Linen is a product that is produced from the processing of the flax plant. Linen has been around for at least 6000 years. We know this because at one time the British Meuseum in London, had in their possession pieces of linen fabric that was over 6000 years old. I do not know if they are still in possession of these textiles, but I assume that they are.
The fibers that are extracted from the processing of the plant are very long ranging from 12 – 30” in length. This is a stark contrast to the 1-3” fibers produced from cotton. This is one of the reasons linen is such a strong fabric. Although linen has a low elasticity rating, it can withstand much more tensile stress than cotton cloth or yarns.
Linen is also well known for it’s ability to absorb moisture very quickly. The long fibers of linen act as a wick when exposed to moisture, creating a type of capillary action to move moisture away from the exterior of the fabric and relocating it into the cells and interstitial spaces between the cells. Linen has the ability to absorb up to 12% of it’s own weight in moisture. Cotton can only absorb 8.5% of it’s weight. This is why cotton towels have loops on them. The small loops found in terry cloth toweling increase the surface area of the towel, thus increasing the amount of liquid it can absorb. Remove all those little loops though and only wool and jute can absorb more moisture than linen, just not as quickly. All those loops, also slow down the drying process significantly.
Linen can also release moisture faster than other natural fibers. It is believed that the same capillary action that whisks moisture away from the surface of the fabric, is responsible for drying the fabric quickly and effectively. All this moisture absorption and evaporation might make it sound like linen is prone to deterioration form hot and humid conditions, but actually the opposite is true. Linen is actually resistant to deterioration due to exposure to heat and it fares much better in hot/humid condition than cotton, which has a tendency to dry rot. To add to this, linen is not really effected by the sun either. In fact it is the only fabric that I know of which has the ability to protect the wearer from the harmful effects of prolonged sunlight.
To add to all the rest of it’s magnificent attributes, linen has magnificent anti-mildew, anti-parasitical & anti-microbial properties. It’s a natural insecticide against many of the little invisible parasites that linger on our skin and in our homes and other environments. These naturally occurring properties are unique to flax and are absent from other natural fibers.
When I started my research, I was hoping to make some high quality kitchen towels that would last for years and years. After all these years I still have vivid memories of my grandmother’s well worn kitchen towels that she used year after year without ever having to replace them. It was with these thoughts in mind that I started my research and I never knew my quest would lead me on such a fiber journey. I hope you will please continue to join me as I post more articles on working with linen and some other natural fibers.