Linen is a
textilemade from the fibers of the flaxplant, "Linum usitatissimum". Linen is labor intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. It is superior to cottonin this regard.
Textiles in linen weave pattern made of
cotton, hempand other non-flax fibers may also be loosely, if improperly, referred to as "linen", which can make the exact meaning of the word linen, depending on the context. Such fabrics generally have their own specific names other than linen, for example, fine cotton yarn in linen weave is called Madapolam
The collective term linens is still often used generically to describe a class of woven and even knitted bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles. The name linens is retained because traditionally, linen was used for many of these items. In the past, the word "linens" was also used to mean lightweight
undergarments such as shirts, chemises, waistshirts, lingerie, and detachable shirt collars and cuffs, which were manufactured almost exclusively of linen.
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 which date back to about 8000 B.C. have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Linen was used in the
Mediterraneanin the pre- Christianage.
Linen was sometimes used as currency in
ancient Egypt. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth. Some of these fabrics, woven from hand spun yarns, were extremely fine, and cannot be matched by modern spinning techniques.
Today linen is usually an expensive textile, and is produced in relatively small quantities. It has a long "staple" (individual fiber length) relative to
cottonand other natural fibers. Textiles, Ninth Edition by Sara J. Kadolph and Anna L. Langford. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall ]
Flax fibers vary in length from about 25 to 150
centimeters (18 to 55 in) and average 12-16 micrometers in diameter. There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics and longer line fibres 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. Classifications & Analysis of Textiles: A Handbook by Karen L. LaBat, Ph.D. and Carol J. Salusso, Ph.A. University of Minnesota, 2003]
Highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, linen fabric feels cool to the touch. Linen is the strongest of the
vegetable fibers, with 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. 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 laundering. 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 typically has a thick and thin character with a crisp and textured feel to it, but it can range from stiff and rough, to soft and smooth. When properly prepared, linen fabric has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. It can gain up to 20% moisture without feeling damp. "Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together" and , "'...neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.'" There is no explanation for this in the Torah and any attempt to explain the restriction is generally considered futile. This is a type of law known as " hukim", a statute beyond man's ability to comprehend. The Jewish Primer, by Shmuel Himelstein. New York, NY: Facts On File, 1990. ]
The word linen is derived from the
Latinfor the flaxplant, which is "linum", and the earlier Greek "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 line;
liniment, due to the use of finely ground flax seeds as a mild irritant applied to the skin to ease muscle pain
lining, because linen was often used to create a lining for wooland leatherclothing
lingerie, via French, originally denotes underwear made of linen
linseed oil, an oil derived from flaxseed
linoleum, a floor covering made from linseed oil and other materials
In addition, the term in English, "flaxen-haired", denoting a very light, bright
blonde, comes from a comparison to the color of raw flax fiber.
* [http://www.ars.usda.gov www.ars.usda.gov]
* [http://www.uftm.org.uk/collections_and_research/archival_collections/Living_Linen_Archive/?q=linen Living Linen Index] - an oral archive of a nucleus of people who have worked in the Irish Linen industry in the 20th century.
* [http://www.deliberatelife.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=163&Itemid=70 Making linen from flax]
* [http://www.fergusonsirishlinen.com/aboutLinen/?ID=2 History of Irish linen]
* [http://www.irishlinenmills.com Irish Linen] - The Fabric of Ireland
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