Given how prevalent linen cloth is, it’s surprising that many of us don’t know much more about it. It used to be so widespread that all clothing and bedding is still called linen, even though we are far beyond the age of linen and now in the period of synthetic fibers.
It was originally so valuable that it was used to cover the corpses of mummified people in ancient Egypt, helping to preserve these priceless artefacts.
Linen is now used to manufacture garments, drapes, napkins, pillows, carpets, rope, and a variety of other products.
It’s even combined with cotton to produce the strong, paper-like material that’s used to make $1 notes in the United States.
Linen is a vegetable in the strictest sense of the word. The cellulose fibres that develop within the stems of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) , one of the earliest cultivated in history of mankind, are used to make linen fabric.
Flax is an annual plant, meaning it only grows for a single growing period. It takes around 100 days from seed to harvesting from start to finish.
Flax needs little hydration or maintenance during this period unless the temperature is unusually hot and dry. It reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet, with shiny bluish-green foliage and light blue colored petals, though the blossoms might change colour in exceptional cases.
Flax has been grown for at least five thousand years for its extraordinary fibre, linen. The use and weaving of linen is represented in ancient Egyptian works of art.
The fibre was turned into delicate white cloth and draped around the bodies of ancient Egyptians as early as 3,000 B.C. It’s even found in the Bible multiple times, and it has been used as a cool, comfy fibre throughout the Middle East for generations.
It was highly regarded as a luxury by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Flax is thought to have been brought to Mainland Europe by Finnish merchants, where it has been grown for generations.
Cotton has become the most simply and cheaply manufactured and woven fibre in industrial British and New England textile factories by the 18th century.
By the mid-1800s, the linen industry in the United States had all but disappeared since factory-made cotton was just so much more affordable.
Most Americans ditched the plant’s farming in favour of low-cost cotton that could be carded, combed, and weaved.
After that, and until late, a new species of flax plant was grown in this nation, not because of its linen fibres, but for its seed, which when crushed produce a valuable vegetable oil called linseed oil.
How it’s Made
The flax crop takes roughly 100 days to grow from planting to harvesting.
Flax cannot withstand extreme heat, hence in many places, seed planting is calculated based on the date or time of year when the flax should be picked due to high temperature, and farmers then keep counting 100 days to get a sowing date.
Flax is seeded in the wintertime in several parts of the world due to the warmth in the springtime.
In large scale production, the soil is ploughed in the spring and then harrowed, and rolled into a suitable seedbed. Flax seeds must be placed in shallow water in order to grow.
Weeds have a hard time competing alongside flax plants. Weeds diminish fibre output and make picking the plant more challenging.
Herbicides and plowing of the ground both help to eliminate weeds. So when flax plants are only a few inches in length, the space should be gently weeded so that the fragile seedlings are not disturbed.
The leaves will then begin to wither, the stalk changes colour, and the seeds darken after around 90 days, signalling that it’s time to pick the plant.
Any hesitation in pulling the plant as soon as it becomes brown leads to linen that lacks the desired sheen.
The stalk must not be cut during the harvesting and processing, but must instead be pulled from the soil whole; if the stem is broken, the sap is wasted, lowering the value of the linen.
Hands are frequently used to remove these plants out of the ground, grasping just beneath the seed heads and gently tugging. The stalk’s tapering ends must be retained in order to spin a smooth yarn.
Water and chemicals then help to decompose the rough bark around the flax fibre, loosening the pectin or gum that holds the fibre to the stalk. The stalk of the plant cannot be detached from the fibre without harming the fragile fibre if flax is not completely retted.
As a result, retting must be done with care. If there isn’t enough retting, the fibre may be difficult to separate from the stem. Fibers will be weakened by too much retting or decaying.
The stems are stretched out on dewy slopes, buried in static bodies of water, or thrown into flowing streams. Workers then wait for the moisture to decay or ferment the stalk, which can take up to a week or two.
Most producers, on the other hand, utilise herbicides for retting. The plants are immersed in an alkaline or an oxalic acid mixture, then cooked under pressure.
Even though some think that synthetic retting degrades the colour and quality of the fibre, and that hand retting makes the best linen, this procedure is simple to control and relatively straightforward.
Different Types Of Linen
Among the most recognisable kinds of fabric on the market is linen. It’s noted for its sturdiness and amazing softness. There are various linen designs to choose from, including the following:
Damask linen: This is softer and is sometimes comparable to embroidery. Curtains and furnishings, as well as table linens, placemats, and other home textiles, frequently include this pattern.
Woven linen: Towels and other kitchen linens are made from plain-woven linen. It’s also a popular choice for heavy-duty garments, such as butchers aprons, and for wiping down equipment.
Loosely woven linen: Although loosely woven linen is less resilient than other varieties, it is extremely absorbent. Washable diapers and hygiene products are frequently used with it.
Sheeting linen: Because of its non – textured surface, sheeting linen is widely used to make clothing. Bed sheets, curtain linings, tableware, tents, and mattress backs are all made from sheeting fabric.
Linen is a wonderful material that can be worn in any season because of its ability to keep you cool in the summer and keep you cosy and warm in the winter.
After numerous washings, linen garments become softer and smoother, and are thought to last a lifetime. Linen absorbs moisture, making it ideal for clothes, bedding, and even bathrobes.