Linen: The what’s, the hows and the whys

 

Linen is a textile made from fibres of the flax plant, and we humans have been using it for quite a while. How long? Approximately 36,000 years, as the discovery of flax fibresin a cave in Georgia attains to - these are believed to be an archaic form of linen. Linen was first used for clothing and bedding by the ancient Egyptians in around 8,000 BC.

From Egypt, linen spread across the world and we've been using it ever since, for applications including clothing, bed sheets, bath towels, and home furnishings. There's not a huge amount of human inventions that have lasted this length of time, and to be fair, linen may well be up there with the wheel in terms of game changing developments. Let's have a closer look

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Linen has been in fashion for over 35,000 years. Nothing can last for that long without a good reason. Today, the Textile Hub is taking a look at linen what it is, how it's made, and why it's a better material than other plant based based fabrics. From the River Nile to your bed sheets, what's it all about?


 

How is linen made?

 
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As previously mentioned, linen is made of fibres of the flax plant (also known as Linum usitatissimum). Generally, flax plants are harvested just prior to reaching maturity, which ensures the strongest fibres.

To separate the fibres from the other fleshy plant bits, the flax undergoes a process called "retting", wherein the flax leaves are soaked in water to soften them up for extraction.

Once they've been separated, they are left to dry before the spinning process begins. Spinning is the process whereby individual strands are spun together into thicker yarns.

Once appropriate yarns are created, they are woven together. This weaving process is how we get linen sheets - individual strands looped over and under both horizontally and vertically. Linen yarn can also be knitted together - however, this is a much more difficult and time-consuming process.

 

Why linen over other materials?

 

Linen's natural enemy is cotton. Well, notenemy per se, but the two tend to be used for the same or similar applications, and both are plant based materials with long histories. Linen has a number of benefits over cotton which make it a far better choice in most cases.

While methods of production vary, linen is approximately 30 per cent stronger than cotton. This is largely because the fibres are thicker, but also because linen fibres grow much, much longer than those of cotton. Linen also goes the distance. While cotton will become dull and flat and deteriorate over time, linen tends to get softer with age.

Because linen has a lower thread count than cotton (due to its longer fibres) it is more breathable than cotton. Linen also has a higher moisture absorption rate, and because the material is hypoallergenic, it will prevent bacterial growth and won't be broken down by sweat.

When something lasts for 36,000 years, it must be for a reason. For more information on linen or other materials, get in touch with Textile Hub today

 
Nick Smith