hemp, linen & ramie fabrics


Hemp is produced from the cannabis Sativa plant. It is processed to separate the fibers, then woven into yarns and fabric. Italy produces the finest hemp fabric. It is linen-like in hand and appearance. It wrinkles easily.


Linen is made from the stalk of the flax plant; it is the strongest of the vegetable fibers, 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. The linen fibers can range from 2” to 36” long. They are first spun into yarn, which is then woven into fabric. Linen comes in many weights, the lightest being handkerchief linen, the heaviest being linen suiting. Linen is desirable in hot, humid climates due to its high moisture absorbency, and the fact that it is quick drying. Linen gets smoother, softer, and finer the more it is washed. Its luster is due to the natural wax content, which also gives linen a smooth surface.

  • Stays clean: linen sheds surface dirt and resists stains.
  • Wrinkles: linen really wrinkles, even those that have been given a wrinkle-resistant treatment. A good tip: press fabric before preshrinking; it sets the formaldehyde, and helps keep wrinkling down. On the plus side, linen presses easily. Since it creases easily, it can be given a crease-resistant finish (tebilizing) or can be blended with poly.
  • Shrinks: here is another natural fiber fabric that shrinks. It is essential to preshrink linen before you start to cut. Buy extra fabric, as you will lose some due to shrinkage.
  • Frays: linen fabrics really do tend to fray. Before you pre-wash, it would be a good idea to serge the raw edges. As you make your garment, it would also be good to serge the seams and any other raw edges.
  • Doesn’t drape; instead it is crisp.
  • Easily dyed, and color doesn’t fade.
  • Absorbs moisture more quickly than any other fabric – it is great for toweling and tablecloths.
Looking for quality
  • Feel: the better quality linen fabrics are smooth and supple. Look at the finish – is there a lot of sizing on the fabric? Not a good sign!
  • Fibers: good quality linens have finer yarns. Check out the number of threads per inch – remember that as with bed sheets, the higher the number of threads per square inch, the better the quality. The threads should be woven straight and even.
Fabric Prep
Although linen fibers are washable, some loosely woven linen needs to be dry-cleaned.  If you determine the finished garment will be dry cleaned, steam press it before laying it out for cutting. If you want the colors to keep their intensity, or want the linen to remain crisp, choose the dry cleaning option. If the linen will be washed: for dark or bright colored linen, you might want to “set” the dye by adding a product such as Retayne to the wash water. If you are washing white or off-white linen, if you add one tablespoon of bleach to the wash water, it will soften the fabric. Keep in mind the tip about pressing before preshrinking to help with the wrinkling. Press the fabric before laying out for cutting.

Use a steam iron at the highest setting. Some linen will get slick when you iron it, so use a press cloth and press on the right side.

Use the patterns without nap for layout. Be careful marking, some chalks leave a mark.  The best marking method is using pins, snips in the seam allowance, or fabric markers (test on a scrap first). Cut with scissors or rotary cutter.

Sewing Needles
Use a 70/10 for the lightest weight linen, and 80/12 for all other weights.

DAMASK: a jacquard weave, reversible pattern of satin or plain weave.

VENISE: a very fine damask of floral patterns, used for table linen.


Ramie is a hairy, soft fiber that has many of the same qualities as linen: it is comfortable and wrinkles easily. Frequently, ramie is blended with other fibers, both natural and man-made. Ramie can be washed or dry-cleaned; use the same rules as for linen to determine which cleaning method is best for your garment. Use the linen guidelines for sewing help. Ramie has a natural white color, has a high luster, is highly absorbent, and quick to dry.