Imagine slipping into the soft, luxurious embrace of the finest, most elegant sheets.
It’s a scenario every person dreams of, yet designers can make this dream of a peaceful slumber into a reality. French linen sheets can bring to life a bedroom design that includes seeking the ultimate in bedding indulgence.
What makes French linen sheets so highly sought-after? Their appeal begins with a perfected process.
Flax Farms: A Perfected Process
Nestled among the picturesque French countryside are scenic flax farms that feature brilliant gold and green fields. It’s here that the cultivation process for flax - the plant that gives us linen - is perfected.
Flax is a plant species that is grown for its seeds and fibers. The fibers are processed to make linen fabric, while the seeds are a source of products like linseed oil, which is used in paints, varnishes and food.
Linen is constructed following a series of steps that have been perfected over several generations, creating what is considered today to be one of the most sustainable textiles.
The flax cultivation process is completed in 10 stages over the course of approximately 120 days.
1. Soil Is Prepared
Flax is typically grown using a crop rotation method, with the rotation renewed every six to seven years. This process regenerates the soil for succeeding crops, such as beets, wheat and potatoes. With 0.5% of the European Utilized Agricultural Area, fiber plants represent a marginal surface area compared to other examples of agricultural production.
2. Sowing Takes Place
In mid-March to mid-April, seed planting occurs. Today’s flax farmers can choose between 20 or so varieties available. In addition to improving yields, new varieties enable plot-specific sowing that takes into consideration potential lodging and disease criteria; incorporating fertilizer savings and early harvesting criteria for a regulated staggering of maturation.
Flax has a high density (on average, 1,800 plants /m2), offering the best compromise between yield and resistance to plant lodging, fiber fineness and solidity.
3. Roots Extend
Growth begins, especially as the roots start to extend into the soil. In fact, the roots are 10 times longer than the height of the plants. The silty soils and oceanic climate give flax a special quality, with the depth of the roots a major advantage.
4. Fibers Increase In Number
The fibers of the flax plant will begin to extend upward as they grow from 4 cm to 10 cm. Contained within the plant stem and surrounded by a fine woody outer layer, flax fibers are bast fibers. The number of fibers will also increase and are arranged in 20 to 40 bundles per plant.
5. Fibers Continue To Lengthen
Flax requires 600 mm of water over the course of 100 days of growing. This is provided by rain, the soil’s natural water reserves and dew. As this growth occurs, the flax plants will near the flowering stage. Growth will accelerate from 1 to 5 cm per day, and the fibers will begin a process of lengthening. By the end of this period, the number of fibers will be fixed.
6. Flowering Begins
Approximately 80 to 100 flowers per stem will bloom in June, as the structure of the fibers evolves. Their mass increases, and they are made up primarily of cellulose (60 to 81%), hemicellulose (14 to 18.6%), pectin (1.8 to 2.3%) and lignin (2 to 3%). This plant structure is the origin of the remarkable qualities the fiber exhibits in its textile and technical applications.
7. The Fibers Mature
In July, the fibers represent around 40% of the stem’s dry mass. This means the time for harvest has arrived.
8. Pulling Begins
During July, pulling occurs (approximately 5 weeks after flowering). Plants are laid on the ground in swathes, with layers of flax 1 meter wide. Rather than cut the flax, farmers instead pull them up, which preserves the length of the fibers contained within its stem.
The roots that remain in the ground after harvesting enrich the soil and confer on flax its status as an excellent crop for rotation. This asset increases the output of the following crops by up to 20%.
While in the past, farmers had to pull these plants by hand, they now use specially-devised flax harvesting machines that provide unrivaled expertise in the production and processing of flax/linen. These machines preserve the fiber’s consistent quality.
9. Retting Begins
In July through September, the retting process takes place. Since the 1950s, retting has occurred directly in the field rather than in tanks and rivers in an effort to further preserve ecosystems.
Retting is the first natural phase in the processing of the plant into fiber. It separates the fibers by breaking down the natural cement binding them to the straw. This natural action is performed by microorganisms present on the soil, a suitable dose of rain and zero chemicals.
The swathes are turned halfway through the process. The farmer-scutcher duo is the determining factor in ensuring the success of this process and the consistency of the result.
10. Collecting And Stocking Completes The Process
In August through October, collecting and stocking takes place. Swatches are rolled up into large balls, collected by machine and stocked until it is time to extract the fibers. Even after harvesting occurs, flax can keep for a long time without deteriorating.
This meticulous and refined method of cultivating flax is what gives French linen its reputation for luxury. The production of fibers that hold exceptional quality and softness makes linen one of the most coveted textiles in the world.
Ultimate Comfort: A Quality Night’s Sleep
Incorporated into businesses, homes, clothing and other uses for thousands of years, French linen is synonymous with comfort. Four qualities of French linen are the source of this exceptional comfort:
- Moisture resistance
- Natural hypo-allergenic features
- Year-round comfort
Linen can absorb dampness up to 20% without even feeling wet. It’s often hidden dampness in fitted sheets and flat sheets on the bed that leads to bacterial growth, so this moisture-resistant feature keeps bedding healthier over time.
The fibers of French linen fabric are also naturally porous, allowing air to circulate and wick away moisture, keeping the sleeper cool and dry. The strength of the linen fibers allows them to resist absorbency, further contributing to their resistance to moisture.
Natural Hypoallergenic Features
Flax is naturally hypoallergenic and is considered to be a natural fiber that is friendly to a person’s skin. Because linen is hypoallergenic, it is perfect for allergy sufferers. French linen is also naturally resistant to dust mites, mold and mildew, which are common allergens.
Sometimes chemicals can trigger allergies as well. Unlike some synthetic materials, linen typically does not contain any chemicals or irritants that can trigger allergies.
Creating a product that can be used in any environment is important, and for those who live in hot climates, linen is a great choice to keep you cool in the summer. Yet in the winter, linen will keep you warm, making this a great year-round textile for bedding like sheets, duvet covers and blankets.
In bedding, working with a fabric that breathes is important when ensuring a good night’s rest. French linen sheets and comforters allow for better regulation of a body’s temperature, which in turn, impacts how well an individual sleeps at night.
Ease Of Care: Low Maintenance
Caring for French linen sheets is a fairly straightforward process. That’s good news to customers who don’t want to have to worry about special cleaning procedures when it’s time to throw their sheets in the wash.
However, it’s always a good idea to check with the manufacturer for care instructions. Although French linen may be washed using different methods that are outlined below, the manufacturer may recommend a particular method for that piece that you should pass along to your client.
Here is an overview of best practices as you’re exploring how to wash linens:
French linen sheets can be washed in a machine typically, although they should be separated based on color. Users should also wash linens in a separate load from other types of fabrics.
When using a household or commercial washing machine, keep the water temperatures no hotter than lukewarm, and preferably cold. Hot water may cause French linen fabric to shrink or may weaken the fibers.
Use the gentle cycle to keep the fibers intact, and do not overload your machine. This may prevent sheets from getting evenly cleaned. Use mild (delicate) detergent, and do not bleach, as this may weaken the fibers.
When hand washing linen sheets, combine lukewarm water and approximately one teaspoon of mild detergent in a sink (or other container large enough to hold your fabric).
Soak your linen for about 10 minutes, and afterward, use your hands to gently move the fabric around in the container. DO NOT twist the fabric or scrub it, as this can damage the fibers in the fabric. Allow the water to drain and refill the sink. Continue this step until all of the detergent is removed.
While dry cleaning usually isn’t necessary for French linen sheets, your clients may prefer to take advantage of this service. Linen can be dry cleaned, and dry cleaners can press the material to remove any creases or wrinkles for a flawless bedroom look.
If a linen is pre-washed, you can place linens in the dryer on low heat. This will help remove some wrinkles that are often associated with linen. However, you should remove the fabric while it is still somewhat damp.
If you air dry your linen sheets, be prepared to press them to remove any wrinkles if aesthetics are important. To do this without damaging the fibers, turn your iron to its low to medium temperature setting. Iron the fabric while it is still damp. You can also dampen a towel and place it over the piece of linen before ironing.
If a piece of linen fabric is stained, it’s best to try to remove the stain as soon as possible. Soak the stain with a solution made of water and detergent. You can also spot clean the fabric with club soda, baking soda or even a small amount of white vinegar, followed by blotting the stain with a towel.
If spot cleaning does not work, try first rubbing the stain with dish soap, removing any dirt possible. Wash the fabric either by hand or in a washing machine using the tips outlined above.
French Linen Vs. European Linen: Which Is Better?
As you’re selecting the fabric for your sheets and bedding, you may come across various types of linen besides French linen, including European linen. This begs the question: Is there a difference, and which is better?
Let’s start with French linen. What is French linen fabric? French linen fabric is constructed by weaving flax fibers into a textile. The flax used to make French linen is grown in France, which has a cool climate that is favorable to growing this crop.
While designers and consumers often tie French linen to elegance, the truth is, European linen sources the same flax fibers.
European linen is constructed using the flax grown along the English Channel in Belgium, France and the Netherlands where cool climates are ideal. This optimal environment allows for the sustainable growth of flax, and when coupled with local knowledge that is unmatched, you end up with a very strong regional foundation to produce the finest quality raw materials.
Flax production is also found elsewhere in the world. In fact, flax is grown in countries like China, Italy, Ireland and even the United States. However, particularly in the United States, flax crops are often used for products like flaxseed oil rather than linen.
Ultimate Indulgence: How To Get Highest Quality
To ensure you are getting the highest quality of material for your project, it’s important to look for certain certifications.
European FlaxⓇ is the qualitative standard of European Flax fiber for all uses (fashion, lifestyle, home and composites), promoting origin, know-how and innovation.
The European FlaxⓇ Charter, signed by each of the flax producers, guarantees that local farming respects the environment through zero irrigation, GMO-free and zero waste. This label, audited by Bureau Veritas Certification, certifies traceability at each step of the processing, from growth through the finished product. This certification provides reassurance to a demanding consumer.
The Masters of LinenⓇ certification guarantees linen traceability and 100% made in Europe. It also guarantees excellence in cultivation and manufacturer, from the field to the spinning, weaving and knitting process.
This certification is awarded to European spinners, weavers and circular knitters mills under strict criteria:
- A commitment to European production and supplies percentage
- Yearly audit by accredited institutes or an auditor
- Labeling fabrics exclusively woven and spun in Europe
- Transmitting the label to brands and retailers under the same conditions
This certification is a reliable guarantee through a certified traceability chain, ensuring the quality of the linen you are investing in for your project.