It’s Time to Set the Record Straight

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It’s time to set the record straight about linen and other even weaves.

Yes, that sentence is grammatically correct because linen is an “even weave.” So let’s start there. To a weaver, what we cross stitchers use is technically a plain weave, also known as tabby weave.  For the purposes of this blog, we’ll stick to the term we use which is even weave. In all even weave fabrics

  • both sides are identical (front and back)
  • each thread gives support to the adjacent threads
  • threads are woven in a simple repeat pattern of over, under, over, under
  • the thread count of the weft (side to side) and warp (up and down) are identical

These properties make it ideal for counted cross stitch.

So, in cross stitch language, what’s the difference between linen and even weaves? Simply put, it’s what’s used to weave the fabric.

To be called “linen” the fabric has to be woven from the flax plant. Period. Flax is considered to be the strongest natural fiber. Many experts say linen is the oldest fabric, dating back 10,000 years. Linen is hypoallergenic which makes it ideal for many stitchers. It is often the most expensive fabric in your local needlework store because the process of turning the flax plant into linen fibers ready for weaving is an expensive one.

Even weave then is a useful umbrella term for all the plain weave fabrics we cross stitchers use that are woven from everything else: primarily cotton and man-made fibers like rayon (aka viscose and modal). Here are the fiber contents of some of your favorite “even weaves.”

Ariosa (63% cotton 37% rayon)
Davosa (100% cotton)
Floba (40% cotton 40% modal 20% linen)
Jobelan (51% cotton 49% rayon)
Linda (100% cotton)
Lugana (52% cotton 48% viscose)
Mallow (51% linen 49% cotton)
Monaco (100% cotton)
Monika (50% cotton 50% modal)

DO look at the fiber content when making a selection. Some manufacturers use linen in a fabric name when it contains some linen but also includes other fibers.

Now, what about the even-ness of linen compared to even weaves? What about those lumps in the linen? What about how some of the linen threads are thick and some are thin?

Those lumpy parts are called slubs which are actually small knots made along the length of the fibers. Linen threads can be made to have a consistent diameter. However, that makes the finished fabric more expensive.   Some people like the texture of linens with slubs and a variety in the thickness of the weave. Regardless of the thread diameter, the thread count will be consistent in a linen manufactured for cross stitch.

Interestingly, as I did my research for this article, I discovered that some non-linen even weaves are being manufactured to look like linen … slubs and all!

Ariosa has woven from cotton and rayon to look like natural linen!

Ariosa is woven from cotton and rayon to look like natural linen!

Not all linens are created equal. Some frankly are more “even” than others. Some are more tightly woven. And some have more slubs than others. As you become more and more comfortable stitching on true linen, you’ll find the ones you like best and the linens that complement the chart you choose for your next project.

Cashel linen has far fewer slubs than Ariosa and yet it is woven from 100% flax.

Cashel linen has far fewer slubs than Ariosa and yet it is woven from 100% flax.

Lambswool linen has a greater variety in thread diameter than Cashel linen.

Lambswool linen has a greater variety in thread diameter than Cashel linen.

Unbleached linen has a primitive, rustic look with an open weave.

Unbleached linen has a primitive, rustic look with an open weave.

And not all even weaves are created equal. If you like to work with all natural fibers, look for the ones woven from 100% cotton.

Jobelan is a fairly open even weave which some stitchers prefer because they find it easier to see the holes.

Jobelan is a fairly open even weave.

Davosa has a tighter weave than Jobelan.

Davosa has a tighter weave than Jobelan. Notice that the threads going across (weft) and the ones going up and down (warp) are not the same thickness.

Monaco has a very consistent weft and warp.

Monaco has a very consistent weft and warp.

Like all things in our wonderful world of cross stitch, there are few hard and fast rules and your enjoyment is the most important element. My intent here is not to establish any sense of what fabric is best or right, but to put to rest two things: 1) all linens are truly “even weaves” and, if woven correctly, the count remains constant no matter how thick the threads; and 2) as an industry and as hobbyists, we have come to use the term “even weave” for any and all cross stitch fabrics woven with anything other than flax.

It is my hope that stitchers will experiment with a variety of fabrics to add new dimensions to their favorite past time.

When you’re not stitching, go to Facebook and “like” Jean Farish Needleworks. That’s the best place to leave comments about this blog.

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There are still cabins available for the first ever Stitchers’ Escapes Cruise to the Pacific Northwest! Go here for all the details. And join the Facebook group that is dedicated to all the fun we’ll have on our 2016 cruise.

 

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