the Purl Soho Daily Linen, something I like to do is wash my garment after it's been sewn. This helps the fabric settle into its new shape and also gives it that softer, older feel. 

Accept the Wrinkles 

Lastly, accept the wrinkles. We all know about the frustration that can come from how easily linen wrinkles, and in the beginning, this frustrated me very much.  But I eventually realized I had to either decide not to wear linen or to accept that anything I wore made from it would be full of wrinkles. Well, I chose the wrinkles and haven't looked back. These days, wrinkly linen doesn't bother me one bit; I've learned to accept it as part of the fabric's charm, and it's made wearing the fabric much less stressful. 

I hope you found these tips for using and wearing linen helpful! In the next post, I'm sharing the modifications I made with my Chaparral Overalls for a custom fit. - Emily