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Will Linen Fabric Shrink? How?

Will Linen Fabric Shrink? How?

‘Does linen fabric shrink’ is one of the more common questions I get asked. The answer is yes, linen shrinks like any natural fabric. If you’ve never sewed with linen before, here are a few things you should know about why and how linen fabric shrinks and what you can do to minimize the shrinkage. 

A Look At How Linen Is Made

To understand why linen shrinks, it helps to take a look at how it is made. 

Linen is made from the fibres obtained from the stems of the flax plant. When the flax plant has reached the desired maturity, it is harvested and the fibres are separated through three distinct processes. 

flax linen plant

During the first process, known as retting, the stems of the flax plant are placed in water, then taken out and kept to dry. 

In the second process, known as scotching, the woody parts of the stalks are crushed to loosen the flax fibres further. 

flax linen

The third process is known as heckling. This is combing technique that separates the short and long flax fibres. The long fibres are spun into yarn and then woven into a textile. The crystalline structure of the flax fibres give linen fabric the strength that makes it so desirable. 

making of linen fabric


So Why Does Linen Shrink?

 As we can see, during the manufacturing process the flax fibres are stretched and are taut. That’s what gives new linen fabric that smooth, even look. 

When the fabric comes in contact with water, its fibres relax and revert back to their original pre-stretched size. This causes the fabric to look like it has shrunk. This phenomenon is known as relaxation shrinkage.   

How Much Will Linen Fabric Shrink? 

Linen fibres relax and shrink when exposed to water and high temperatures. The extent of shrinkage depends on the type of linen fabric as well as the water temperature. 

With most types of linen, you can expect about 3% - 4% shrinkage on average. Some types of linen fabric – very few – will shrink as much as 10% after the first wash. 

Regardless of type, the shrinkage will be higher when washed in hot water than in cold water. 

How To Minimize Shrinkage Before And After Sewing With Linen Fabric 

Pre-shrinking, which involves soaking the fabric in water and washing the fabric before cutting and sewing is the best way to ensure that your garment won’t shrink after it is made. You can see the detailed steps here on ‘How to wash linen fabric before sewing.’

To care for your linen outfit and minimize any further shrinkage after sewing, always wash it on a gentle cycle in cold water. Try not to use hot water as that may cause wrinkling of fabric.

It’s better to avoid putting your linen outfit in the dryer. If that is unavoidable, the best way to prevent excessive shrinkage is by controlling the amount of heat you use. For best results, always use the lowest heat option on your linen outfit and remove it when it is still slightly damp. 

Iron your garment while the fabric is still slightly damp. You may use steam iron if your linen is overdried.

Yes, linen fabric does shrink like any other natural fabrics but don’t let that stop you. With a little care and prep, you’ll find that this is a great fabric for sewing all types of garments as well as fashion and home décor accessories.   

 Blog by Diana for de Linum

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