What is linen fabric?
Linen is a general term for any material that has been made using fibres flax plant or Linum ustiatissimum
. It is a natural plant fibre, known as cellulose, which is renowned to be one of the strongest and most durable available. Thanks to its long strands it has brilliant longevity.
The flax strands are spun into yarns and can be blended with other fibres including cotton to make cotton linen fabric. Linen textiles come in all different weights and most are woven in closely sett plain weave constructions. Some popular linen textiles include:
- Cotton linen fabric – cotton linen fabric, cool and smooth made with slub yarns
- Linen blend – poly linen blend with a textured surface and natural ochre colour
- Linen look – plain, open weave construct made from textured yarns with a matt finish
How is it manufactured?
Linen is one of the oldest fabrics in the world dating back thousands of years.
It is laborious to manufacture. Flax is ready to be harvested for its fibres when the stem turns yellow and the seeds turn brown. The highest quality linens are made from flax plants that are hand harvested, thanks to the quality of the root when pulled up by hand. It is finer and suppler than machine harvested flax.
Flax stalks dry in the open air for several weeks before the seeds are removed. Then, flax is exposed to moisture to break down the pectin’s that bind the fibres together. Fibres are then separated from the straw and graded into short fibres to make coarser yarns or long fibres to make fine linen yarns.
Carding draws out the long and short fibres into ribbons which are plied together on spinning looms. Fine yarn is wet spun to get it a shiny and smooth appearance, whereas the tow are normally dry spun giving a more rustic, napped yarn.
These are then woven into linen fabric and treated.
Purposes of linen fabric
Many products are made with linen, thanks to its attributes and ability to hold dye; grey linen fabric is extremely popular in the fashion and interior world. Popular end uses include:
- Drapes and curtains
- Clothing; suits, jackets, dresses, blouses, trousers, and more
- Bedding and bed linen
- Tea towels
- Furnishing fabrics
- Sewing thread
Linen fabric is made from flax; a bast fibre which becomes softer through handling and washing. It is very comfortable and breathable, does not pill or stretch and resists wear from abrasion as well as dirt.
A lot of linen fabric is UK made and dyed and you can purchase a wide range of linen fabric online. A lot of clothing, particularly summer clothing, is made from linen. This is mainly due to its natural wicking properties. It can gain up to 20% moisture before it starts to feel damp and has an innate ability to prevent bacterial growth.
Characteristically, linen yarns are quite uneven and slubby which adds to its rustic look. Woven linen fabrics are strong as well as hard-wearing and have excellent washability; they can be boiled and starched and take dye very well.
Advantages of linen fabric
The plethora of qualities of linen makes it the perfect fabric to wear in the warmer months, as it keeps the wearer feeling cool and comfortable. The weave of the fibres allows for excellent airflow, and the fabric billows away from the body drying out excess moisture and allowing it to become cool again.
Linen has a natural sheen and lustre with an earthy base tone which varies from beige to grey linen fabric.
Linen also has medical advantages and can be used for internal sutures and bandages. It stimulates blood flow and is anti-bacterial as well as resistant to mildew. It is also eco-friendly, as flax plants don’t require irrigation. They need little or no pest control and require very little energy in processing.