The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Should I cut linen Cloth

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Should I cut linen Cloth


I am new to breadmaking and so far have only been successful with sandwich loaves made in bread tins. 

I would like to try more free form styles like bagettes, bloomers, boules, batons etc so I ordered a linen cloth from an online Amazon market places seller.

It has just arrived and looks and feels beautiful

but at 41 inches long by 60 inches wide its rather large. 

I have found posts on here suggesting I should wash it first to remove the chemicals but I can't find anything that describes optimum sizes for making things like bread loaves, boules, bagettes etc and while I know I will need enough linen for the folds and covering my dough while its proving,  I am not sure whether 60 wide would be too wide.  I suppose I could use it doubled but I dont know if that would make it too heavy for its purpose - as I said I am very new at all this.

This may not be relevant but I have a small kitchen and an equally small domestic oven so nothing fancy and my stone is round and only fits two 1 pound tins at a time so I would envisage it will only accomodate a single boule or bloomer style loaf.  I have a square baking tray for bagettes etc which would hold perhaps 3 side by side if you wanted to leave space between each one once you transfered them from the cloth to the baking tray.

So should I cut the cloth into two pieces both 41 by 30 or not?

If anyone with more experieince could advise it would be most appreciated.

Many thanks - Jean

jcking's picture

King Arthur Flour offers a Couche for home bakers that is 24" x 26" with a finished hem.


proth5's picture

you want your couche to be slightly wider than the longest loaf that you will put on it and long enough to accomodate the number of loaves that you will place on a single proofing board.

Normally, also, bakers linen comes in narrower widths than couture linen so the selvedge edges run the length of the couche and will not, of course, ravel.  Cut ends are usually not finished in any way.

You might want to use your beautiful linen for other purposes (even if it is to make basket liners) and investigate real baker's linen - which as mentioned above can be obtained from King Arthur Flour or, perhaps more economically from TMB baking.  Baker's linen is a bit more rough than couture linen and will do a slightly better job of hodling flour should you need to flour your couche.  It also has a little more body to create the characteristic "pleats" used to separate baguettes. I find that the 18 inch wide works well for me and fits on a half sheet pan (or my current proofing board - a large cutting board.)

Although many people advocate never washing your couche, they can be washed.  They will get wrinkled in the washing process.  This does not really affect their performance, but if a smooth surface is desired, the cloth can be ironed while damp.  Because I have some really odd sensitivities to fabric finishes, I wash all fabrics that I come into contact with, but if you buy true baker's linen, you may not need to wash it.

Hope this helps.

Doc.Dough's picture

Size matters only if it is not big enough.  Cut it to 2" wider than you longest pan or planned loaf, perhaps as wide as your oven.  This will give you enough to cover your dough without having anything hanging out. If that is 20", then perhaps you cut it into three pieces.  Don't hem it, but do zig-zag the edges to keep it from fraying too badly.  After you pull out the threads you didn't catch with the zig-zag, trim off the stragglers without cutting the zig-zag.  If you wash it and iron it before you cut it and sew it, it will be easier to work with, and yes you can wash it occasionally but I find that I don't do it more often than once a year and usually after it winds up on the floor.  Soak it and hand wash to get most of the flour out, then machine wash and iron again and you are good to go.

From your photo it looks like you have a fairly light material.  Consider the 12 oz hemp canvas found here:

and use the material you have for cover cloth.

Gene New's picture
Gene New

I have to say this website and the fresh loaf community are absolutely phenomenal for someone like me who is just starting to make bread - thank you so much for all your help and advice it really is appreciated.

I have looked at both King Arthur flour and the San Francisco Bakers Institute in the past and I find  aside from your fantastic scenery bread making has given me another reason to envy anyone living your side of the pond but alas I am an OAP living in the UK on a state pension of £128 ($200) a week so I can’t afford the combination of customs and international shipping costs I would incur importing my supplies from overseas. I would love to try your all purpose flour which is meant to be stronger than our plain flour but I dread to think what customs would think of my trying to import a bag of white powder into the UK :-)

When hubby offered to buy me a few baking supplies for Christmas linen cloth was on my list so I looked for a local supplier but they seem to be quite limited over here as I only found three.   Two were dedicated baking websites both quite expensive while the third was a linen manufacturer who was more affordable so that was who I chose selecting the heaviest standard weave they had. 

I think my picture might have given the wrong impression because the piece I have is a 100% pure flax linen that seems to have a reasonable weight to it though it is not quite as heavy as the hemp on the dharma trading website mentioned by Doc Dough.  My piece is closer to 9oz per square or 15oz per liner yard so while it is a little lighter than the hemp  it is much, much heavier than the 85- 125 gm/m2 (3 to 4.5 ounce) per metre square linens that are used by the clothing industry.

I took my picture quickly so perhaps this picture from the advertiser’s website shows it better.

As this next picture shows I had no difficulty producing 2-3 inch folds that stood unaided when I tried folding it earlier which will be fine for baguettes and batons etc but I don’t know if my folds would be tall enough for proving bread; perhaps someone can advise me on that.

My piece has selvages on the left and right edges so they won’t fray but I have a sewing machine so once I decide how to divide it I can always zig zag the remaining edges as suggested before washing it.

I may divide it into one large piece that should give me ample for my bread while the rest can be cut smaller for use in a bowl for boules,  over a peel or used damp over my proving box ( a very large tupperware that fits really nicely in my draft free microwave) that way it will cover all of my baking needs.

 The company I got it from also offers twill weave linen that looks like this,

which looks to be a little heavier.  I would have to check but if it is that could offer me an alternative if my current fabric doesn’t do the job but hopefully it will.

Once again thank you for all of your advice you have been most helpful;  All the best Jean

Doc.Dough's picture

If you wash it before you sew it you will not suffer the puckering that results from doing it the other way. And of course always use pre-shrunk thread.

I like the look of the twill, and it might handle better even if it is of the same weight just because the folds will be on the bias.

Also look around for hemp.  You are closer to the source and may find some at a good price that is not widely advertized.

proth5's picture

normally you would not need to pull up the pleats for anything except more than one baguette or batard, so now that I understand the situation, your linen is fine.  I wouldn't bother with buying more or looking for hemp (But that's me...)

When you proof you loaves, you will be putting the linen on some kind of support, like a board or a pan.  Again, I like the 18inch width because it fits neatly into a half sheet pan.  Wht you do not want is for your couche to overhang the edges of the surface that you will be proofing on, as that can cause you handling hassles.

You might want to leave the length as is and roll any excess when proofing loaves.

Linen does not shrink, but does wrinkle after washing.  Wash the entire piece, iron it damp, then cut to size.  If it were me, if it was only one piece, and if I did decide to finish the edges, I would do it by hand (whip stitch) because a machine zig-zag stitch does pull the fabric around a bit and the hand finish would be smoother.  It's only once. But that's me.  (I zig-zag seam edges when sewing with linen and it works fine, but it does get little tufts that I'm not fond of on the right side of the fabric.)

Good luck!

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Hand sewing is not a problem for me as everything I make is created entirely by hand.  I used to be a full time teddy bear artist and while this lengthy recession may have wrecked my business I still design and create animals for the rare orders that do occasionally come in so finishing the linen will be easy; I can do it while I am watching TV one evening.

I really appreciate all your help and advice.

I can’t believe I made my first loaf less than a month ago, it was a brick because I hadn’t mastered kneading and didn’t know what I was doing but this website led me to tutorials, recipes and videos by people like Richard Bertinet and through all that I learnt ways to make and knead the bread that work for me and I am now producing consistently light and tasty sandwich bread that is still soft enough to eat 4 days later.

I know I still have a long way to go, I have yet to master whole meal, sourdough or any of the specialty breads but I am sure given more time and much more reading through the myriad of information on this website those will be in my grasp as well so once more I thank you for all your help - I am truly grateful

Best wishes Jean