Could next year see a major growth spurt in the 600 million euros a year linen market? Or at least in the 60 per cent of this market represented by sales into the clothing trade?

Members of the Masters of Linen organisation are confident that this will indeed be the case, estimating a sales increase of "at least 20 per cent" into the international fashion industry for winter 2003/4.

Such optimism rests on their ability to convert both trade and consumers to the idea of linen as a fabric for all seasons and today's lifestyles. The concept isn't a new one; nor indeed is the idea of linen as the most 'green' of all textile fibres - vegetable in origin, successfully cultivated with minimal use of fertilizers, and made-up into an end product which is 100 per cent biodegradable.

Both are pluses for the product Masters of Linen has been promoting since its launch in l993. Masters of Linen represents the interests of Europe's 8,000 flax growing farmers as well as spinners, weavers and further processors of linen fabrics.

Trans-seasonal tools and techniques

What, however, is strictly 2lst century is that the industry now has the tools and the techniques to turn the concept of trans-seasonal linen into commercial reality. And in this transition the finisher is now the linen merchant's staunchest ally in the battle to win new friends in the fashion business.


In the past, attempts to sell linen trans-seasonally have been largely dependent on the creation of blend partnerships, marrying linen to other fibres, usually at the yarn stage.

While making a useful contribution to the general fashion scene, and solving some of the problems of consumer sales resistance based on pure linen's propensity for creasing, such blends often achieved their success only at the expense of those very characteristics, which make linen so distinctive and so appealing.

In contrast, today's answer to giving linen greater crease resistance is likely to lie in the use of double twisted yarns, which offer greater elasticity. Also tackling the question of crease resistance are 'new generation' resin and enzyme treatments - the latter now also widely used to give new fabrics a fashionably washed out look.

There is also a growing move among linen users to turn the fibre's intrinsic lack of crease resistance into a positive design advantage. Permanent, controlled crumple effects ranging from fine wrinkling to traditional pleating will be included in the ranges which de Vaudricourt, Hautrieve and Libeco-Lagae will be showing at Premiere Vision later this year.

And in a world increasingly interested in seamless construction garments, the 15 specialist spinner members of Masters of Linen have now made a technical breakthrough which renders linen yarns suitable for circular knitting processes.

Raschel knitting with linen is also becoming increasingly popular. This sector now also has its own coterie of specialist yarn suppliers with the fancies offered by Tricotages de Jujurieux at the forefront of these developments. "Raschel knitting offers an end product with a much greater dimensional stability and affords the designer the opportunity to employ an intriguingly wide choice of gauges," comment Tricotages de Jujurieux. 

Imaginative ideas

Masters of Linen logo

Meanwhile, in the collections the 96 weavers and knitters entitled to use the Masters of Linen logo will be showing at the September 2002 Premiere Vision the emphasis will be on using linen more imaginatively, simulating properties previously only associated with other fibres.

Linens that look like silky upholstery brocades will, for instance, be featured by Picchi.  This Italian house also revives the tie-dye look in its latest linen collection as well introducing camouflage inspired prints.

Elsewhere will be jacquards using pattern motifs more usually associated with the carpet trade. Borrowing from the soft furnishings scene will be Germany's Holstein Flachs group, with openwork fabrics that resemble coarsely hand crocheted curtain lace. This group of linens comes in both natural bleached shades and dyed to the new season's dark tones - with both blacks and a rich plum being tipped as the most fashionable colours for winter 2003/4.

Holstein Flachs is also experimenting with 58 per cent linen/42 per cent wool blends. These are offered with brushed surfaces and as fabrics with dropped stitch, open work construction and weighing 330 gms.

Fluffy surfaced fabrics are also a strong story in the John England range from Northern Ireland. Here a variety of finishing techniques is employed to build up families of differing appearance and texture. "These fabrics are likely to be of particular appeal to manufacturers in the women's wear separates sector, who are themselves geared to creating trans-seasonal ranges," says John England.

John England is also expanding its range of lightweight linenwool blends, many of which incorporate bouclé yarns.

Breaking new ground
Also breaking new ground for lightweight linen are almost transparently sheer linen muslins. Solbiati produces deceptively delicate, see-through looks which belie the fact that these 100 per cent linens are actually sturdy enough at 370 gms to be traditionally tailored.

Check design men's suitings are the French contribution to the linen scene at de Cathalo, while suiting style pinstripes, on linen which pretends to be cotton denim, are also being introduced to the Solbiati range. Solbiati sees these fabrics as saleable into both the men's and women's wear markets as well as the casualwear trade.

Striped linen denims will also be shown at PV by Jules Tournier. This French weaver, however, favours a bolder, 'butcher's apron' approach for its striped linens. 

Expert Analysis

World Textile Fibers to 2005
This study analyzes the 34 million metric ton world textile fibers industry. It presents historical demand data for 1990, 1995 and 2000, with forecasts to 2005 and 2010 by type (e.g., polyester, olefins, nylon and aramid, acrylic and modacrylic, cellulosic fibers); by region and for 27 individual key countries.


Linen taking over the role of classic cotton denim is also the talking point of the Globo collection. "Denim already transcends all the conventional seasonal sales barriers, which is why we are so eager to have a greater share of this market," says Globo.

Meanwhile, at the upper end of the weight scale linen lodens make news at Austria's Tiroler Loden. "Weighing in at 760 gms this new outerwear fabric comes suede surfaced but with the supple handle today's customers demand," the company says.

Also opening up new markets for linen in the outerwear sector are waterproofing treatments, usually in the form of polyurethane coatings. Such finishes are not just functional - they are often used decoratively with metallic effects especially popular.

In technical textiles linen makes its debut as a blend partner for Kevlar, and in the luxury tweeds market partnering noble fibres of all types but particularly cashmere and alpaca.

In short, the autumn winter 2002/2004 message from Masters of Linen is "anything other fibres can do fashion-wise or functionally - linen can do as well and often better."

By Sonia Roberts.