Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. It is laborious to manufacture, but the fiber is very absorbent and garments made of linen are valued for their exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. It is primarily produced in Western Europe and Kochi in India.
The word linen is of West Germanic origin and derived from the Latin name for the flax plant, linum and the Greek name linón. This word has given rise to a number of other terms in English, most notably line, from the use of a linen (flax) thread to determine a straight line.
Linen textiles are some of the oldest in the world, dating back thousands of years. Egyptians used linen in clothes and some times in currency.
The term Linen colloquially also refers to any household good like bedsheets, tablecloths, pillows, cushions etc. but this should not be confused with Linen fabric.
Touch & Feel
Linen fibers are hollow, moving air and moisture naturally adapting to the season. It is a natural insulator. It is valued for its ability to keep cool in the summer months and trap warmth in colder weather.
It is smooth, making the finished fabric lint-free, and gets softer the more it is washed. However, constant creasing in the same place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads. This wear can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased during laundering. Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily, explaining why it wrinkles so easily.
A characteristic often associated with linen yarn is the presence of "slubs" or small knots which occur randomly along its length. In the past, slubs were traditionally considered to be defects and were associated with low quality linen. However, in the case of many present-day linen fabrics, particularly in the decorative furnishing industry, slubs are considered as part of the aesthetic appeal of an expensive natural product. In addition, slubs do not compromise the integrity of the fabric, and therefore they are not viewed as a defect. However, the very finest linen has very consistent diameter threads, with no slubs at all.
Linen fabrics have a high natural luster. The natural color ranges from shades of ivory, ecru, tan, to grey. Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching. Linen fabric typically varies somewhat in thickness and is crisp and textured, but it can in some cases feel soft and smooth.
Strength and Longevity
Linen is known to be the world’s strongest natural fiber. It is so durable that it’s even used in paper money to increase its strength. Linen is one of the few fibers that are stronger wet than dry. However, because linen fibers have a very low elasticity, the fabric eventually breaks if it is folded and ironed at the same place repeatedly over time.
Natural fibers love water. Linen is thought of as nature’s wicking fiber. It can gain up to 20% moisture before it will first begin to feel damp. Cotton will absorb more than 25% its weight in water. The affinity of cotton and linen to moisture is one reason why natural fibers are most comfortable to wear in summers.
Linen should not be dried too much by tumble drying, and it is much easier to iron when damp. Linen wrinkles very easily, and requires ironing often, in order to maintain perfect smoothness. Nevertheless, the tendency to wrinkle is often considered part of linen's particular charm, and many modern linen garments are designed to be air-dried on a good clothes hanger and worn without the necessity of ironing. Linen is relatively easy to take care of, since it resists dirt and stains, has no lint or pilling tendency, and can be dry-cleaned, machine-washed or steamed. It can withstand high temperatures, and has only moderate initial shrinkage.
Ancient Egyptians used linen for its natural ability to help repel microorganisms. Linen has been known to be tolerable for those with allergies and to soothe skin conditions. It has the natural ability to prevent bacterial growth.
Over the past 30 years the end use for linen has changed dramatically. In the 1970s only about 5% of linen was used for fashion fabrics while in 1990s, approximately 70% of linen production was for apparel textiles. These days linen is used even in the six yards aka Saree.