Linen Bedding…is there anything greater in this world?
It’s soft to the touch, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and most importantly to me- the perfect weight and texture!!
I could talk for days about my love for this magically transcendent fabric but bedding is a very personal experience and what constitutes luxuries is different for everyone. If you can relate to my linen obsession then we should probably be friends and this post is for you, friend 😉
How It All Began
It seems like we’ve all got a sense that trumps the rest. You know how some people are sensitive to the volume of the TV while others can smell the trash from across the house?
Well, I’m a texture person through and through!
The texture of food matters more to me than the taste, not that taste isn’t important, but if I love the sensation of eating something I’ll keep going long after I’m full simply because I love the sensation of eating it.
Clothing, linens, and everything in between is a visural experience for me, they only become appealing if I enjoy the texture.
My past experience with linen had been in the form of pants. I’d ironed all the wrinkles out before work only to find they’d returned the moment I stepped out of my car. Needless to say I didn’t own those pants for long and thought linen to be over priced and over rated.
After an endless search for coral bedding needed to complete a space, I stumbled upon the perfect shade at Anthropology and it was on sale- Win/Win!
Little did I know at the time prices that great are unheard of for linen bedding (a mistake I’ll always regret) and it would start a love affair that meant would replace all of our cotton sheets.
Compared to our previous cotton/bamboo sheets the linen felt rough, neither the Mr. nor I liked the idea of sleeping on scratchy fabric but agreed to give it two weeks. The sheets softened up after multiple washings and by the end of our trial period we both agreed there was just something about them we loved!
The biggest suprise was how well they worked for our different sleeping temperatures! The Mr. is a heater during the night while I’m always ice cold so we usually have a lot of layers on the bed to adjust throughout the night. Despite my attempts to layer for our comfort levels white sheets weren’t an option since they always needed replaced after a year of trying to remove his night-sweat yellowing. But I LOVE white sheets and desperately wanted to find a solution so I decided to start out with white linen and see how it went….
We’ve slept on nothing but white linen sheets for almost 2 years and I haven’t had to use harsh chemicals or extended soaks to remove sweat or yellowing!
I’ve built up our collection to rotate new white sheets each week in an attempt to prevent issues, but I’d washed our previous sheets each week as well before switching and even our high quality cotton started to look dingy within a year.
Like I said…is there anything better??
Now let me begin by saying I’m not an expert. These are just my observations based on research and personal experience. Please remember this is a blog filled with my personal tastes and opinions so I always advise you to do research to find the best option for your life.
Did you know linen is one of the oldest forms of fabric? It dates back to 8,000 BC!
Families used to grow the flax plants and harvest it to make sheeting that would be used throughout the year for anything from grain storage sacks to clothing. Women spent their years learning to make bedding with hand embroidered initials as a dowry when they were to be married.
These are just a few of the awesome qualities:
- The worlds strongest nature fiber (30% stronger than cotton)
- Absorbent (It can hold more moisture than cotton)
- Doesn’t lint
- Releases stains easily
- Resists mold & mildew
While cotton and linen have a lot of similarities the biggest noticeable difference is the drape and wrinkles. Both fabrics are known for wrinkling but flax linen is a tougher fiber that only softens with use. After time and handling the fibers soften and wrinkles become smooth, but unlike cotton this has nothing to do with fiber breakdown.
Linen has a natural resin called Lingnan that makes each fiber strong and tough no matter how often it’s bent or handled, cotton on the other hand is made by twisting multiple cotton strands together and over time those fibers start to break apart when handled.
The other big difference is drape; linen is a hollow fiber which allowing air and moisture to move through them freely which gives it that seemingly magical ability to keep you warm or cool depending on the environment.
Cotton also moves moisture but depending on the weave it can either allow air to flow through or create heavy weight insulation. Cotton is a heavier material which works wonderful for adding weight to the bed and creating a sense of comfort while linen is lighter and won’t provide such weight by itself. I personally like to layer a cotton blanket over the linen sheets for the best of both worlds!
In order to have a good experience with your linen bedding purchase it’s important to take the Quality, Weight, and Wear potential into account before purchase. Decide if you’re ready to go all in and buy a ‘lifetime’ set of sheets or if you just want to dip your toes in and see how it feels.
We’ll discuss these factors a bit and then move into some sources that I’ve found to be good for anything from luxury to budget-friendly buys!
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 fin d 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- The more you use and wash the linen sheets the softer they will become!
Vintage Irish linen sheets command such a high price because they were made with very high quality heavy weight linen sheeting that’s been worn down over time leaving the softest and most beautiful feeling sheets. Like with may thing in life there, this cannot be reproduced with new linen fabric.
If you’re switching from cotton sheets I recommend starting with a light/medium linen flat sheet and pillow shams to get used to the difference. I personally didn’t have any issues switching but after reading hundreds of reviews I’ve noticed that some people have a hard time adjusting from the softness of cotton to the slightly rougher texture of linen.
When the flat sheets are generously sized I recommend getting 2 instead of a fitted sheet. This allows you to alternate the top/bottom sheet which can extend the life of the bedding by years.
Linens natural tendency toward the rumpled romantic look makes it easy to mix and match different colors and styles. I personally love the natural unfussy look of linen but if it’s not your taste a simple ironing of the edges after washing will straighten it out.
Some retailers recommend line drying your linen sheets instead of using the dryer but we don’t have a clothes line so I’ve always used the dryer without a problem.
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. If you’re like me & want to score the best deal possible then check them often for additional discounts!
*H&M Home: I hesitated to include this brand since the lightweight linen is low quality and won’t hold up for years to come. After buying a few duvet covers and a bed skirt I can honestly say it’s impressive for the price and a great option for those of you just getting started on your collection. It’s rough to the touch when new so you’ll want to put it through the wash a few times to soften things up. There are often sales that bring it down under $100.
It’s sourced in China.
*West Elm: I’ve gotten few pieces from West Elm when they have great sales and have been thrilled with the durability and quality for such a budget price. Its soft 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 effort to check back for often.
They are up front about the fact their linen sheets are made in China.
*Anthropologie: As you all remember, I found our first set of linen bedding from here during an INSANE sale. 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 are consistently available. Prices are in the mid to 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 although 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 subtle stripe duvet cover. The prices are wonderful and although I’m not sure that there are sales I don’t think it’s necessary at such a reasonable price.
No mention to the location of linen mill or manufacturing process. This usually indicates china manufacturing and for such a low price I’d be surprised if they weren’t.
*Overstock: This set of linen sheets has great reviews, some even mentioning that they seem to be the same quality as RH & Pottery Barn linen. I’ve purchased quite a few set’s of this sheeting now and highly recommend it for those looking to build a collection on a budget. The only negative I should mention is to check the size when it arrives, I’ve received queen flat sheets in our King set’s but customer service is wonderful and always makes it right! Overstock has sales OFTEN so be sure to watch for one or check for coupon codes online.
They are made in China and appear to be of light weight linen.
Cuddledown: I have no experience with the linen bedding from this source but their other bedding options are high quality and people love their customer service so I’m going to assume their linen sheets are just as wonderful although I’d love to hear from some of you that own them? The prices are in the higher range but they do offer sales throughout the year.
They offer two different types of linen bedding; one is sourced in Portugal and the other from Italy. I’d go for the Italian sourced version as it’s more likely to have been woven in a mill nearby which would likely make it very high quality.
*The Company Store: 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. Unfortunately 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. I couldn’t find many reviews online but based on my personal experience I recommend them as a great budget buy! The king sized flat sheets were under $100 each and the pillow cases under $70 for a pair when I got them on sale so it’s worth watching for one to score the best deal.
They are upfront about the fact that its made in China.
Libeco: This company has been operating in Belgium for a VERY long time and still produces some of the highest quality linen bedding you can buy. There is no worry of inferior quality or changes to standards when you purchase from this manufacture as they have stayed true to their time tested manufacturing process.
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 so if you’re ready to invest in high quality ‘lifetime’ linen sheets I recommend contacting them for shipping information.
Parachute: I’ve not tried this bedding yet but hear wonderful things. I love that they offer individual pieces making it easy to mix & match or replace items as needed. The return policy is extremely generous! You can try the bedding first and if you don’t love it they offer a full refund which is unheard of for bedding! The prices are mid/high range depending on if an entire set is purchased, this would be a great source to supplement your collection.
They mention that the bedding is made in Portugal and import records indicate that their textiles are from Italy which is a good sign.
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 as well which I love. The sheets are oversized to allow for tucking or overhang making it possible to use a flat sheet as a fitted.
Its mentioned that the pieces are made with European flax but no mention of the mill location.
Merci: The quality of this brand is amazing and in my opinion they make some of the highest quality linen I’ve found. Merci is a located in Europe but will ship worldwide, select the dropdown box in the upper righthand corner to see prices in USD.
Linoto: (See update before purchasing, I no longer recommend this company). These can be found on the website, amazon, and other online stores like wayfair. The pricing is mid range but some reviewers mention holes developing after less than 1 year of use which indicates poor quality. However, some have had luck getting 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 version you choose; they offer “100% Linen”, “Belgian-Eco”, and “Organic Linen” bedding lines with very different price points.
UPDATE: The website says the linen sheeting is manufactured at mills in Belgium, France, and Ireland (depending on version). Import records show it’s in fact sourced from Chinese linen manufacturer Harbin Brother Trading Company. Combining these untrue statements about quality with the many negative reviews of pour quality and refusal to take responsibility for quality control issues I do not recommend purchasing from this source. There are quite a few others listed here that are not only higher quality and honest but also cheaper.
Thomas Ferguson: I have read that this is the highest quality heavy weight linen bedding you can buy and if price is any indicator than that statement is correct! They offer European and North American bed sizes so it’s perfect for any of you who may have a custom bed.
It’s sourced from one of the oldest Irish mills still in business and their craftsmanship is second to none. If the highest quality is most important this is the best source I could find!
Rough Linen: (See Update Below. I can no longer recommend this company) Rough Linen offers many items, not just bedding. There is also a choice of linen weight/style to suit almost any buyer as well as a free sample card that you can request by contacting the company. The reviews are plentiful and almost all have good things to say with only a few negative experiences found around the web. Prices are steep, but its possible to get a slight discount by ordering the entire ‘bed makeover’ set however this limits the choice of fabric.
UPDATE: The owner Patricia “Trish” states in website videos that her linen is manufactured in European mills to meet her unique specifications. Import records show the linen fabric as being sourced from Chinese manufacturer ‘Harbin Linen Group’ (a company owned by the same one that ‘Linoto’ uses, who also happens to make the European mills claim).
Prior to writing this post I’d read some disgruntled customer accounts that said their sheets quickly developed holes and they couldn’t get any support despite the price and “mom & pop” feel the company portrays. Unfortunately I’ve now had a personal experience that supports these claims.
A friend of mine convinced her skeptical husband to purchased the ‘Bed Makeover’ based on my referral. She followed all my instructions for delicate chemical free washing, never putting them in the dryer, and used a baby toothbrush & baking soda to gently remove spots. After less than 6 months I received a panicked text showing a large hole in one of the flat sheets. Hoping the negative experiences were wrong I advised them to contact Trish at RL immediately assuming she would take care of them.
Instead of taking responsibility for quality issues they were told the holes were caused by their care not the linen’s quality. I was shocked! Remember how we discussed the durability of linen? Holes shouldn’t develop on any linen that quickly, cheap or otherwise, especially if treated so delicately.
Refusing to give up and take the blame they asked what they explained how they took care of the bedding and asked what they could’ve done that would cause holes so soon, but never received an answer. After much back-and-forth they were finally told send it back for repair (at their cost).
While waiting for their sheet to be repaired the duvet cover developed a hole and the remaining flat sheet showed thin patches about to tear. My friends husband was eventually able to get a refund but not without a fight.
I’m completely mortified that I’d spoken so highly of the company and product only to have them go through so much stress and wasted money. The companies lack of concern for quality and customers money or time combined with the dishonesty about fabric manufacturing mean I’m no longer able to recommend RL as a worthwhile investment.
I want to quickly stress that I have NO problems with Chinese linen, I DO have a problem when a company lies in order to charge more.
Products only need to be assembled here in order to use the “Made in the USA” slogan, but it gives consumers the impression that the product is made of high quality materials and constructed through fine craftsmanship. The fabrics coming from some Chinese mills are often without quality control and the talent that makes
high-cost premium linen bedding worth the price tag.