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Dec 072010

Most people agree that linen was the original woven textile. Remains of primitive linen production have been found that date back 36,000 years. The piece in this picture is said to be 7,000 years old, and the oldest piece of textile to exist. Visit any major museum and you will find ancient linen garments. The point is: linen has a long life span.

Before the wide use of cotton, most clothing was made from linen. In my mind, it remains one of the best and most versatile textiles for clothing and home use.

Why did linen fall out of favor? I have my own theories. One is that linen was more expensive than cotton. Another is the introduction of polyester in the 1950’s. Prior to that, we washed and ironed our clothing and home textiles. Suddenly, you could throw everything into a washing machine and dryer, and everything came out ‘ready-to wear. We developed a collective rejection of wrinkles! Linen wrinkled. Wrinkles were not “modern”.

In my mind, we gave up a lot when polyester was introduced.

1. We moved away from natural fibers to ones that were produced with petroleum based products.

2. We lost the knowledge of how to clean and care for natural fibers. This “tribal knowledge” was handed down over the centuries and was lost in 2 generations. One of the most common questions we are asked is “can I wash this?” We have forgotten that EVERYTHING was once washed! There was no drip dry and there were no dry cleaners.

3. The top on my list: we gave up the human satisfaction that comes from living with and wearing natural fibers. Natural fibers do not hold odors, stains can be removed more easily, they last longer, BUT they take more care. The last 50 years has been dedicated to doing things faster but not better.

Back to linen. The manufacturing of raw cotton into cotton yarn is a tremendous global pollution problem. The production uses enormous amounts of water. The chemicals employed for most cotton production poisons the land and water supplies. Linen production, on the other hand, is relatively low tech. In addition, linen is naturally anti microbial, which means that it does not “sour” like cotton. If you have a linen towel and a cotton towel in your bathroom, the linen one will smell fresh for a very long time. The same goes for linen clothing. Linen is particularly well suited for hot and humid climates.

Linen has a very long life span. It is more difficult to tear or rip than cotton.

However, we are experiencing a shift in recent times.

It started in fashion with 100% linen fabrics and a deconstructed point of view which turned seams inside out to expose fibers and threads as something to be admired. The modern consumer became attracted to the aesthetic of natural fibers and inherent wrinkling, or at the very least, a “non artificially smooth” look. The result is that Anichini is receiving more and more requests for linen sheeting, linen towels and linen decorative fabrics. Fortunately, I have long been a fan of linen, we have many offerings in our collection.

Iconic items made from linen:
The Shroud of Turin
The Tablecloth at the Last Supper
Great Gatsby’s Trousers
King Tut’s entombment wrapping
Alexander the Great’s laminated linen armor

Nov 182010

I have been waiting to communicate these thoughts for a very long time. Before House and Garden shut its lovely doors, Dominique Browning and I conversed together about  publishing this piece. But now is the age of the blog. So rather than using a print magazine, I will push this forward for all to read and contemplate.

The discussion of thread count in the bedding world is largely specious. The term “thread count” was originally developed in the USA to differentiate percale from muslin. A thread count is the measurement of threads per square inch. A thread count  that was 200 and over was considered to be a percale. Anything under 200 was considered to be muslin. This nomenclature was never meant to apply to sateens, jaquards and other European manufactured sheeting which are not constructed using the simple “over and under” weave of a percale. For example, to achieve a sateen, threads are “floated” on the surface.

When European sheeting made a serious entrance into the marketplace 25 years ago, Americans continued to ask this question because the packaging was not marked with thread counts, as this standard  of measurement had no meaning in Europe. Europeans measured some qualities by grams per square centimeters. Lest I state the obvious, they do not use inches in Europe.

Within a short time, the meme had been created. “What is the thread count? What is the thread count?” chanted the eager luxury consumers. It was meant to project an intelligent question; a question that reflected the knowledge of the consumer. After all, European sheeting was far more expensive than American percale.  And if American percale listed thread counts, then so should the rest of the world.

It snowballed. European manufacturers were forced into declaring thread counts. Anichini was included in this charade, which I refer to as “The Emperor with No Threads” Companies were afraid NOT to give the consumer a response, so they loosely created an answer to a question that should never have been asked in the first place.

We at Anichini resisted for a very long time; attempting to educate the public. But eventually, even we caved in. Every time I had to answer this question and neglected to give this full explanation, I would experience an internal cringe.  However, in all these years, we never marked thread counts on any packaging other than percales.

Once that started, the race for higher and higher thread counts took off. Because, after all, higher had to be better! Higher thread counts on packaging became a marketing tool. For the record, in weaving typical long staple cotton yarns, you cannot achieve much over 500 thread counts.  However, if you use twisted yarns or double yarns, you simply multiply times 2 and you get 600, 800, etc. In my opinion, if you have a sheet with a 1000 thread count, you may as well wear a raincoat to bed.  The weaving is so dense, it does not breathe. VERY recently, I have seen super high thread count sheets created with yarns meant for clothing.  They are beautiful and very pricey. But this is an exception to the rule.

A textile lover should be able to touch the fabric and feel it’s “hand”. How does it feel to you?  In reality, the quality of the yarn or threads is more important than any superficially applied description.

You may prefer one hand and not another. For instance, you may like linen sheets in the summer and cotton in winter. Linen has a natural coolness to the hand. You may prefer silk sheets or mist lino sheets (50 cotton/50 linen). None of this personal attraction to a specific hand has anything to do with thread count.

There are fabulous sheets produced with low thread counts. Cotton voile is a perfect example; linen is another.

A loose analogy could be purchasing wine.  Do you buy a bottle of wine because it has a higher alcohol content?  No! You know that a Riesling has a different alcohol content than a Pinot Noir, but you purchase the wine because you like the taste.  In the same way that different seasons suggest a different wine, the same is true with sheeting.

Bottom line: Have faith in your sensibilities. Open the package.  Remove the sheet and feel it.  Look at your hand through it.  Is it sheer enough to your liking?  Is it heavy enough to your liking? Is it smooth enough? Is it crisp enough?  Is the sewing perfect.  Are the stitches small and even? Are the hems even? There should be no puckering. Think of it in the way you would buy good clothing!