Fabrics, history and usage - LINEN May 15 2013, 0 Comments


Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, 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.

The word "linen" is of Latin origin, plant linum, and the earlier Greek λινόν (linon). This word history has given rise to a number of other terms in English, the most notable of which is the English word line, derived 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 have their own specific names other than linen; 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 and even knitted bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles. The name linen 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, waist shirts, lingerie (a word also cognate with linen), and detachable shirt collars and cuffs, which were historically made almost exclusively out of linen. The inside cloth layer of fine composite clothing garments (as for example jackets) was traditionally made of linen, and this is the origin of 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 which date back 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 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 very fine for their day, but are coarse compared to modern linen. Today, linen is usually an expensive textile, and is produced in relatively small quantities. It has a long "staple" (individual fiber length) relative to cotton and other natural fibers.

Many products are made of linen: aprons, bags, towels (swimmers, bath, beach, body and wash towels), napkins, bed linens, linen tablecloths, runners, chair covers, and men's & women's wear.




In ancient Mesopotamia, flax was domesticated and linen was produced. It was mainly used by the wealthier class of the society like priests. The sumerian poem of the courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi (Tammuz; 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. 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 is still available within a nucleus of people who formerly worked in the industry in Ulster.

The discovery of dyed flax fibers in a cave in Georgia dated to 36,000 BP suggests that ancient people used wild flax fibers to create linen-like fabrics from an early date. 


The use of linen for priestly vestments was not confined to the Israelites; Plutarch wrote that the priests of Isis also wore linen

because of its purity. 

In December 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Natural Fibers in order to raise people's awareness of linen and other natural fibers.



Three types of flax are planted:

 Flax fibers (linen to thresh) to obtain fibers;

 Seed for obtaining linseed oil;

 Flax crossing, achieved by crossing flax fiber oil was developed to give an income sufficient fiber and oil. The fiber, however, does not fulfill the expectations deposited therein by the industry.

For the fiber bundle does not suffer interruption, thus lowering the amount of fibers for spinning it is necessary to take care that the stem does not branch. This is achieved by seeding compact. The stems have a height of approximately 50 to 100 cm, the most common length is 80 cm, with the top branch. Flowers, light blue color, develop seed capsules with five stores or cells.

The seed very oily, flat and round, having a diameter of approximately 2 mm. The main interest lies in obtaining flax oil. The plant branching is quite low, yields more flowers, thereby producing greater amount of oil seeds. The extraction of fibers is neglected.



Linen is a gorgeous, comfortable and durable fabric that is made from fibers of the flax plant. Taking care of linen is easy! Moreover, it grows softer and more lustrous with age.

Most popular mistake is a belief that linen is only suitable for dry cleaning. It is not so!

Linen fabric is known to be a material for clothing and other needs for some thousands years before the Christian era, so that probably means it is the world’s oldest natural fiber. And this also means that linens have been around long before any dry cleaners – and have been successfully cared for!

Linen fabrics are much stronger and smoother than cotton and there are only few things to know for your linen textile or clothes to last a long time.



Many people prefer to launder linen, especially table linens, handkerchiefs and bed linen, because the more linen is washed, the softer and more luminous it becomes. Its luminous quality is caused by nodes on the flax fibers, which reflect light. These same people often choose to wash linen articles because they know linen, as a natural fiber, launders beautifully.

Shirts and other garments worn close to the body are easily washed. Freshly washed linen has a naturally clean fragrance and gives one the sense of well-being. In the case of hand or machine washing use a sufficient amount of water since linen is very absorbent.

A variety of drying methods is recommended for linen: line drying, machine drying or rolling in terry towels. Whatever method you use, remember to remove the linen from the line, the dryer or the towels while it is still damp. If linen dries thoroughly, it

becomes brittle and takes several hours to recover its natural moisture and full flexibility. (The natural moisture content of linen is between 6-8%. Linen dried beyond this point will re-absorb moisture from the air.)


  • Use pure soap or gentle detergent when laundering linens.
  • Soap works best in soft water. (In hard water it forms curds that makes fabrics dingy and stiff).
  • Launder any stains when fresh. If allowed to set, stains may be impossible to remove at a later date.
  • Use oxygen-type bleaches for white linen, instead of chlorine bleaches which can cause yellowing.
  • Select a water temperature between warm to hot, depending on the care instructions.
  • Place delicate or fringed linens in a pillowcase before putting them into a washing machine.
  • Whether hand or machine washing, be sure to rinse the linen item completely in lots of water to remove all soap, detergent and residual soil. This will help to avoid formation of "age spots" which are caused by oxidation of cellulose (linen's primary component).
  • Once rinsing and spinning cycles on a washing machine are complete, either line dry the linen items, lay them flat or hang  garments -- all until slightly damp. Avoid wringing out linen before drying.


  • Never tumble-dry linen as this can over-dry the fibers and makes ironing more difficult.
  • Linen naturally dries quickly anyway.
  • To keep white linens white, try drying them in the sun.


  • Most people regard ironing as a chore. But ironing linen can become a less onerous task if you do it when the linen is damp. If linen is taken out of the dryer or off the line while still damp and then ironed immediately, the chore ceases to be a chore at all.
  • Be sure the sole plate of your iron is clean and smooth for quicker and easier ironing. 
  • If you have a steam iron, check for mineral deposits, which can cause brown spotting.
  •  Check your ironing board and its cover. For speedy ironing, use well-padded board with smooth heat-reflective covers.
  •  Begin with dampened linen. Steam ironing dry linen is less effective than dry or steam ironing dampened linens. A professional steamer is the only appliance that provides enough steam to remove wrinkles from heavier linens. The steam from a household iron is just not enough.
  •  Store linen items in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer from 6 to 24 hours before ironing. This will make them easier to iron and will prevent mildew.
  •  Use spray starch (if desired) and iron with a steam iron at a medium to hot setting.
  •  Starch provides extra crispness, particularly to napkins to be folded into fancy shapes.
  •  For a softer look, select spray-on fabric sizing instead. In a pinch, smooth things over with spray-on wrinkle remover.
  •  Iron on the wrong side first, then on the right side to bring out the sheen, especially damasks and light-colored linens.
  •  Iron dark linens on the wrong side only.
  •  Choose a temperature setting compatible with the fabric weight. Pure linen can withstand the highest temperature setting on your iron. Test an inconspicuous corner first.
  •  Iron linen until smooth but not dry. Once wrinkles are gone, hang the linen item until it is bone dry. 
  •  When ironing embroidered linen, keep the embroidery stitches rounded and dimensional by pressing item on the wrong side atop a soft towel.
  •  Use a press cloth to safeguard delicate lace and cutwork. A press cloth also helps to avoid press marks over seams, hems and pockets.
  •  Place a table next to the ironing board when ironing large tablecloths. Roll finished sections of the cloth over the table rather than letting it pile up under the ironing board.
  •  Minimize creasing ironed tablecloths by rolling them around a tube or hanging them. 


  • Always launder or dry clean linen before storing. Soiled linen encourages mildew, so linens must be clean before storing.
  •  Ventilation, light and lack of available food discourage mildew growth. If mildew does attack your linens, brush the mold off outdoors to avoid scattering spores in your house. Then soak the linen item in a solution of oxygen bleach and water before laundering. If possible, dry in the sun.
  •  Be sure to rinse thoroughly all soap and detergent from linen items to avoid formation of "age spots," caused by the oxidation of cellulose linen's primary  component.
  •  Store in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.
  •  Use pure linen, cotton or muslin, not synthetics, as covers or garment bags.
  •  Use acid-free tissue paper, not regular tissue paper. The acids in regular tissue paper can yellow linen.
  •  Do not store linens in plastic bags, cedar chests and cardboard boxes. Fumes from petroleum-based polyurethane can rot and streak the fabric. Cedar fumes and the acids in unvarnished wood yellow linen, as does the acid in cardboard.
  •  When storing for a long time, refold the linen occasionally.


Always follow CARE labels.

If you are going to launder, follow these instructions for removing stains.


BALLPOINT INK - Hold stain against towel, spray closely from behind with aerosol hair spray. Ink should transfer to towel

BEVERAGES - Soak in cool water. Re-wash with stain remover. Launder using chlorine bleach (if safe for fabric) or oxygen bleach.

BLOOD - Immediately rinse with cool water. For dried stains, soak in warm water with a product containing enzymes. Launder.

CANDLE WAX - Scrape off as much as possible with dull side of knife, then iron between absorbent paper, changing paper until wax is absorbed.

CHOCOLATE - Pre-wash with product containing enzymes in warm water or treat with pre-wash stain remover. Launder.

COLLAR, CUFF SOIL - Pre-wash with stain remover, liquid laundry detergent or paste of granular detergent and water. Launder.

COSMETICS - Pre-wash with stain remover, liquid laundry detergent or paste of granular detergent and water or rub with bar of soap. Launder.

DAIRY PRODUCTS - Soak in a product containing enzymes for at least 30 minutes (hours for aged stains). Launder.

DEODORANTS, ANTI-PERSPIRANTS - Pre-treat with liquid laundry detergent. Launder. For heavy stains pre-treat with pre-wash stain remover. Allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes. Launder using an oxygen bleach.

EGG - Soak in product containing enzymes. Launder.

FRUIT JUICE - Rinse with cool water.

GRASS - Soak in product containing enzymes. If stains persist, launder using a chlorine bleach (if safe for fabric) or oxygen bleach.

GREASE SPOTS, OIL - Pre-treat with pre-wash stain remover or liquid laundry detergent. For heavy stains, place stain face down on clean paper towels. Apply cleaning agent to back of stain. Replace paper towels under stain frequently. Let dry,

rinse and launder using hottest water safe for fabric.

LEMON, LIME JUICE, VINEGAR - Rinse immediately with cool water.

LIPSTICK - On pure linen, rub with a little salad oil to dissolve lipstick, then launder to remove oil.

MILDEW - Badly mildewed fabrics may be beyond repair. Launder stained item using chlorine bleach, (if safe for fabric). Or soak in oxygen bleach and hot water. Then launder.

PERSPIRATION - Use pre-wash stain remover or rub with bar of soap. If color of fabric has changed, apply ammonia to fresh stains, white vinegar to old stains and rinse. Launder using hottest water safe for fabric.

RED WINE - Cover with salt if stain is fresh, then rinse with cool water. If stain has dried, try club soda.

TAR - Scrape residue from fabric. Place stain face down on paper towels. Sponge with cleaning fluid. Replace towels frequently. Launder in hottest water safe for fabric.

TOMATO - Rinse with cool water.

WHITE WINE - Use club soda.