Linen is an ancient fiber. It has been found in ancient tombs, and was used in burial shrouds for Egyptian pharaohs.
Linen is a bast fiber, meaning it is obtained from the stem of a plant – in this case, the flax plant. The word linen comes from the Latin name for flax.
Flax is planted in spring. In early summer it produces blue flowers and it is harvested in late summer after the plant has reached its full height of 2 to 3 feet.
Harvesting flax is mostly done by hand. To preserve the length of the fiber, the entire flax plant is pulled up.
In a process called rippling, a machine removes the seeds. These seeds are used for next year’s planting or are used to make other products like linseed oil. The harvested flax is then left in bundles in the field for a few weeks. This process, called retting, helps loosen the fibers from the core of the stalk. Now that the fibers are loosened, the next step is scutching – breaking and beating the flax to remove the woody stalk and bark. The flax fibers are separated into smaller bundles called hands, which are hackled, or combed, and arranged into ribbons of long fibers. Linen fibers are six to twenty inches long. This length makes linen fabric strong and smooth.
Properties & Uses
The fibers are woven into fabric, then finished by bleaching, dying, or printing.
Linen shares many of the advantages of cotton. It is strong yet comfortable to wear in warm weather. It is so often used for bed coverings that we call them simply - linens. It’s also used in handkerchiefs, and fine fashions – everything from dresses to suits. Linen is especially popular for suits worn in tropical climates. It is also found in wall coverings, drapery and upholstery fabric. Linen is more expensive than cotton and high quality linen is considered a luxury fabric.
Characteristics of Linen Fibers and Products
- Linen has been used for clothing for at least ten thousand years
- The Holy Shroud of Turin is linen
- Similar to cotton in its properties (both are natural, cellulosic fibers)
- Made from flax plant
- Linen fibers have a silky luster and a cool feel
- Fibers are in stem of plant (therefore called a "bast" fiber)
- Long fibers from 6 to 20 inches make linen even smoother than cotton
- Stronger than cotton
- Conducts heat away from the body better than cotton
- Wrinkles easier than cotton
- Linen is a bast fiber from the flax plant
- The fibers are harvested primarily by hand
- Linen is ideal for lightweight suits, table and bedclothes, and furnishings.