Friday, July 25, 2014


We sleep on it, keep our dishes dry with it and wear it. It has been around for as long as the Pyramids.


Made from the fibers of the flax plant, linen textiles history goes back many thousands of years. Straw, seeds, and various types of fabrics dating to about 5000 BC have been found in prehistoric Swiss lake dwellings. Dyed flax fibers found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back perhaps 30,000 years.

Swiss Lake Dwellings

In ancient Egypt, linen was sometimes used as currency and Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen as a symbol of light and purity and as a display of wealth. When the tomb of the Pharaoh of Rameses ll, was discovered in 1881, the pure linen wrappings were in a state of near perfect preservation.
 Linen cloth recovered from Qumran Cave near the Dead Sea.

Harvesting linen

The word "linen" is of West Germanic origin from the Latin name for the flax plant linum, and the earlier Greek 'linon' and has given rise to other terms in the English language, most notably 'line', from the use of a linen (flax) thread to determine a straight line.

Linum usitatissimum


Flax blooms in clusters of bluish, navy-blue, and, more seldom, violet, rosy and white flowers
that open up at dawn and close and fall at around noon when heat sets in. Each flower blooms
for a few hours. Bees collect close to fifteen kg of honey from one hectare of flax field.


Flax fibers vary in length from 2 to 36 inches and average 12-16 micrometers in diameter. There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics and line fibers used for
finer fabrics. Flax fibers can be identified by their typical “nodes” which add to the flexibility and texture of the fabric. The stem of the fiber plant is slender and tall and the fiber consists of the skin surrounding the woody core of the stem.

The flax plant is an annual and is grown both for its fiber and the seed.

Flax-seed is used for making linseed oil and also linseed meal for feeding purposes. Flax seed has also been found to be very beneficial in healthy diets. The flaxes grown for fiber and seeds are the same family, but they have developed different habits of growth. For fiber purposes the seed is sewn thickly to prevent it from branching which would ruin it for fiber.

Flax seed.

Some textiles in a linen weave texture, even when made of cotton, hemp and other non-flax fibers, are also loosely referred to as "linen". Such fabrics generally also have their own specific names, for example fine cotton yarn in a linen-style weave is called Madapolam.

The collective term "linens" is still often used generically to describe a class of woven and even knitted bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles traditionally made of linen.

In the past, "linens" also referred to lightweight undergarments such as shirts, chemises, waistshirts, lingerie (a word also cognate with linen), and detachable shirt collars and cuffs, all of which were historically made almost exclusively out of linen. The inner layer of fine composite cloth garments (as for example jackets) was traditionally made of linen, hence the word lining.

Laundering linen.

Many people prefer to launder linen because the more it is washed, the softer and more luminous it becomes. That luminous quality is caused by nodes on the flax fibers, which reflect light. It is also known that linen launders beautifully. Garments worn close to the body are easily washed. Freshly washed linen has a naturally clean fragrance and gives you a sense of well-being.

In the case of hand or machine washing use a sufficient amount of water as linen is very absorbent. You can line dry, machine dry or roll in terry towels. Whatever method you use, remember to remove your linen while still damp. If linen dries thoroughly, it becomes brittle and takes several hours to recover its natural moisture and full flexibility.

The natural moisture content of linen is between 6-8%. Linen dried beyond this point will have to re-absorb moisture from the air.

Use pure soap or gentle detergent when laundering linen. Soap works best in soft water. Use oxygen-type bleach for white linen instead of chlorine bleach which can cause yellowing.

Select a water temperature between warm to hot depending on care instructions. Rinse the linen item with lots of water to remove all soap, detergent and residual soil. This will help reduce formation of “age spots” which are caused by oxidation of cellulose (linen’s primary component).

Avoid wringing out linen before drying. To keep white linens white, try drying them in the sun.

Ironing Linen.

Always follow the instructions on the care label. Linen is best ironed damp. You can store pre-dampened inen items in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer for 6 to 12 hours before ironing, this will make them easier to iron and will prevent mildew if you can’t iron them immediately.

Ironed linen.

Steam ironing dry linen is less effective than ironing dampened linens. The steam from a household iron is just not enough. Iron on the wrong side first, then on the right side to bring out the sheen.

Linen Documentary.

A 15 minutes documentary was produced by BenoƮt Millot on behalf of the CELC Masters of Linen. It is in french, with english subtitles.

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