We commonly get asked “what is linen?” Linen fabric has long since been a standard and well known fabric for centuries. It’s typically lightweight and perfect for summer. When you ask the average person, “what is linen?”, they’d be able to describe it without hesitation. However, what makes linen so recognizable? Where does it come from, and how has it been processed for as long as it has? In this comprehensive guide, we breakdown what linen’s properties are as a fabric and how its use benefits your everyday life.
You may ask yourself, what is linen exactly? Well, linen is a commonly used fabric worldwide. The fabric derives from the fibrous properties of a flax plant. The wild flax plant is ancient, dating back during the Paleolithic era. These flax fibers, when processed, manipulates into different products. Linen fabric, one of the flax plant’s products, is one of the one of the most popular.
Linen, when made is made to last. This durable fabric is one of the few that when it comes into contact with water becomes more sturdy. Linen is also considered extremely breathable and gets softer after each washing.
This fabric has rigidity which helps with abrasion. It also is resistant to staining and dirt. It doesn’t wear down easily and when properly cared for, can last a lifetime.
Sometimes linen garments carry small knots within its natural fiber. In the past, these knots (considered defective) lead to the fabric being tossed aside. Now, these little imperfections are unique and revered, making this style of linen fabric well sought after.
Linen has been used for thousands of years. Linen fiber’s earliest discoveries were in ancient Egypt. Once people grew controlled crops of flax, they processed certain flax fibers into linen yarn. This became the base for the finest linen.
Exotic fabrics like linen were almost always exclusively made for the wealthy. Linen’s earliest uses during their first productions were for the affluent members of society for anything from bridal garb to burial garments. Once linen fabric traveled towards Europe, it’s biggest producer landed in Ireland.
Belfast, Ireland was the largest producer of linen fabric at one point. It was such a huge producer of linen that they once called Belfast Linenopolis! Belfast made linen for almost two centuries for the dignitaries and common folk alike. Today, linen’s production is in eastern Europe and China.
Linen, deriving from the flax seed suggests that the biggest producer of linen should have great access to its growth to keep production going, however that is not entirely the case. Even though most linen fabric and linen products are made in eastern Europe and China, the flax comes predominantly from Canada. Canada is the biggest producer of flax over any country, with Kazakhstan and Russia behind it. Without their collaborative production of flax, linen would be in short supply.
As previously mentioned, linen fabric is traditionally a natural fabric derived from flax fibers. Before processing however, they start off as the flax plant.
Flax is grown in cooler climates. It’s a food and fiber crop. Flax grows as a tall stalk similarly to wheat, usually getting to about 3 feet in height. It buds light blue flowers towards the top of its stalk. To make linen, one would need to acquire the fiber from a flax plant. The fiber in a flax plant is towards the base of the plant and has a smooth and straight appearance.
It takes about 100 days for a flax plant to produce the fibers needed to create linen fabric. Once the flowers bloom and the seeds mature, flax fibers are in their optimal stages for production. If the fibers turn brown, they cannot harvest the fibers for linen.
The flax fibers are put into complex processes for removing all of the fibers from its stalk. Once removed and processed, its production is made into linen yarn. When the preparation of linen yarn is complete, it becomes manufactured into endless amounts of product from garments to bedding.
Linen and cotton are the most well known natural fibers. The cotton plant has an interesting past of production comparable to the flax plant that makes linen. Similar to the bast fiber used to make jute (and linen being classified as a bast fiber itself), cotton and linen are both natural alternatives for many products. However, what makes them different?
Linen is stronger than cotton. Its strength attributes to the flax fiber, which is slightly thicker than cotton fibers. This, and the length of its fibers contribute to its durability. Cotton’s fibers are smaller, but ultimately more soft than a linen fiber. When processed, cotton feels more silky to the touch over linen.
Arguably most important, both linen and cotton are wicking fabrics. This means that they can retain moisture and still remain as sturdy as they were dry. That’s why towels are best when they’re made from linen or cotton. Overall, the uses for both cotton and linen are versatile and limitless.
So, what is linen? As we’ve learned, linen fabric has some amazing uses, including:
Linen fabric is perfect for so many uses. If you’d like to know more about how you can use linen in your everyday life, feel free to contact us.