What is Linen? Linen is a luxurious fabric, popular in both ancient and modern times.
Made from the fibers sourced from the stems of flax plants, linen is up to three times stronger than cotton. This gives it great durability, allowing linen products to be passed down from generation to generation with long-lasting appeal.
Known for its strength, absorbency and freshness, linen is a favorite fabric in the interior design industry and among manufacturers of home textiles because of its high-end and timeless look.
Here is everything you need to know about this popular textile, from how linen is made to why it’s one of the most sustainable textiles on the planet.
Where And When Flax Is Grown
Flax is grown in cooler climates throughout the world, but it is perhaps most well known for its growth in the European coastal communities of Belgium, the north of France and the south of the Netherlands.
The sowing of flax takes place between Mid-March and Mid-April. Flax is grown according to a crop rotation method, with the rotation renewed every 6 to 7 years. This regenerates the soil for the succeeding crops of beet, wheat, potatoes and others.
Flax then blooms around mid-June with up to 80 to 100 flowers per stem. About 5 weeks later, the pulling process begins, which we’ll outline below.
In total, flax is typically harvested about 100 days after it is planted.
How Linen Is Made
Linen is created using a series of steps that has been perfected over hundreds of generations.
In fact, linen is one of the oldest textiles, with this ancient linen dating back nearly 5,000 years. It’s no surprise that this crop that civilizations have cultivated over centuries has been perfected, making it as coveted today as much as it was then.
Linen is made following a series of steps:
Step 1: Flax is planted in a cool climate and after approximately 100 days is harvested.
Step 2: The fibers are separated, with the leaves, seeds and flax fibers located inside the dried stems of the plant removed. This process begins with what is called “retting” where the flax is placed in water before being taken out to dry.
Step 3: The flax fibers are further loosened through a process called “scutching.” During this process, the woody part of the stalk is crushed using metal rollers. In the past, this was done using a long wooden blade.
Step 4: The fibers are removed and other parts of the plant are set aside for other purposes such as making paper.
Step 5: These natural fibers are then “heckled,” which separates the short fibers using a combing technique. This leaves behind the long flax fibers.
Step 6: The fibers are then spun into yarn before they are woven into a textile product.
Why Linen Is Sustainable
Linen is extremely sustainable. In fact, it is one of the most environmentally-friendly textiles available.
That’s because the method by which flax is grown and the properties of linen are more sustainable than many other textiles, including synthetics.
For example, when growing flax, very little water is required so farmers do not need to irrigate or fertilize during this process. Flax typically requires fewer pesticides, herbicides and fungicides as well.
As mentioned above, very little is wasted with flax. Other parts of the plant, such as its seeds, can be used to produce oil or flax seeds for consumption.
Because linen is extremely durable, it has a longer lifespan. When discarded, linen is biodegradable.
What Some Of The Benefits Are
Linen offers many highly-sought after features.
Linen is moisture-resistant. In fact, linen can absorb dampness up to 20% without even feeling wet. And, that moisture resistance helps protect the material against bacterial growth, which can occur when there is hidden dampness.
Linen is also hypoallergenic. Because linen is considered a natural fiber, it is friendly to a person’s skin and is perfect for allergy sufferers.
Linen is breathable and is a great choice for any climate. Linen keeps you cool in the summer, but also has the ability to provide warmth in the winter. In any climate, the breathability of linen helps provide a better night’s sleep. That’s because breathability of a fabric offers better regulation of your body temperature.
Linen ages well. In fact, linen actually gets softer and improves as it ages, even after it is cleaned repeatedly. While most other fabrics show wear and tear after multiple uses, linen remains fresh and gets softer. That’s good news for clothing, bedding and furniture manufacturers who pride themselves on creating durable products.
What Care Is Required
Washing and caring for fine linens is pretty straight-forward. They can be cleaned in your home using a washing machine and dryer, though can be hand-washed or dry-cleaned using professional services as well.
This versatility and convenience makes linen a popular choice among consumers looking for a high-quality product without the high maintenance.
Our article, How To Wash Linen, explains the various washing and drying methods you should use when caring for linens, but in general, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Hot water may cause linen fabric to shrink or may weaken the fibers.
- Never twist linen fabric or scrub it, since this can damage the fibers.
- Bleaching is not recommended for linens since it can discolor the fabric and weaken the linen fibers.
- Dry on low heat and remove linens while they are somewhat damp, or iron on a low to medium-hot setting while the fabric is still somewhat damp.
One final note: For linens located in high-trafficked areas, regular maintenance is important to retain the fabric’s fresh feel.
Why Your Linen Supplier Should Guarantee Quality
It’s critical to choose a linen supplier that emphasizes quality. After all, the quality of your product depends on the quality of the materials you use.
It is best to choose a supplier that is domestic, because who you choose can directly impact the quality of the linen you will get and the ease by which you obtain your order. There can be several challenges to working with a linen supplier overseas, from communication challenges to potential issues that could delay products at customs.
Your linen supplier should also deliver top custom services that meet your specific needs, such as custom dyeing and printing, within your timeframe.
Need more advice on choosing the best linen supplier? Our article, What To Look For In A Linen Supplier, outlines everything you should look for in a partner for your business.