from field to fabric- Linen
Linen is one of our oldest and most loved textiles. Unrivalled for its utility, it is soft yet strong. Prized throughout history for its durability, this remarkable fibre has been loved and used for its extreme practicality or its unique blend of luxury and comfort throughout our history.
“Linum Usitatissimum” Is the plant from which this amazing fibre comes from. The flax plant has been cultivated for its many uses since as early as the Ancient Egyptians. Treasured for its purity and breathability in their desert climate. The process of spinning and weaving linens is depicted in wall paintings from this time. Used for many purposes along with that of mummification. Linen fibres where woven into fine white fabric and there first of its kind.
Even earlier traces of flax fibres thought to be 34,000 years old have been found preserved in a cave in Georgia, which showed evidence of having been knotted and dyed bright colours.
Romans and ancient greeks greatly valued the commodity of Linen fibres and fabrics. The Romans are known for taking the Egyptian pure white fabric and adding colourful dyes at around 400BC. It wasn’t until 700AD that the cultivation of flax had spread to Europe.
By the 12th century Italy and France started using linen for tablecloths. Quickly, all clothing was made using linen and that by the 16th century; flax was widely produced across Europe and other continents. Linen was no longer a reserved fabric for the elites, as the popularity grew. Later, in the 17th century, Ireland became a hub of luxury linen production, known particularly for intricate jacquard and lace patterns favored by the upper class.
By the 18th Century and industrialisation hit the fabric production, Other fibres were also becoming much more common place.
Even though today linen is widely used, it’s still considered a luxurious fabric. That is because of the time it takes to produce linen yarn, and all the manual processes that have to be done in order to craft it.
The process of transforming the flax into fabric:
- Harvesting : Uprooting the plant, this can not be harvested by chopping through the plant as it needs to maintain the longest fibres within the stem.
- Drying and Thrashing : Drying the outside for several weeks then trashing to remove the flax seeds.
- Retting : Traditionally done in the rivers but now more commonly done in the fields. Exposed to Mother nature. The rain, due and sunshine.
- Heckling/Striping and Combing : Separating the fibres from the stems, this can be the most laborious process in the chain and still to this day is commonly done by hand, due to the care that must be taken. This process removes the shorter fibres from the longer. These are then used for lower quality linen production. The longer create the durability that linen yarn is known for. These are a pale golden colour and soft and fine to touch.
- Spinning : The fine yarn is then either wet or dry spun. These processes create different quality’s of yarn. wet creates a smoother, shinier yarn. Where as dry spinning creates a more natural irregular napped yarn.
- Weaving, Bleaching and Dyeing : These fibres are then woven together to create the linen fabric we know today. Available in a range of different weights and finishes. For all the different uses. Popular as linen is in its raw natural state, bleaching and dying has transformed this cloth. This has to be done carefully as not to compromise the structure of the fibres that crates the strength of which makes it so popular and useful.
There are many reasons why this particular fibre will be forever favoured when it comes to fabric. Linen can absorb up to 20% of its weight in moisture before it feels damp, and easily releases moisture to the air to remain cool and dry to the touch. It has the additional advantage to be non-allergenic. Flax requires considerably fewer pesticides and fertilizers than other crops. This makes the production of flax the more sustainable choice. The fibers are also recyclable and eventually biodegrade.
Linen has forever been a favourite within the history of man kind, If it be for sails for ships, covers for sheilds to todays table cloths, clothing and furnishings. It has received a revival in recent interior trends for use on upholstery or curtains. Due to its down to earth elegance and natural appearance. It has texture and depth due to the flax fibres that are used weave this cloth and they just gets better with age.