Every grey cloud has a silver lining!
And so, does a Linen saree.
When I first heard about a hand-loom Linen saree, I was suspicious. I thought “Linen, Really? Sarees are weaved either with cotton or silk or a combination of cotton and silk fabric.”
As a mom, it was my desire to have a “baby blue” or “baby pink” color in a saree, those soft pastel colors one can easily find in baby apparel. Whenever I visited any kids apparel shop, I yearned for those soft tone colors; in pink, blue, yellow or green. I wanted to match my outfit color to baby’s outfit. I wanted to wear a saree in at least one of those pastel shade of colors one day. I embarked on this quest for such a saree few years back. Every time I visited any saree shop, at some point I would ask them about these colors in silk or cotton sarees, and as usual, the shop keeper would show, & market the typical blue or pink colors to me.
I was looking for a Neverland. I can now fully imagine what Christopher Columbus might have felt, when he finally reached the land he was in search of. Like him, in the beginning I kept on searching in the wrong direction. I used to ask for these colors in Cotton, or in Silk, but never in Linen.
Then one day, I met a kind and helpful fairy, who took me under her wings and showed me the magic of a fabric called Linen. She explained that, “Linen sarees are real sarees & we have a baby blue, a baby pink and many softer palettes of colors in them. These sarees are usually plain colored with a simple silver zari border to it. They are cozy too.” Now if I want, I can have one each in all colors in Linen sarees. Some even come with pompom at the end of the pallu! Suddenly I found my Neverland with a magical spell.
Linen is one such rare fabric fusion which spells “style” and comfort at the same time. It’s a versatile fabric which enables you to experiment with diverse drapes. Linen by Silk are little shiny, Linen by Linen have matt lustre and Linen by Cotton have coarse texture.
Origin/History: Technically, Linen is a natural fiber, made from the stalk of a flax plant. Linen fabric is made from the cellulose fibers that grow inside of the stalks of the flax plant, or Linum Usitatissimum, one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history. Linen was the first fiber used to weave fabric and dates back over 8,000 years. It was first used by Mediterranean civilizations and was then quickly adopted by Europe where it reached high popularity during the medieval times. In Ancient Egypt, Linen was used as a currency. Europeans have long favored linen for their sheeting because of its amazing properties.
When Linen was first manufactured, linen was considered to be an extremely rare and expensive fabric; however, it is now being manufactured in all parts of the world. The flax plant thrives in most climates although, the top-quality producers of both, this plant and the fabric, all come from Western Europe and Ukraine. Over the last few years, the production of linen in bulk quantities occurs mostly in East European countries and China however, when it comes to finding the highest quality, the best products come from certain niche producers in Italy, Belgium and Ireland as well as certain countries and cities such as Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Egypt and Kochi in India, among many others. From Indian subcontinent, Kochi is the leading the producer of linen and exports the fabric to well-known international brands
In the 1970s, only a stunning 5% of the total linen production in the world was used for creating garments by the fashion industry however, that number increased to 70% by the 1990s. Linen clothes tend to have a fantastic fall and fit and suitable for formal as well as casual wears.
How is Linen made? Flax is an annual plant, which means it only lives for one growing season. From seed planting, it is ready to be harvested in about a hundred days. Unless the weather is particularly warm and dry, flax requires little watering or attention during this time. It grows to about three or four feet tall, with glossy bluish green leaves and pale blue flowers, though on rare occasions, the flowers bloom red. Flax is cultivated around the world not only for its fine, strong fibers, but also for its seeds, which are rich in nutrients such as dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Flax oil is also a popular drying oil amongst oil painters.
After harvesting, plant goes through retting, dressing, spinning before it is ready for weaving. The flax plants are pulled from the ground rather than being cut to retain the full length of the fiber. The harvested plants are soaked in water until the woody section decomposes and it becomes easier to separate the soft fibers. This process is called retting the flax. Extracting the linen fibers from the flax plant is a time consuming process. The fibers are spun on a spindle into linen threads. Linen can be spun into thick strong threads or very fine threads depending on the skill of the spinner and the usage requirement.
The quality of the linen fabric is greatly dependent upon the retting process. The best quality linen is retted in slow-moving natural water sources such as streams and rivers. In fact, the highest quality linen in the world is retted in Belgium in the River Lys. Irish linen is the best known and most valuable, though most of the flax used for manufacturing is grown elsewhere and imported into the country for processing.
Region: In Indian history, linen has been mentioned for numerous times in the holy books like Vedas, Puranas, and Upanishads and in ancient literature.
In 1683 – 1694 during the ruling of Nadia king Rudra Roy sari weaving was practiced. Later, The British controlled the industry through East India Company and the yarn was hand spun. In 1920-1925 Shri Durga Das Kastha introduced barrel Dobby facilitating the conversion of the throw shuttle to Fly Shuttle. Later Shri Debendra Nath Mukherjee introduced the Jacquard Machine and 100 hook capacity Jacquard was first installed by Shri Jatindra Nath Lohori for producing varieties during the third decade of twenty century.
Sectional warping and sizing was introduced by Shri Hazari to produce a warp of 350 yards in length. Today, mostly fly shuttle looms of width 52 – 56 inches are being used in the cluster with 100 to 150 hooks Jacquard. Damask linen is a perfect example of linen woven on Jacquard loom.
Jamdani Linens, Bhagalpur These days Jamdani Linen sarees are also available, weaved mostly in Bhagalpur looms. Extra warps and extra weft and border designs are only possible with Jacquard. This Jacquard design gives lots of value addition to the fabric during weaving. And very often designs are produced during weaving by inserting weft threads by hand. There are around 111 different weaving communities namely the Pramanik, Kastha, Dalal, Khan and all the weavers have good weaving skills for weaving sari on Jacquard looms.
How is Linen different from cotton? hand-woven linen fabrics are heavier than their cotton counterparts, and they are approximately 30 percent stronger. They often feel crisper initially, though through time and use, linen fabrics become soft and supple to the touch. Linen boasts longevity, luster, and lovely drape. As linen fibers are thicker than cotton fibers, a lower thread count is necessary to guarantee high quality, enduring linen fabric. Linen is well-known for its absorbency; it can absorb up to 20 percent of its weight in moisture. Handwoven linen sarees should be washed in cold water on a gentle cycle dried on low heat.
Material and Variations: Linen is acknowledged in the fashion industry as ‘the fabric for all seasons’ – one that is known to be better than cotton for the summer heat, is smooth in texture, soft to touch, absorbent; that keeps the body comfortable at all times. Made from long stapled flax fibers, its weave quality is excellent offering range in counts from slightly coarse to extra fine.
The natural linen color ranges between shades of ivory, ecru grey with pure white linen being created by heavy bleaching. Coupled with endearing qualities like strength, resistance to abrasion and durability, vibrancy of colors, & textures make it stand apart.
The material used in the weft defines the type of linen. Like Cotton Linen saris where the weft is cotton; then there is Silk Linen sari where the weft is silk and Pure Linen saris in which the weft and warp are both linen. A lot of designers are designing pure linen saris which are hand-woven using the contemporary Jamdani weaving technique, mostly in geometrical patterns, like tapestry work where small shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. Jamdani is spun by hand and foot tools and may take two full-time weavers more than a year to complete.
Common Designs: Fashion designers have perceived many possibilities as a trendy and vividly patterned line of apparel. Linen sarees in pastel shades of red, pink, blue, violet, purple, orange, rust-brown, mauve, yellow, green, even black n grey look trendy.
Common designs are simple silver or golden light zari band on the border.In Jamdani Linens, designs or motifs are minimal and are usually of floral or geometric in origin. Linen, like most other fabrics, can be embroidered on or printed on to create different patterns or designs as per the creative vision of the designer working with it.
These sarees are unmistakably associated with a slub or small knots appearing arbitrarily along the length of the drape.Neat tassels are tied on the pallu end of this saree, and sometimes multicolored pompom are attached at the end of the pallu too.
Where to buy from: The smoothness and richness of fabric and the classic look of the linen saris make it a perfect blend for making a fashion statement. The cost of the hand-woven linen sarees depends on the quality, weft, design, and uniqueness of the saree. The range of handwoven linen sarees generally varies from Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 8,000. In last couple of years there is more awareness, and demand for these sarees. Today every saree shop in the big cities in India sells Linen Sarees. Few interesting designs and varieties I found in these online shops too. Personally, I have bought Linen sarees directly from GoCoop & DesiAlmaree weavers.
Weavers such as Bappaditya Khan & Prataditya Khan, winners of the National Award have taken the Jamdani Linen to a next level. Check out their latest creations, if you really love sarees in Jamdani and Linen both. Here are some design sample photos.
Not only are these linen sarees eco-friendly, but also clearly shows the smoothness and the richness of the fabric at first sight. Trendy woven linen saris exhibit simplicity, beauty and elegance.
Grey clouds have sailed away, clearing the sky. I noticed a rainbow arching over the horizon far away, displaying spectrum of seven pastel colors. It is believed that “If we look for, we find a pot of gold at the end a rainbow.” I think I have already found my gold (& silver too) in these rainbow pastel colored Linen sarees.
Pictures credited from Internet and courtesy of friends.
Bengal Linen saris