Where Does Linen Come From?

How Is Linen Made?

To make a smooth fabric of high quality, most fabrics need long fibres (and staples).  The quality of the finished linen product is also often dependent upon growing conditions and harvesting techniques.  For flax, to generate the longest possible fibres, it is either hand-harvested by pulling up the entire plant, or stalks are cut very close to the root.  After harvesting, the seeds are removed through a mechanized process called “rippling” or by winnowing.   

The fibres must then be loosened from the stalk. This is achieved through a process called "retting", which uses bacteria to decompose the pectin that binds the fibres together. Natural ‘retting’ methods take place in tanks and pools, or directly in the fields.  There are also chemical retting methods; these are faster, but are typically more harmful to the environment and to the fibres themselves (which is a big no-no).

After retting, the stalks are ready for ‘scutching’, which takes place between August and December. Scutching removes the woody portion of the stalks by crushing them between two metal rollers, so that the parts of the stalk can be separated. The fibres are removed and the other parts such as linseed, shive, and tow (parts of the plant) are set aside for other uses.

Next the fibres are heckled: the short fibres are separated with heckling combs by 'combing' them away, to leave behind only the long, soft flax fibres.

After the fibres have been separated and processed, they are typically spun into yarns and woven or knit into linen textiles. These textiles can then be bleached, dyed, printed on, or finished with a number of treatments or coatings.

An alternate production method is known as “cottonising”, where the flax stalks are processed using traditional cotton machinery.  This is quicker and requires less equipment, however, the finished fibres often lose the physical qualities of linen. 

What Are The Advantages of Linen.  What Is Linen Used For?

As linen contains natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and is therefore good at keeping bacteria and illness at bay, it is used to make a variety of products, such as curtains, bed-sheets and table clothes. 

It can also protect you from UV rays, so is suitable in the manufacture of clothing – giving wearers that added prevention of skin cancer. 

Like wool, linen contains what are known as thermal/cooling-regulating fibres, which allow skin to breathe, keeping wearers both cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

It has anti-allergenic properties, so it does not aggravate any existing allergies, it’s also good for upholsteries because it does not attract or gather dust particles – so less cleaning is needed to maintain it.  It's also very durable, and prevents the fibers being worn away too quickly, again, meaning less maintenance.

And finally, if it is not treated with chemicals, it is a biodegradable fabric, so even if it does end up in landfill, it degrades without leaving behind toxic, nasty chemicals.

What Are The Disadvantages of Linen?

It creases easily, and is not very heat resistant - therefore it is quite flammable.  It also disintegrates easily with acid.

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