5 Dos and Don’ts:
DO identify the linen’s country of origin. Although it’s not always specified, identifying the country of origin can be a useful indicator of the quality of linen. Ireland, Italy and Belgium all have a long history of producing luxury-grade linens, and as a result, the product is typical of the highest quality – in the same way, that the best cotton tends to come from Egypt.
DO check for weaving mistakes. Even without an expert’s eye for detail, you can still get a good idea of the quality of linen by having a good look at it. While linen contains natural slubs (a combination of thinner and thicker threads), you should still be able to tell the difference between the natural texture of the fabric and any unintentional irregularities in the weave.
DO inspect the folds. If you are able to, unfold the item and check for any points of wear in the folds and creases. At the same time, be wary of fabric that isn’t all that creased: linen is naturally prone to creasing so if it seems suspiciously crinkle-free, it’s probably a cheap fabric blend.
DO check the color. The color should be even throughout the fabric. Linen is notoriously difficult to dye, and you can often tell if corners have been cut by the presence of frosting (unevenness in the color of the fabric). Yellowing is another common problem, which occurs when the fluorescent brighteners used to whiten linen are exposed to natural or artificial light. This reduces the effectiveness of the whitening process, leaving the linen irreversibly yellowed in certain places.
DON’T get hung up on thread count. Linen naturally has a much lower thread count than other textiles such as cotton, so there’s no point in using this as a basis for comparison. The difference is down to the flax plant from which linen is made, which has naturally thicker fibers than cotton. Even the best quality linens typically have a thread count of between 80 and 150, so if you find a shop that claims to go higher, they are most likely trying to pass a cheap linen blend off as the good stuff.