Everything You Need to Know About Linen Fabric

Linen Fabric
     Source: HeritageModa
For years, linen has epitomised an amalgamation of comfort, luxury, and elegance. Being a natural fabric made from the fibres of flax plant, it is utilised to make various sartorial accessories and apparel. Undeniably, it is every fashion connoisseur's choice of fabric.  Linen is not only a lightweight and soft fabric, but it also has a rich history and evolution. This blog will shed light on all the aspects you need to know about linen.

How is linen produced?

Linen fabric is produced from the cellulose fibres found inside the stalks of flax plants. It is an annual plant that survives for a single growing season. It gets prepared for being harvested in around a hundred days from the beginning of seed-planting. It requires less watering unless the climate is extremely dry or warm.

Photograph of blue flax flowers

Source: Pexels.com

  • The plants are either drawn by hand or cut from the ground for fibre extraction. Afterwards, the seeds are taken out using a technique called ripping or sorting. 

  • The next step is retting, which helps confiscate the stock of the plant from its fibres. 

  • Once all the fibres are disseminated to accumulate the prolonged pieces with a length of up to 20cm, they are spun to make yarn that gets woven into fabric.

The Rich History and Evolution of Linen 

Ancient Egyptian Linen with Ink

Ancient Egyptian Linen with Ink Source: Wikimedia commons

Between c. 6000 to c. 3150,  linen was traded and exchanged in predynastic Egypt as part of the barter system. This exchange continued till Roman Egypt times. Flax was a crucial aspect of the Egyptian economy during those times as it had versatile applications from day attires to mummy bandages. Linen was suitable for the hot Egyptian weather; the credit goes to its absorbent and heat transmitting properties.

Subsequently, the mordants or dye-binding chemicals touched Egypt. Otherwise, the linen clothes would have been either natural or bleached white in colour.

Several other ancient Mediterranean cultures adopted the use of linen clothes, with Romans labelling the flax plant as "Linum usitatissimum," or "most valuable flax." Around 2,000 years later, linen chronicled its presence globally and was also exported to India, China, Persia, and Scotland.

Where is the best quality of linen fibre produced?

Three women place dry flax straw into a machine which binds it into bundles for convenient handling     Three women placing dry flax straw into a machine. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Initially, the linen trade touched Ireland, giving rise to a more systemised way to produce flax. In addition to Ireland, the best quality linen textiles also came from Belgium, France, and Italy. Owing to the soil quality and climatic conditions, Western Europe continues to be the producer of high-quality, extra-long flax fibres. 

How did linen production begin in India? What was its impact on the people and economy?

The linen fabric production came to India with the opening of The Jaya Shree Textiles, established in 1949, as India's first-ever manufacturing facility for linen. This textiles company is part of the esteemed Aditya Birla Group in India. In 1949, it set up the first integrated plant for producing linen in the country. It was well-equipped with world-class facilities with advanced Italian and Swiss systems for spinning, weaving, and exquisite finishing. The company launched Linen Club brand and popularised linen fabrics and clothing across India. The evolution of linen in the textile sector was sizeable, contributing to the betterment of the country’s economy. 

Why is linen a desirable fabric?

Woman wearing handmade linen scarf

Source: HeritageModa

Linen is considered a high-end fabric as it is breathable, cool, and blissful to wear. It is ideal for the times when the sun shines brighter on you. Linen helps you stay fashionable without compromising on comfort. Here are the reasons for which linen is touted as the most desirable fabric:

Hypoallergenic Fabric: Most people often suffer from allergies and skin ailments, and specific fabric types can often trigger the symptoms. Some fabrics let the moisture accumulate, leading to microbes and bacteria breeding. Speaking of the linen fabric, it is super breathable to enhance the airflow. As a result, it resists moisture effectively and prevents bacterial build-up. The clothes and bedding accessories made of linen are the perfect choices for those who experience uneasiness or itching due to sweat.

Long-lasting: Linen is amongst the strongest natural fibres worldwide. It is more sturdy than cotton, and linen's thread reinforces the durability of the garment fabric. Thus the linen ensembles are long-lasting and stay anew for years. Moreover, garments crafted out of linen tend to maintain their shape even after many washes. They turn softer and more pleasant toward the skin as time passes by. Due to linen's excellent resiliency, the linen attires do not disintegrate quickly.

 Hassle-less Upkeep:  Linen does not require any special care despite being a supreme fabric. It is compatible with machine wash on cold water rinse. Do not use strong bleach or chemical whiteners; instead, go for mild liquid detergents for gentle, safe and thorough washing of the garments. In case there is any special artwork on your linen fabric then it is best advised to follow the instructions on care label.

Ideal for All Seasons: Another great thing to consider about linen is its suitability for all seasons. It helps you stay cool in summers and warm during winters. Indeed, it is one of the heavenly benefits of donning linen. Typically, flax, through which the linen is made, is used for making insulation products for domestic applications. It is a natural insulator and releases the humidity effectively. Hence, the linen attires retain heat from the body and relieve the excess heat to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.

Handwoven Linen and Its Significance in Employment Generation for Artisan Community 

Handloom weaving

Source: One of the weavers from West Bengal (India)

Handwoven linen offers the potential to establish a fashion sector that is both environmentally friendly and supportive of craft communities. The handwoven linen resuscitates and treasures the timeless handcraft traditions.

Handwoven  linen fabrics are created through manual weaving on a handloom.  The handwoven linen thus produces a lesser carbon footprint. The artisans' communities benefit from handwoven linen prospects. It helps support and facilitate the local businesses, enriching them financially and preserving weaving heritage. 

The handwoven textile sector generates substantial employment opportunities for the artisan community to build and empower them, especially the women crafters.

The Difference Between Handwoven Linen and Machine Made Linen

The craftsmen generally produce hand-woven linen by incorporating their artisanal flair into hand-weaving techniques on a handloom. Contrary to this, machine-made linen is created with integrated automation technology through machinery. Here are the essential dissimilarities between the two:

  • Texture:  During the handwoven process, the density of the woven thread and reed will determine the texture and weight of the apparel. The machine weaving will generate uniform textures, whereas the hand-weaving process can craft thin or thick textures depending upon the looming flair. 
  • Uniformity: The machine-woven linen will always have an even texture, whereas the hand-woven linen will have a distinct texture. The art of manual crafting instils a uniqueness into every piece of garment. For instance, two handmade linen scarves would not be purely identical. Since the loom's tap is operated by an artisan and not a machine, the loom generates fabric’s fall and character, weaving it distinctively each time.
  • Increased Weaving Complexity: Weaving flax fibres even on a machine is a complex and slow process (compared to cotton) as the fibres are easily breakable. The same problem compounds when weaving flax fibres on the handloom.
  • Sustainability: When it comes to sustainability, the hand-woven method is incomparable. Likewise, the handmade scarves and other ensembles made of linen are more environmentally conscious. The traditional process of weaving linen generates lesser waste and pollution, hence it is good for the ecosystem. 
  • Ease of Personalisation:  Since the artisan weaves every piece of linen clothing or accessory individually, it is easier to customise it as per the distinct fashion sense and choices. However, it is not that easy in the case of machine-made ones due to the creation of identical apparel. 


The Use of Linen in the World of Fashion

Woman wearing Pastel Summer Linen Scarf

 Source: HeritageModa

The use of linen in the fashion universe is broad-ranging. It is among the most vital and preferable fabrics used to make a variety of apparel and accessories. Linen is also blended with premium materials such as cashmere and silk to craft high-end scarves and other fashion accessories. 

Linen also makes up for a durable sewing thread that plays a pivotal role in making versatile types of garments. Linen is also widely combined with fabrics such as cotton and other regular materials to create daily-wear garments. Summer attires such as shirts, beach cover-ups, dresses, suits, scarves and trousers are made using linen. 

Linen and its Love for Sustainability 

Linen is one of the most durable and sustainable fabrics available on earth. When flax is grown, a minimal amount of water is needed. Moreover, flax does not require pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides in considerable quantities. 

Linen Fabric: A Personification of Royalty and Unrivalled Beauty 

The mention of linen clothing has been prominently seen in various sacred readings hailing from all the religions, with fifty-eight references in the Bible. During the medieval period, linen enjoyed immense popularity and adoration. It was eminent as the ensemble of royalty, personifying class and privilege.

Concluding Thoughts

Linen fabric is one of the most ancient fabrics discovered by mankind. It is venerated across the world for its purity, comfort, and durability. This fabric can be treasured for several years and still be in perfect condition. Unarguably, the apparels and accessories of linen are an ode to excellence.

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