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:
Linen is naturally thicker and 30% stronger than cotton. The flax plant, from which linen is made, produces long individual fibers that can be spun into stronger yarn with fewer breakage points. Linen fiber is low in elasticity, which means your products won’t lose shape — on the contrary, linen will withstand more washing cycles and get softer with every wash. To learn more about caring for your linens, read our care guide.
The flax fiber, from which linen is made, is hollow and absorbs moisture well — to be precise, it can absorb up to 20% of its own weight in water before starting to feel damp. This is an important characteristic for towels, bath linens, bedding, and clothing as well.
Besides absorbing moisture well, linen is able to release it fast. The flax plant is hollow allowing for higher air permeability, thus linen fabric dries out quickly and doesn’t stick to the body. Linen is also a natural insulator meaning it keeps you cool in the summer and retains heat from your body in the colder months.
Linen has many health properties — some claim it heals wounds faster and helps cure some skin diseases, such as eczema. But most importantly, linen is hypoallergenic and is perfect for those who have a sensitive skin or suffer from allergies.
One of the lesser mentioned qualities of linen is sustainability. The flax plant requires less water and minimum to zero chemicals to cultivate. Absolutely all parts of the plant are used in some type of production, be it linen clothes or nutritional supplements and wood-finishing products. Moreover, linen is biodegradable so you won’t be adding to the ever-growing piles of textile waste.
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.