First a little history…
Linen is one of the first fibers to be made into clothing and thread. It starts out as a reed like plant and is soaked until the outer stem rots away. This process is called retting. Long soft fibers are left and this is the “flax”. This was done naturally in the past but in the modern world, chemicals are used. Unfortunately they can pollute the local environment. Efforts have been made to ban using harmful chemicals and require more natural methods of “retting” the stocks.
The fibers are then spun into threads. The skill of the spinner will determine how fine the threads are. Many levels of quality and coarseness are available. Of course the finer the linen, the higher the cost.
Originally linen was hard to dye so it mostly remained white. The word lingerie comes from the word linen and because linen was mostly white… so was underwear.
Many English words stem from the word linen. Line, lingerie, lining, linseed oil and linoleum. Linseed oil is made from the flax seed and linoleum is made from linseed oil and other materials.
Amazing how so many things can come about from just a simple plant.
Linen was used in many different types
of products and clothing. Because of
the effort involved with making it, mostly the wealthier classes wore it as well as clergy. Mostly undergarments were made as we
ll as tablecloths, bed coverings and of course other types of clothing. It was also used as sails, paint canvas, and amazingly was used for shields and there was a type of body armor called a linothorax made from layers of linen glued together. It was also blended with cotton for paper.
Linen was used for wrapping the dead and tombs as old as 3000 years show linen in perfec
t shape. When the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened up, the linen curtains were still intact.
There are many different grades of linen. As mentioned before, based on the quality and thickness of the threads, linen cloth can be coarse or very fine. It is more expensive to product than cotton so of course linen clothing is more expensive.
Why does linen keep you feeling so cool on hot days?
I always notice in old films where the characters in a hot or humid climate, are usually wearing linen. Especially the men. White pants and a linen blazer.
Linen is excellent at absorbing moisture and then drying out quickly. Linen is also a good heat conductor which means it allows heat to escape quickly helping to keep you cool. Linen is also known to actually keep you cooler by a few degrees than silk or cotton. Wearing linen will also reduce perspiration.
It starts out a bit scratchy but with continuous wearing, it softens up. Why does it wrinkle so much you ask? Well, linen thread is not very elastic so it doesn’t spring back into shape like cotton does. It is important to not crease or fold your linen clothing the same way time after time. It breaks the threads and eventually will damage the cloth. However linen is resistant to moths and beetles. It doesn’t produce lint and does not pill (like sweaters do).
Avoid drying it in the dryer too often. It is better to hang dry and iron when it is still a little damp. Hanging dry will help reduce wrinkles as well.
Would you like to know more?
Here are some great links to learn more about this wonderful fiber.