When I was in Edinburgh, Scotland a few years back visiting a friend I wanted to bring home something special. We drove around Old Town, and since parking is difficult to find, I got out and walked to a couple of stores I knew while my friend kindly drove around the block. I found a beautiful Irish linen tablecloth and napkins at the House of Fraser, an upscale department store that’s been around since 1849. The beauty and craftsmanship of these linens are one to behold.
Those linens were one of many that I have bought during my travels. For the past few decades I’ve learned what to look for in fine linens and I would like to share a few tips that I have learned over the years with you.
First and foremost, consider the construction of the table or kitchen linen. To see quality craftsmanship, look for mitered corners and double hems. The hem has been turned over twice for greater stability. See image below.
In today’s eco-friendly conscious world most manufacturers produce linens with 100% natural fibers such as cotton and flax or a blend of these two fibers over synthetic fibers, like polyester.
Italy does not grow cotton. Italian producers of fine table linens import the finest yarns spun from cotton fibers. Cotton fibers come in several lengths and are referred to has staples. There are short staple, long staple, and extra-long staple cotton fibers. In one sense the longer the staple the stronger the fiber. 80% of the world’s cotton is produced with short staple fibers. When it comes to fine table or kitchen linens the weaving process is just as important as the length of the cotton fibers. Purveyors of fine linens are capable of producing a superior linen with short staple cotton fibers given the quality of the weaving process. Many of the world’s best linen producers have their own process after years of experience in the industry. For example, take a look at Tessitura Pardi’s process in the following video on YouTube. Tessitura Pardi Weaving Process. It’s fascinating, innovative and they are continuously looking for ways to improve. They remain one of the top producers of fine linens in Italy.
The world’s best quality flax, whose fibers are spun into linen, are made in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. This is due to a combination of natural, damp ocean climate, flax’s low thermal density, a rich soil, and the experience of flax growers. Flax is a rare plant and represents less than 1% of all textile fibers used worldwide. Linen is intrinsically hypo-allergenic, has a great ability to absorb water, anti-bacterial and strong. It is resistant to insects and requires no irrigation (except rain water) during cultivation. The more you wash linen the softer the fabric becomes. Flax fibers are costly due to a high demand for fine fibers available in the global supply.
Screen Printing Versus Digital Textile Printing
One of the most common methods used to produce a design onto a woven fabric is screen printing. This method uses a stencil to transfer the image to a screen usually made from mesh. A separate screen is made for each color in the design and the screen is placed on the fabric to transfer each color used in the design. This method was used in Europe since the 12th century. Screen printing involves more human intervention, and therefore, irregularities are more common. Nonetheless, screen printing has several advantages including color matching, more material options, designs can be printed on a variety of shapes and high-volume productions. It is a good choice for simple designs.
Digital textile printing is another method that is gaining popularity and will continue to in the future. With digital textile printing the process starts with a digital file that contains the image you would like and uses graphic software to transfer that image to the printer. The printer releases thin layers of ink onto the fabric. Digital textile printing is used in signage, fashion, home linens and technical textiles. The advantages of digital textile printing are numerous. This method requires less water than traditional methods, faster delivery times, better quality, is extremely precise and can handle greater detail and complex artwork. China, Italy, India, Turkey and the US continue to dominate the digital textile industry. The output volume of digitally printed fabrics from these five countries alone is 47% of the global volume.
Digital textile printing is revolutionizing the supply chain, helping manufacturers realize a greater cost savings that can be passed on to the consumer, and eliminating waste. You will see more home textiles and apparel made from this method in the coming years.
Since most manufacturers of fine linens use natural fibers the amount of care needed is generally minimal. Today, many of the finest linens are machine washable and can be air dried or dried on low heat. The exception to this is cashmere and some silks which requires dry cleaning. Read the care instructions thoroughly before purchasing the product to ensure it’s a good fit for your lifestyle.
In the end, fine table and kitchen linens today are made to be used regularly, come in more complex patterns and colors, and require less care than those produced in the 20th century. Table linens evoke a sense of welcoming family and friends to your home and is the perfect accent when preparing a table to share your special meal.