Linen Bedding…is there anything greater in this world?
It’s soft to the touch, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and the perfect weight and texture!! I can go on and on about my love for this wonderful, magical, transcendent fabric but I’ll stop since bedding is a personal preference and not everyone shares my love for linen…but if you do then read on my kindred spirit!
The beginning of a lifelong hunt for linen bedding started when I stumbled upon an Anthropology sale online. Little did I know at the time, the prices I was about to pay (average of $7-$12) was unheard of so I made the mistake of only getting a few items which I will always regret.
Linen is one of the oldest forms of fabric. It’s woven from the flax seed and has a lot of awesome qualities:
- Extremely durable (30% stronger than cotton)
- Doesn’t lint
- Releases stains easily
- Resists mold & mildew
Some of you may be asking: “What’s the big deal?”
Well, let me just ask one question–“Have you ever spent a few nights sleeping in a bed with linen sheets?!”
I cannot fathom a world in which human skin wouldn’t rejoice at the feel and pure heaven that is linen bedding, but I digress.
The Quality, Weight, and Wear are all important factors for a good experience with linen bedding. So lets talk about these subjects a bit and then get to some high quality, and of course, budget friendly sources for all that wonderful linen bedding! And let me also say, I’m not an expert, these are just my observations and experiences. So this is a research paper of sorts (a long one at that)! Remember…this is just a blog post.
Just like with anything else in life, pour quality can ruin a potential believer. I have yet to sleep on vintage Irish or European linen bedding, although it’s a dream of mine (yep, I made a pun, aren’t you proud?). If money was of no concern I would spend my days hunting down vintage linens all day and fill my house with nothing else. However, for most of us money is important so lets move on.
- Thread count is not a term used for linen bedding. Instead the durability and feel is referred to as weight (more on this later). Flax is a very thick fiber so even the highest quality, has between 50-150 thread count, if someone is telling you otherwise they are probably trying to pass off a cheap linen blend.
- Stitching is an important quality factor on sheets, but I STRONGLY recommend you make sure that the flat/fitted sheet does not contain a seam down the middle. This can not only be uncomfortable but also cause a weak point that has a tendency to wear over time. Linen is not easily found in widths necessary for large mattress sizes so it can be important to double check this before purchase, especially if purchasing from a source like etsy.
- If shopping markets for vintage sheets its advised to have some experience with the feel of linen. Without having the ability to ask about the mill used to make the linen, and often no way of knowing who manufactured the bedding it can be difficult but there are a few things you can check to help spot quality linen:
- Check the weave of the bedding; Look for any inconsistencies or areas that are pulling apart. Linen has natural areas that are nubbier or may contain the exterior fiber of the plant but the weave should be consistent throughout the entire sheet.
- Check color consistency; Flax is hard to dye and it can be obvious when corners have been cut. If white sheets have areas of yellow this may be because the chemical processing used to bleach the flax fiber was done with lower grade whiteners that were exposed to light/heat and the areas will always remain yellowed (these will look different than age stains). For colored items check for lighter areas or dampen the fabric slightly to check for color running, these are signs of cheap coloring processing that will not hold over time.
- Linens natural wrinkles are part of it’s charm. If the linen sheets seem too smooth and folds aren’t holding creasing well it’s a good bet that it’s not 100% linen fabric or has been treated with chemicals that could harm the natural fiber and cause breakage.
- What is most important in the search for new bedding made of the highest quality linen is the source of the mill. There are a few popular retailers that have been called out (and many more that have not) for sourcing their linen from China mills that underpay and overwork their employees and therefore, the quality is of course not on par with ethically sourced mills which have been weaving linen for hundreds of years.
Did You Know?: Linen labelled “Belgian Linen” is grown and made into linen fabric entirely in Europe (Belgian), while “Belgian Flax Linen” is made from the flax seed harvested in Europe but is manufactured anywhere in the world (usually India & China).
The internet is a wealth of information on this topic if your interested, but at the very least I recommend searching for the port “bill of landing” for the company before purchase. If information comes up that the linen textiles are imported from a Chinese mill, then do as much research on the mill/company as possible before paying a premium price. *There are a few sites that allow free searching for basic information and paid membership for complete information, if nothing is available but you suspect they may be sourcing from a China mill there are also ways to search for Chinese exports instead of US imports.
So, if purchasing new luxury grade bedding that will last many lifetimes is most important, pay attention to the mill used to source the linen and do some research to decide if they are producing a quality material. The retailer should be open to answering any questions about the sourcing and manufacturing of their linen products since it’s known to be an important factor.
How to buy the highest quality linen?: (Warning: This comes at a price)
- The highest quality mills are found in Ireland and Belgium where they have been weaving linen fabric for generations employing only master craftsman.
- Look for the “Masters of Linen” tag which is only given to those in Western Europe who meet the highest degree of quality, labor, and environmental standards.
- An Alternative is to find certification from the association labelled “European Flax Linen” which is given to mills outside of Europe which have been audited for quality and environmental standards.
- Some retailers are also granted the “Certificate of Origin” which provides confirmation that the linen was made entirely in Belgium.
This isn’t to say linen sourced from China should be completely avoided! If purchasing linen sheets without spending a fortune is priority then there are many sources we will talk about which produce quality bedding that is comfortable, soft, and will last for years. I have purchased quite a few of these items and have been happy with the outcome so far!
Like mentioned above, thread count is not a term used for linen–instead we most commonly see “weight” metioned which can be confusing because fabric isn’t generally thought in terms of weight unless your looking at about sheer vs. upholstery weight fabric.
The different weights of linen can sometimes (not always) have a texture difference but the main factor is durability. The heavier the linen weight the less refined the flax fiber must be before its woven into fabric. There is some debate on which weight should be used for different parts of the bed and I’m sure plenty of people disagree with me but I feel that personal preference is the best decision factor for your bedding.
Feeling the different weights and weaves of linen is one of the only ways to figure out which type will work best for you. I recommend ordering a yard of fabric in the weights your considers from a good source and/or requesting linen samples of the bedding (most retailers will offer this) so that you have a firm understanding of which one is best. I often see unsatisfied reviews from people who are switching from cotton and ordered whatever the company offered or someone else raved about and now find it too rough. Each persons skin sensitivity is different, some people sleep hotter than others, and others such as myself consider texture and weight to be on of the most important factors.
What’s more important; Saving time by ordering whatever bedding/weight you find or saving money by ordering samples and considering your options before spending all that $ on linen bedding?
We most commonly see linen referred to as: Handkerchief, Lightweight, Mid-weight, and heavy-weight.
1.Handkerchief– Remember how we talked about the absorption ability of linen? This comes in handy when using it for things such as handkerchiefs which is how this linen type got it’s name. The fabric absorbs almost twice it’s weigh and dries faster than other natural fibers due to the light weave allowing air flow. Durability is a concern in bedding so this weight is not used (but is wonderful for curtains that allow the breeze and sunlight to flow through)! This linen weight can also come in a mesh or open weave type pattern if preferred.
2. Lightweight– If lifetime longevity is a top priority, and waiting for the fabric to soften with use is an option than this weight isn’t the best for your needs. However, because of the tighter weave and refined fiber this has a softer feel to it out of the box and is commonly used for pillow cases. For those who want the softest linen bedding available without having to worry about the wear in time required to soften it up, the lightweight is an option– just know that it will probably develop holes or tears within a few years time.
3. Mid-Weight– This has a slightly nubbier texture than lightweight. Depending on the mill and how it’s been woven this can sometimes feel rough/scratchy to some. Not all mid-weight linen is like this however, there is plenty of mid-weight bedding that feels just as smooth as light weight so I highly recommend samples. This is the most common weight of linen used for quality top & bottom sheets, and some pillow cases. Many believe that mid-to-heavy weight linen should be used for bottom and top sheets since they experience the most abuse but again its all personal preference.
4. Heavy-Weight– This has the roughest texture of all the linen material although I personally wouldn’t say its scratchy, there are plenty of people who feel it is too rough for their skin. This is commonly used for duvet covers (when using a top sheet) since it can handle a lot more abuse than the lighter weight linens without wearing. Heavy weight linen will last the longest and is the most durable due to the weave being the most raw and unrefined. Often when ordering this type of linen in a natural/unbleached there will be flecks of exterior flax plant still remaining in the weave which will fall out with time as it is washed and softens.
An important thing to remember is the longer the bedding is used/washed the softer it will become!
Vintage Irish linen sheets can command such a high price because they were made with heavy-weight linen (from a high quality mill) that has been worn to pure softness over time. If I were to try and compare it to another type of fabric I would say it feels like a combination of silk/long staple cotton…but that doesn’t do it justice!
I recommend if switching from cotton that its best to start with light/medium weight flat sheet and pillow shams. Getting two flat sheets instead of a fitted sheet if possible helps avoid wear and tearing by alternating the top/bottom sheet which can extend the life of the bedding by years.
Linens natural tendency toward the rumpled romantic look its easy to mix and match different colors and styles. This makes it possible to collect linen bedding over time, not have to worry about clean matching bedding, and also means never sleeping on anything but linen bedding which is now the rule in our house!
It will come out of the dryer with natural wrinkles (some people iron these out) that I love placed on the bed as-is! Some retailers recommend that linen not be placed in the dryer but we don’t have an outdoor clothes line so I’ve always placed our linen items in the dryer without a problem.
I’ve been crushing after these border stripe sheets from West Elm Lately:
So if the linen bedding feels too rough at first just know that its going to get softer and softer over time. Just throw those babies in the wash a few times, dry with some wool dryer balls, and keep wearing them down until you fall in love (and let me know when you do because I love to talk linen!)
This list will probably get a lot of updates over time since I’m always hunting down new retailers to try out but for now these are the places that I’ve either A) Tried or B) Heard nothing but amazing things about.
The more budget conscious choices have a * next to the name and if you’re like me and want to score an even better deal then stalk them for sales!
*H&M Home: I was hesitant on including this since it’s not really a source I would recommend to many people but I’ve purchased some items and been happy enough with them so I figured I’d throw it in. H&M home now offers 100% linen duvet covers, pillow cases, and bed skirts (I even purchased the robe..I would wear nothing but linen if possible). The linen is on the cheap side and I am under no delusion that it will hold up for years to come. It’s a bit rough out of the box and requires a wash or two (recommend wool dryer balls) to help soften it up. The linen is of a lightweight variety but it’s a great starting point if you’ve never tried linen bedding since the price is unbeatable, and they often have sales that knock it down to under $100. It’s sourced in China.
*West Elm: I have a few pieces from west elm sales and have been thrilled with the durability and quality for budget buys. Its very soft and supple right out of the package and it looks to be a light weight linen. Sweethome picked these linen sheets as their top buy! I particularly love our harbor stripe pillow cases & bolster shams (purchased on sale for under $20). The sales are AMAZING and well worth the stalking effort. They are upfront about the fact the linen items are made in China.
*Anthropologie: As you all remember, I found our first set of linen bedding from here during an INSANE sale that I’ll wish could happen again. The linen is soft as butter upon arrival so I’m guessing it’s a light/medium weight linen. The stock of bedding is always changing and it seems that they phase out colors and bedding styles over time but the classic colors and options for duvet and pillow shams is always there. The prices are mid/high range for the quality but during a sale they are a STEAL! It’s mentioned that the products are made in Portugal but no mention of the linen source (the import records indicate the textiles go from France to Portugal which is a good sign).
*Zara Home: Zara home linen collection has some wonderful natural colored pieces to choose from and even has a very subtle stripe duvet cover option. The prices are wonderful and although I’m not sure that they ever have sales, with the current prices it’s a great option to test out linen bedding. No mention to the location of linen mill or manufacturing process.
*Overstock: This set of linen sheets has great reviews and the ones written by those who own linen bedding say they are the same quality as RH and Pottery Barn linen sheets. They are made in China and appear to be of light weight linen. I just purchased a set during a great sale for $116 for a King! Overstock has sales OFTEN and its worth watching for this one since the sheets come out to about $35 each + 2 pillow cases!
Cuddledown: I have no experience with the linen bedding from this source but their other bedding options are high quality and many people love their customer service. They offer two different types of linen bedding; one is sourced in Portugal, and the other is sourced in Italy. I personally would go for the Italian linen bedding since it’s more likely to have been woven on an Italian mill and the reviews on this are high. The prices are in the higher range but they do offer sales throughout the year.
*The Company Store: I couldn’t find many reviews online but recently purchased 2 flat sheets and some pillow cases during a great sale! The king sized flat sheets were under $100 each and the pillow cases under $70 for a pair. I find it to be light weight linen but the durability is good as well as the construction. While the sheets are slightly oversized they don’t seem to be pre-shrunk as we lost about 5% on all sides after the first wash. Unfortunatly they are no longer big enough to tuck in as a base sheet so I’m going to purchase the fitted sheet while the sale is still going on. They are upfront about the fact that it is made in China.
Libeco: This company is still operating in Belgium as they have been for a very long time and make some of the highest quality linen bedding you can buy which means purchasing directly from a high quality mill when you buy this brand! The only problem can be finding it unless there is a store located in your area. I have found a few online retailers and will list them here for you in case your ready to invest in high quality sheeting. 1) Adorn House & 2) Fishers Home Furnishings
Woods Fine Linens: They source some of the best luxury bedding in the UK. Their linen is sourced from an Irish mill that has been around for centuries and their bedding is offered at an extremely affordable price for such high quality. They will ship to the US per request if your looking for some of the highest quality linen bedding available they are a great place to contact.
Parachute: I have yet to try the linen bedding from this source but have heard wonderful things. The prices are mid/high range depending on if an entire set is purchased. I like that they offer individual pieces as well as a duvet set with pillow shams. This makes it easy to mix & match like mentioned above. The return policy is extremely generous and they allow you to try out the bedding and if you don’t love it they offer a full refund! They mention that the bedding is made in Portugal and import records indicate that their textiles are from Italy.
Cultiver: I love the different styles available at this retailer & intend to purchase our next sheet or duvet from here. The stripe duvet cover is beautiful and would work with a multitude of different decor styles! You can also purchase separate pieces from this shop and mix & match, and the sheets are oversized to allow for tucking or overhang. Its mentioned that the pieces are made with European flax but no mention of the mill or where the fabric is made into linen.
Merci: Merci is a located in Europe but will ship worldwide. Just select the dropdown box in the upper right corner when shopping to see prices in USD. The quality is TOP NOTCH, and in my opinion they make some of the highest quality linen online that I’ve found so far.
Linoto: (See update before purchasing, I can no longer recommend this company). Jason Evege was a designer who started this company after searching for quality linen bedding for a decent price and coming up short. These can be found on their website, amazon, and well as some other online retailers like wayfair. The pricing is mid priced but there is a concern with quality due to come negative reviews online about holes developing within the first year or two of use. However, it seems some customers have had luck with getting the company to send replacements after much persistence and cost of sending the defective product back. Based on the reviews and samples I’ve received the linen is of light-medium weight depending on which product is purchased; they offer “100% Linen”, “Belgian-Eco”, and “Organic Linen” bedding lines with very different price points.
UPDATE: I can no longer recommend this company because of their dishonesty about the sourced linen. Publicly available import records show they source their “100% linen woven fabric” from a company in China (Harbin Brother Trading Company) yet they state the linen is made in Belgium, France, and Ireland. There are also negative reviews online by those who received damaged products with the company refusing to make it right.
Thomas Ferguson: I have read that this is the highest quality heavy weight linen bedding you can purchase, and the price reflects that sentiment. They offer European and North American bed sizes so it’s perfect for anyone who has a difficult bed size. The linen is Irish sourced from one of the oldest mills still in business and their craftsmanship is second to none. If the highest quality is most important this is a must-buy source!
Rough Linen: (See update before purchasing, I can no longer recommend this company)-Rough Linen is run by Trish which offers many items made from linen and bedding in different weights/styles. There is a free sample card or the option to order larger swatches to test out prior to buying. Quality is wonderful since they are made in the US with high quality standards by Trish. The prices are steep but you can get a discount by ordering the full bed makeover set, but it does limit your fabric-type options.
UPDATE: RL videos say the linen fabrics are woven at a European mill based on her own specifications. However, there are public import records showing that the linen is actually sourced from a China (Harbin Linen Group).
Some disgruntled customers online show the sheets may develop holes and that they will not standing behind their product (the website only publishes the favorable reviews which is also troublesome).
I now have personal experience with this after a friend purchased the ‘Bed Makeover’ based on my referral and holes developed in a sheet after less than 6 months of use. She takes VERY good care of them using a baby toothbrush and baking soda to take care of spots before washing on delicate, so we assumed the Trish would make it right. After much back-and-forth from Trish, sending the sheet back in at their cost, and them blaming their care for the quality issue. She finally agreed to sew a patch over the holes and send them back, but it wasn’t an easy task trying to get some sort of assistance from her. I am very disappointed in the lack of concern for quality and customer appreciation so I no longer recommend this company as a worthwhile investment. The knowledge that the fabric is manufactured in China, and there is no concern for quality control for I would recommend looking elsewhere before spending $185-$220 per sheet.
I want to stress that I have NO problems with Chinese linen, in fact if sourced from a good manufacturer it can be high quality bedding, I DO have a problem when the company lies about its sourcing and charges top market prices for linen bedding. Usually by using the “Made in the USA” for the false sense of security it gives customers, when in fact the fabric comes from a Chinese mill, often without the quality control and talent that
premiumhigh-cost linen bedding should have.
No matter which source you choose they all offer something different from the budget concious to the lifelong luxury bedding set. Most if not all have a kind return policy that offers the ability to decide if your in love with the bedding and all the sources listed are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Do you already love linen bedding and know of a source I haven’t listed? If so I’d love to hear about them! I’m always on the lookout for more linen in my life….