So you’re interested in learning about linen? What is it exactly, where does it come from, how is it made, and why is everyone and their mother going crazy about it. Good, we’re here to answer all those questions. Having fallen in love with linen ourselves, we’ve done yards of research into this amazing fabric and its magical properties, hence our name.
So let’s start with the basics…
What is linen and where does it come from?
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. It has been used for centuries — since approximately 10,000 years ago — to make everything from canvases and wallpaper to clothing and bedding. Egyptians utilized linen’s durability for wrapping pharaoh mummies and Medieval knights donned linen shirts and pants under their armor.
Over the years, people started using the word “linens” to refer to household goods, such as bedding, tablecloths, towels, etc. albeit not always made of actual linen fabric. Terms like “lingerie” were derived from the same word.
Benefits of linen
If you’ve already had some sort of encounter with linen in your life, you might be familiar with its main properties, but for those who are new to linen, here are the main reasons behind its popularity:
How linen is made
As mentioned before, linen comes from the fibers of the flax plant. It was one of the first plants domesticated by humans and has lasted well into the 21st century due to its unmatched natural properties.
Cultivated primarily in cooler climates all over the world – from Western Europe to India and Pakistan – flax plant has a growing cycle of only 100 days. However, the journey from the humble flax seed to woven linen fabric is a laborious and complicated process, which explains why linen is considered a luxury item and comes at a higher price point than cotton and other textiles.
Linen is typically sowed in March and harvested in July. During that time, the flax plant goes through a magical transformation with its peak – the ephemeral bloom when the whole field gets colored in sky blue blossoms for one day only.
Once the bloom is over, the flax plant is harvested but unlike most other crops, it cannot be mowed – flax has to be pulled up by the roots to maximize the length of the fibers and preserve the full potential of the plant, which will later be used to make a variety of different products.
Harvested flax then goes through a process called retting, which means exposing it to moisture in order to separate the fiber from the stem. The flax plant is soaked in water until existing bacteria breaks down the pectin holding the fibers together – this is a risky business because under-retting burdens the separation of the fiber while over-retting weakens it.
After retting, the plant goes through another process called scutching that separates the woody stem called shive from the raw material – the flax fibers: short coarse fibers are called tow and are used to make paper, twine, and rope, while the longer flax fibers called line are used to create linen yarn that goes into clothing, bedding, and other high-quality textile products. Next steps are spinning the linen fiber and weaving linen yarns into yards of fabric, which can then be bleached and/or dyed.
Our own linen is also stone washed for maximum softness. What is stone washing, you ask? It’s all in the name – the stone washing technique takes stones, usually pumice or volcanic rock, puts them in industrial washing machines together with the linen fabric and washes it for a couple of cycles until the fabric gets a nice lived-in, supple feel. Recently, however, enzyme wash is becoming more popular – it gives off the same effect but without the use of actual stones.
Linen then and now
In its 10,000-year history, the production of linen has changed quite a bit. All the processes that used to be done by hand are now more or less automated. What else is that linen – once exclusive to royalty – can now be found in hotels, restaurants, and many homes especially across Europe where linen growing traditions date back centuries.
In Lithuania, linen has deep roots in our folklore and mythology. Numerous songs and tales mention blue flax fields, and it is part of tradition to pass linen items down in a family as an heirloom. However, modern linen looks and feels much different than its predecessor.
Here at MagicLinen, we aim to create things that borrow from the rich history of linen and fit into our contemporary lives. Our linen bedding, linen clothing, kitchen and bath linens are designed with a modern consumer in mind and thus come in a wide range of styles, colors, and sizes. Find the magic of linen here.