How Linen Fabric is Made: In-Depth Guide
Imagine that cozy feeling when laying in solft natural linen bedding in early mornings of Summer and late frosty nights of Winter…
Linen has proven its worth and unique fabric qualities for centuries making our lives better: from clothing to bed sheets, curtains, tablecloths and anything you could think of.
It is highly used in many households for cleaning and decor from your bedroom, kitchen to your bathroom essentials.
Let us uncover all the linen's prowess, how linen is made, how it managed to endure the test of time for thousands of years, and the striking characteristics that make it the staple wear for the summer and colder season by reading this article.
The Inside Story: How Linen is Made?
Linen is made from flax plant that has been widely cultivated almost everywhere on the planet where cultivation is possible.
Generally, the flax plant does not require irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizers to grow annually and clearly affects soil fertility quality positively.
In fact, the Western part of Europe (namely France, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain) has been producing approximately 80-85 percent of flax fiber in the world. Other significant producers of linen fabric in the world market are Egypt, Russia, and China.
Harvesting of Flax Plant
The best time to harvest the flax was when it started to gain maturity, meaning the stalks began to turn color.
Even in modern times, harvesting flax has been done by hand, either by cutting or pulling the flax’s stem from the ground, and no machine has ever been invented ever since to alter this process. The fibers have been held together by calcium and proteins, so retting is the best way to extract these flax fibers.
The Retting Process
The retting process refers to the procedure done in flax fiber to be separated from the flax plant.
Likewise, high-quality linens have been produced through the use of water. Technically speaking, the water retting process is done by soaking the flax plant in a still body of water or in stagnant water in a contained manner to separate the flax fibers from other elements. This process would be more effective if done in ponds or bogs.
Another retting process is called dew retting, which pertains to pulling out the fibers in the morning when the weather is warm. In other words, the flax would be spread out for the morning dew to prop them, and fibers are separated or pulled as the day gets warm.
Moreover, linen categorized as lower-quality fabrics has been produced with flax fibers extracted in a cement tank using a chemical process.
The Manufacturing Process
Once the flax fiber has been extracted completely, the flax is then required to be dried and cured for several months.
After this, the fibers will undergo a scutching process- an intensive process done by hand and will take a lot of time. This process will prepare the flax fibers as stricks ready to be woven into linen fabrics.
Stricks is the term used for ready-to-made flax fibers into linen. As a matter of fact, 15 pounds stricks will take a day to generate.
After the stricks have been spun using a distaff, the long pole you see in a weaving machine, it is time to weave the fibers into an actual linen fabric to be produced into various linen products.
Now that we know how linen is made, it would be exciting to walk down memory lane and learn how linen remains to be part of ancient civilization up to the present.
History of Linen
Since the flax plant is native to many countries, there is no doubt that it has roots and history in many ancient civilizations and different cultures across the world.
In Ancient Egypt, the oldest linen dress called Tarkhan Dress was unearthed in Cairo, Egypt, approximately 5,000 years ago, proving that linen is the oldest fabric in the world.
Ancient Egyptians valued and prized linen as a luxurious fabric meant to be used only by their pharaohs and priests, both the living and the dead.
In fact, when the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun, was discovered in 1922, archaeologists were amazed how well-preserved the linen wrappings remains after hundreds of years. Moreover, they also used linen as a form of currency.
The Phoenician navigators introduced linen to Europe during the 12th to 8th century B.C. But, linen only gains its popularity during the Middle Ages, making the fabric an item of significant clothing for the elite members of the society, such as monarchs, landlords, and aristocrats.
Based on the historical record written around the 12th century A.D., the state has regularized flax production for the first time within this period.
In addition, the spinning wheel for flax was invented in the 15th century during the Industrial Revolution, making manual spinning obsolete and manufacturing flax more productive and less time-consuming.
Arguably, it is believed that by the 17th century, flax cultivation and linen production reached their peak of popularity in the world market.
Unfortunately, with the discovery and popularity of cotton by the 18th century, the demand for linen products began its downward trend in the fashion industry.
Thanks to the continued technological innovation and advancement in the production of linen over the years, linen still thrives on being one of the most widely used fabrics today.
Linen has existed for thousands of years up to this date, but sadly, not everyone is entirely aware of the significant factors why linen remains highly sought after for over thousands of years? What exactly are the characteristics of linen instrumental for its popularity and relevance?
Characteristics of Linen
Linen’s Overall Functionality:
- Durability and Strength
- Absorbency and moisture-wick ability
- Thermoregulation and Heat Conductivity properties
- Hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial properties
Linen has poor elasticity, and that is why linen is basically prone to creases and wrinkles. Because of this, flax fibers do not stretch. Linen clothing is believed to last longer and will stay beautifully the same after a decade. As a matter of fact, linen clothing is expected to last up to 30 more years with proper care and maintenance.
Linen fabric's texture is mainly described as crisp, rough, and textured when touched, but it gets softer after washing over time. Did you know that linen fabric has different variants based on its texture and weave pattern?
Different Types of Linen Fabric
- Damask Linen Fabric
This variant of linen comes with flat and reversible flax fibers providing smooth texture and reversible pattern to the fabric. This linen fabric has a plain and satin weave pattern woven on a jacquard loom.
Most damask linen fabric comes in monochromatic color bringing the material to stand out dramatically in one color. One prominent variety of Damask linen is the Venise linen fabric, highly recognized for its finely textured fabric and well-known for its large floral patterns.
- Plain-woven linen fabric
This variant of linen fabric usually comes in a checkered or striped pattern of red and blue colors. This fabric has a loose weave pattern, making it more absorbent than other linen fabrics.
One prominent variety of Plain-woven linen fabric is the Holland linen. Interestingly, this variation of linen requires to be treated with oil and starch.
Why? The oil and starch treatment fashioned the fabric to look more opaque and prevent light rays from penetrating the fabric.
Another spectacular variation of this linen fabric is the Butcher's linen that supports a coarse and strong-weaved pattern. This fabric is distinctive for its rough and stiff texture, commonly used in heavy-duty clothing.
- Loosely woven linen fabric
This variant is produced manually from hand-twisted yarns and has a very smooth texture. As the name itself, it is loosely woven, making this type of linen highly absorbent and lightweight.
One of the popular variations of this fabric is called Bird's eye linen, which usually comes in a distinctive small geometric pattern that portrays the Bird's eye.
- Sheeting linen fabric
This variant is characterized by untextured appeal, making it ideal for use in bedsheets and duvet covers.
Natural linen has a distinctive beauty and luster ideally suited for textile and practical to be made into different types of clothing.
Linen has been available in various colors, primarily neutral tones or mute colors such as ivory, tan, beige, and light grey, bringing out timeless elegance in linen clothing.
Surprisingly, these colors are not created by bleaching but come naturally, depending on the place and climate of flax cultivation and production.
More importantly, linen fabric can be easily dyed in different colors and managed to display vividly bright and printed designs more creative and attractive linen clothing for everyone.
What is Linen Used For?
Historically, linen was the predominant fabric for clothing mainly reserved for the elite members of the society.
As time goes by, production of linen has been widespread across the world and technological innovations make the manufacturing process easier over time, leading linen fabric to be produced and used practically in all kinds of clothing from dresses, shirts, and jackets, nightgowns, undergarments, etc. You name it, linen got you covered.
Aside from clothing apparel, linen has been used for household essentials, particularly for:
- Kitchen essentials - linen aprons, tablecloths, napkins, and placemats.
- Bathroom essentials - linen towels and bath sheets
- Bedroom essentials - linen bed sheets, curtains, pillows, and duvet covers.
By far, we have provided you detailed background on how linen is made, linen's long history, characteristics and uses.
You might be wondering what else linen offer in the future?
In modern times, sustainable and ethical fashion has started to rise in popularity worldwide and, up to this date, remains the fashion trend today. Because of the unwavering effects of climate change, many of us wanted to contribute to a positive movement, reducing our carbon footprint and helping save Mother Nature now.
With regards to this, everyone should know if linen products are economically friendly.
Is Linen Economically Friendly?
Yes, linen is the most economically friendly textile globally that has a vital role in creating a sustainable fashion wardrobe for you in the future.
What Makes Linen Fabric Economically Friendly?
Here are some reasons and benefits why linen fabric is the most economically friendly and sustainable fabric today:
First of all, the flax plants need less water to grow and can be cultivated without fertilizers or pesticides, making them primarily beneficial for the environment. Additionally, all the parts of the flax plant can be used in varieties of industrial products, leading to a complete zero waste life cycle, making it a leading example of sustainable fabric.
Moreover, flax cultivation preserves the land and has a positive effect on our ecosystem. This fact has been evident in the report published by the European Parliament that claims, “One hectare of flax can retain 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide.”
Linen production demands less energy compared to other textiles and synthetic fibers.
As we all know, Linen is made from natural fiber, but only when the threads remain untreated, the linen fabric become fully biodegradable and can be degraded in a short time, approximately in a few weeks, when it is buried in the soil.
What is Organic Linen?
Organic linen refers to linen fabric that has been fully certified by GOTS that the linen has been treated and manufactured sustainably in all possible ways.
How to Check Organic Linen?
The growing process of flax plants should be cultivated without pesticides or chemicals.
The retting process should be done without the use of any chemicals. Hence, the most sustainable linen product should be undergone the water retting process.
No toxic chemical used
We all know linen comes in natural colors, but dyeing is inevitable to produce more attractive designs and bright-colored clothing. In this case, organic linen should be treated with chemicals that are not toxic to the environment and human health.
Be mindful that some linen clothes being sold in the market today are labeled to be stain-resistant and wrinkle-free because this kind of linen clothes are treated using toxic chemicals harmful to the environment and human health, namely Formaldehyde and PFOA.
Natural dye treatment
Picking natural linen is the best way to ensure you use economically friendly products. Take note that the natural colors of linen are oatmeal, ecru, and taupe.
Humane working conditions for workers
We are all aware the textile industry is notoriously known for inhumane working conditions for their workers worldwide.
For organic to be truly sustainable, it should have a great working facility and a good working relationship with its employees. GOTS certification assures that the linen is manufactured in a factory complying with humane working conditions for its worker's welfare.
We can really say that linen is a sustainable fabric, but to guarantee that the linen fabric has been made economically friendly in a sustainable way, look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. This certification guarantee that the linen fabric is genuinely economically friendly and may be referred to as “organic linen.”
Linen is a valuable textile that is evidently utilized in various products such as clothing and bedding and it has intertwined with human history since the beginning of ancient civilizations.
It is one of the most timeless, skin and Planet friendly fabrics taking care of our and our children’s future.
As our society moves towards putting more efforts in ensuring our Planet would be green and healthy, linen will always be a wonderful choice for fashion wear and household essentials all year round!
So you are most welcome to have a look at Son de Flor linen clothing since our mission is to create timeless clothing apparels that are sustainable and time friendly, making the Planet slower and healthier place for everyone.
Moreover, our partner "Klasikine Tekstile" is entering the game in the weaving process, which you can see in the video followed by Donatas, the sales manager, comments. We hope you will enjoy!