Linen /ˈlɪnɪn/ is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant.
Linen is laborious to manufacture, but the fiber is very absorbent and
garments made of linen are valued for their exceptional coolness and
freshness in hot weather.
Many products are made of linen: aprons, bags, towels (swimming, bath,
beach, body and wash towels), napkins, bed linens, tablecloths,
runners, chair covers, and men's and women's wear.
The word linen is of West Germanic origin and cognate to the Latin
name for the flax plant, linum, and the earlier Greek λινόν
(linón). This word history has given rise to a number of other terms
in English, most notably line, from the use of a linen (flax) thread
to determine a straight line.
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 or knitted bed, bath, table and kitchen
textiles traditionally made of linen. In the past, "linens" also
referred to lightweight undergarments such as shirts, chemises,
waist-shirts, 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.
Linen textiles appear to be some of the oldest in the world: their
history goes back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds,
fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics dating to about
8000 BC have been found in 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 even earlier to 36,000 BP.
Linen was sometimes used as a form of currency in ancient Egypt.
Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen as a symbol of light and
purity, and as a display of wealth. Some of these fabrics, woven from
hand-spun yarns, were very fine for their day, but are coarse compared
to modern linen. In 1923 the German city
Bielefeld issued banknotes
printed on linen. Today, linen is usually an expensive textile
produced in relatively small quantities. It has a long staple
(individual fiber length) relative to cotton and other natural
2.2 Earliest linen industry
3.4 Production method
4 See also
6 External links
The word "linen" is derived from the
Latin for the flax plant, which
is linum, and the earlier Greek λίνον (linon). This word history
has given rise to a number of other terms:
Line, derived from the use of a linen thread to determine a straight
Lining, because linen was often used to create an inner layer for wool
and leather clothing
Lingerie, via French, originally denotes underwear made of linen
Linseed oil, an oil derived from flax seed
Linoleum, a floor covering made from linseed oil and other materials
A bag of white linen, unopened. Contains rolls of linen only.
Foundation deposit, Heb Sed Chapel at Lahun, Fayum, Egypt. 12th
Dynasty. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London.
The discovery of dyed flax fibers in a cave in Georgia dated to
thirty-six thousand years ago suggests that ancient people used wild
flax fibers to create linen-like fabrics from an early date.
In ancient Mesopotamia, flax was domesticated and linen was first
produced. It was used mainly by the wealthier class of the society,
including priests. The Sumerian poem of the courtship of
Dumuzi (Tammuz), translated by
Samuel Noah Kramer
Samuel Noah Kramer and Diane Wolkstein
and published in 1983, mentions flax and linen. It opens with briefly
listing the steps of preparing linen from flax, in a form of questions
and answers between
Inanna and her brother Utu.
In ancient Egypt, linen was used for mummification and for burial
shrouds. It was also worn as clothing on a daily basis; white linen
was worn because of the extreme heat. The use of linen for priestly
vestments was not confined to the Israelites;
Plutarch wrote that the
Isis also wore linen because of its purity.
Linen fabric has been used for table coverings, bed coverings and
clothing for centuries. The significant cost of linen derives not only
from the difficulty of working with the thread, but also because the
flax plant itself requires a great deal of attention. In addition flax
thread is not elastic, and therefore it is difficult to weave without
breaking threads. Thus linen is considerably more expensive to
manufacture than cotton.
There is a long history of the production of linen in Ireland. The
Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 as an oral archive of the
knowledge of the
Irish linen industry, which was at that time still
available within a nucleus of people who formerly worked in the
industry in Ulster.
In December 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations
proclaimed 2009 to be the
International Year of Natural Fibres in
order to raise people's awareness of linen and other natural fibers.
When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses II, who died in 1213 BC, was
discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect
preservation after more than 3000 years.
Belfast Library [clarification needed] there is the mummy of
"Kaboolie,' the daughter of a priest of Ammon, who died 2,500 years
ago. The linen on this mummy is also in a perfect
state of preservation. When the tomb of Tutankhamen
was opened, the linen curtains were found to be intact.[citation
Earliest linen industry
Diocletian's 4th century maximum prices edict showing prices for 3
grades of linen across the Roman Empire
The earliest records of an established linen industry are 4,000 years
old, from Egypt. The earliest written documentation of a linen
industry comes from the
Linear B tablets of Pylos, Greece, where linen
is depicted as an ideogram and also written as "li-no" (Greek:
λίνον, linon), and the female linen workers are cataloged as
"li-ne-ya" (λίνεια, lineia).
The Phoenicians, who, with their merchant fleet, opened up new
channels of commerce to the peoples of the Mediterranean, and
developed the tin mines of Cornwall, introduced flax growing and the
making of linen into
Ireland before the common era. It is not until
the twelfth century that we can find records of a definite attempt to
systematize flax production.
Edict of Nantes
Edict of Nantes was revoked, in 1685, many of the Huguenots
who fled France settled in the British Isles, and amongst them was
Louis Crommelin, who settled in the town of Lisburn, about ten miles
Belfast itself is perhaps the most famous linen
producing center throughout history; during the Victorian era the
majority of the world's linen was produced in the city which gained it
the name Linenopolis.
Although the linen industry was already established in Ulster, Louis
Crommelin found scope for improvement in weaving, and his efforts were
so successful that he was appointed by the Government to develop the
industry over a much wider range than the small confines of Lisburn
and its surroundings. The direct result of his good work was the
establishment, under statute, of the Board of Trustees of the Linen
Ireland in the year 1711. Several grades were
produced from the coarsest lockram to the finest sasheen.
In Judaism, the only law concerning which fabrics may be interwoven
together in clothing concerns the mixture of linen and wool, called
shaatnez; it is restricted in Deuteronomy 22:11 "Thou shalt not wear a
mingled stuff, wool and linen together" and Leviticus 19:19,
"'...neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of
stuff mingled together.'" There is no explanation for this in the
Torah itself and is categorized as a type of law known as chukim, a
statute beyond man's ability to comprehend. Josephus suggested
that the reason for the prohibition was to keep the laity from wearing
the official garb of the priests,[full citation needed] while
Maimonides thought that the reason was because heathen priests wore
such mixed garments.[full citation needed] Others explain that it
is because God often forbids mixtures of disparate kinds, not designed
by God to be compatible in a certain way, with mixing animal and
vegetable fibers being similar to having two different types of
plowing animals yoked together. And that such commands serve both a
practical as well as allegorical purpose, perhaps here preventing a
priestly garment that would cause discomfort (or excessive sweat) in a
hot climate.[full citation needed]
Linen is also mentioned in the
Bible in Proverbs 31, a passage describing a noble wife. Proverbs
31:22 says, "She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine
linen and purple." Fine white linen is also worn by angels in the
Bible. In Revelation, chapter 15, verse 6.
Main article: Flax
Linen is a bast fiber.
Flax fibers vary in length from about 25 to
150 mm (1 to 6 in) and average 12–16 micrometers in diameter.
There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics
and longer line fibers used for finer fabrics.
Flax fibers can usually
be identified by their “nodes” which add to the flexibility and
texture of the fabric.
The cross-section of the linen fiber is made up of irregular polygonal
shapes which contribute to the coarse texture of the fabric.
Linen fabric feels cool to touch, a phenomenon which indicates its
higher conductivity (the same principle that makes metals feel
"cold"). It is smooth, making the finished fabric lint-free, and gets
softer the more it is washed. However, constant creasing in the same
place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads. This wear
can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased during
Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back
readily, explaining why it wrinkles so easily.
Linen fabrics have a high natural luster; their natural color ranges
between shades of ivory, ecru, tan, or grey. Pure white linen is
created by heavy bleaching.
Linen fabric typically varies somewhat in
thickness and is crisp and textured, but it can in some cases feel
stiff and rough, and in other cases feel soft and smooth. When
properly prepared, linen fabric has the ability to absorb and lose
Linen can absorb a fair amount of moisture without
feeling unpleasantly damp to the skin, unlike cotton.
Linen is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are
stronger wet than dry. The fibers do not stretch, and are resistant to
damage from abrasion. However, because linen fibers have a very low
elasticity, the fabric eventually breaks if it is folded and ironed at
the same place repeatedly over time.
Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can also damage the fabric, but it is
resistant to moths and carpet beetles.
Linen is relatively easy to
take care of, since it resists dirt and stains, has no lint or pilling
tendency, and can be dry-cleaned, machine-washed or steamed. It can
withstand high temperatures, and has only moderate initial
Linen should not be dried too much by tumble drying, and it is much
easier to iron when damp.
Linen wrinkles very easily, and thus some
more formal garments require ironing often, in order to maintain
perfect smoothness. Nevertheless, the tendency to wrinkle is often
considered part of linen's particular "charm", and many modern linen
garments are designed to be air-dried on a good clothes hanger and
worn without the necessity of ironing.
A characteristic often associated with linen yarn is the presence of
"slubs", or small knots which occur randomly along its length. In the
past, slubs were traditionally considered to be defects, and were
associated with low quality linen. However, in the case of many
present-day linen fabrics, particularly in the decorative furnishing
industry, slubs are considered as part of the aesthetic appeal of an
expensive natural product. In addition, slubs do not compromise the
integrity of the fabric, and therefore they are not viewed as a
defect. However, the very finest linen has very consistent diameter
threads, with no slubs at all.
The standard measure of bulk linen yarn is the "lea", which is the
number of yards in a pound of linen divided by 300. For example, a
yarn having a size of 1 lea will give 300 yards per pound.
The fine yarns used in handkerchiefs, etc. might be 40 lea, and
give 40x300 = 12,000 yards per pound. This is a specific length
therefore an indirect measurement of the fineness of the linen, i.e.,
the number of length units per unit mass. The symbol is NeL.(3) The
metric unit, Nm, is more commonly used in continental Europe. This is
the number of 1,000 m lengths per kilogram. In China, the English
Cotton system unit, NeC, is common. This is the number of
840 yard lengths in a pound.
See also: hand processing flax
Details of the flax plant, from which linen fibers are derived
Mechanical baling of flax in Belgium. On the left side, cut flax is
waiting to be baled.
The quality of the finished linen product is often dependent upon
growing conditions and harvesting techniques. To generate the longest
possible fibers, flax is either hand-harvested by pulling up the
entire plant or stalks are cut very close to the root. After
harvesting, the plants are dried, and the seeds are removed through a
mechanized process called “rippling” (threshing) and winnowing.
The fibers must then be loosened from the stalk. This is achieved
through retting. This is a process which uses bacteria to decompose
the pectin that binds the fibers together. Natural retting methods
take place in tanks and pools, or directly in the fields. There are
also chemical retting methods; these are faster, but are typically
more harmful to the environment and to the fibers themselves.
After retting, the stalks are ready for scutching, which takes place
between August and December.
Scutching removes the woody portion of
the stalks by crushing them between two metal rollers, so that the
parts of the stalk can be separated. The fibers are removed and the
other parts such as linseed, shive, and tow are set aside for other
uses. Next the fibers are heckled: the short fibers are separated with
heckling combs by 'combing' them away, to leave behind only the long,
soft flax fibers.
After the fibers have been separated and processed, they are typically
spun into yarns and woven or knit into linen textiles. These textiles
can then be bleached, dyed, printed on, or finished with a number of
treatments or coatings.
An alternate production method is known as “cottonizing” which is
quicker and requires less equipment. The flax stalks are processed
using traditional cotton machinery; however, the finished fibers often
lose the characteristic linen look.
Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is
primarily grown in Western European countries and Ukraine. In recent
years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China, but
high quality fabrics are still confined to niche producers in Ireland,
Italy and Belgium, and also in countries including Poland, Austria,
France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, the
Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Britain and
Kochi in India. High
quality linen fabrics are now produced in the United States for the
upholstery market and in Belgium. Russia is currently
the major flax cultivating nation.
Bielefeld Germany linen
Notgeld issued by Stadt-Sparkasse on 8
Over the past 30 years the end use for linen has changed dramatically.
Approximately 70% of linen production in the 1990s was for apparel
textiles, whereas in the 1970s only about 5% was used for fashion
Linen uses range across bed and bath fabrics (tablecloths, bath
towels, dish towels, bed sheets); home and commercial furnishing items
(wallpaper/wall coverings, upholstery, window treatments); apparel
items (suits, dresses, skirts, shirts); and industrial products
(luggage, canvases, sewing thread). It was once the preferred yarn
for handsewing the uppers of moccasin-style shoes (loafers), but has
been replaced by synthetics.
A linen handkerchief, pressed and folded to display the corners, was a
standard decoration of a well-dressed man's suit during most of the
first part of the 20th century.
Currently researchers are working on a cotton/flax blend to create new
yarns which will improve the feel of denim during hot and humid
weather.[full citation needed]
Linen fabric is one of the preferred traditional supports for oil
painting. In the United States cotton is popularly used instead, as
linen is many times more expensive there, restricting its use to
professional painters. In Europe, however, linen is usually the only
fabric support available in art shops; in the UK both are freely
available with cotton being cheaper.
Linen is preferred to cotton for
its strength, durability and archival integrity.
Linen is also used extensively by artisan bakers. Known as a couche,
the flax cloth is used to hold the dough into shape while in the final
rise, just before baking. The couche is heavily dusted with flour
which is rubbed into the pores of the fabric. Then the shaped dough is
placed on the couche. The floured couche makes a "non stick" surface
to hold the dough. Then ridges are formed in the couche to keep the
dough from spreading.
In the past, linen was also used for books (the only surviving example
of which is the Liber Linteus). Due to its strength, in the Middle
Ages linen was used for shields, gambesons, and bowstrings; in
classical antiquity it was used to make a type of body armour,
referred to as a linothorax.
Because of its strength when wet,
Irish linen is a very popular wrap
of pool/billiard cues, due to its absorption of sweat from hands.
Paper made of linen can be very strong and crisp, which is why the
United States and many other countries print their currency on paper
made from 25% linen and 75% cotton.
Dowlas, a strong linen mentioned by Shakespeare
Ramie, another type of bast fiber with similar properties
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N; Matskevich, Z; Meshveliani, T (2009). "30,000-Year-Old Wild Flax
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^ Harris, Thaddeus Mason (1824). The natural history of the Bible; or,
A description of all the quadrupeds, birds, fishes [&c.] mentioned
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27 June 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
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1917-1923. Berlin, Germany: Erich Pröh.
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Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
Linen Textiles in the Mycenaean palatial economy Archived
2008-04-11 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Robkin, A. L. H. (1 January 1979). "The Agricultural Year, the
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^ The Jewish Primer, by Shmuel Himelstein. New York, NY: Facts On
^ Etz Hayim p. 1118
^ Guide to the Perplexed 3:37
^ Jamieson, Fausset, Brown commentary, Lv. 19:19
^ a b c Classifications & Analysis of Textiles: A Handbook by
Karen L. LaBat, Ph.D. and Carol J. Salusso, Ph.A. University of
Cotton Cool Comfort". Agricultural Research.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Wikisource has the text of the 1921
Collier's Encyclopedia article
Look up linen in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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