Linen is an extraordinary fiber; simple and exclusive, comfortable and environmentally safe. It is the fiber of the future.

Just as silk comes from the fiber to the silkworm's cocoon, and wool from the fleece of animals, linen comes from the fibers of the stalk of the flax plant linum usitatissimum or "most useful linen". History abounds in references to linen. It's even safe to say that history is written in it. For linen furnishes paper for the printed page and flax-based linseed oil the ink to scribe on it. And where a picture is worth a thousand words, linen furnishes the artist's canvas to paint upon. In today's age of easy-care, how you care for linen is essentially a personal choice. Household textiles, shirts and other garments worn close to the body are easily washed. You may actually prefer it because the more linen is washed, the softer and more luminous it becomes. For lined garments, heavier sportswear, upholstery and drapery fabrics, manufacturers usually recommend dry cleaning. This is primarily because of factors unknown to the consumer: the degree of pre-shrinkage, color-fastness of dyes, tightness of weave or fabric construction, composition of thread or trimmings and treatments for crease and stain resistance. In all cases, particularly where dry cleaning is recommended, it is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions on "care labels." A comprehensive "caring for linen" brochure is available from the Masters of Linen/U.S.A. with a minimum of proper care, the natural beauty of linen is easily maintained.

To produce linen, textile flax is not cut, but pulled from the ground to preserve the long, full length of the fibers. Today, the lengthy process that yields our beautiful modern linen yarn is still described in quaintly archaic terns. Retting and Turning is a soaking process wherein natural enzymes break down the pectins that bind the fiber bundles and release the individual fibers. Scutching in a mechanical turbine is the overall process that extracts the fibers. Rippling removes and retrieves the seeds. Drafting and Breaking involves passing layers of parallel flax stalks through increasingly finer and faster, toothed rollers to separate the textile fibers form the short fibers of "tow"; and the woody waste matter or "shives." Hackling describes the "combing" of "hands" of line flax. Drafting and Doubling or Carding draw out the long or short fibers respectively for spinning into yarn that is ready for Weaving, Bleaching, Dyeing and Finishing into cloth or Twisting, Polishing and Finishing as thread.

Nothing is wasted. As fabric, rope or paper, even as "linseed" oil for soap, inks or paints, all of this "most useful" plant's products are used.

Laundering

Many people prefer to launder linen, especially table linens, handkerchiefs and bed linen, because the more linen is washed, the softer and more luminous it becomes. Its luminous quality is caused by nodes on the flax fibers, which reflect light. These same people often choose to wash linen articles because they know linen, as a natural fiber, launders beautifully. Gentleness is the key for laundering linen. Use pure soap with warm, not hot, water. Wash colored articles in cool water. And after linen is washed, continue treating it gently. A variety of drying methods are recommended for linen: line drying, machine drying or rolling in terry towels. Whatever method you use, remember to remove the linen from the line, the dryer or the towels while it is still damp.

Laundering Tips

Use pure soap or gentle detergent when laundering linens.
soap works best in soft water. Hard water causes curds to form that make fabrics dingy and stiff.
Launder any stains when fresh. If allowed to set, stains may be impossible to remove at a later date.
Use oxygen-type bleaches for white linen instead of chlorine bleaches which can cause yellowing.
Select a water temperature between warm to hot depending on the care instruction.
Place delicate or fringed linens in a pillowcase before putting them into a washing machine.
Whether hand or machine washing, be sure to rinse the linen item completely in lots of water to remove all soap, detergent and residual soil. This will help avoid formation of "age spots" which are caused by oxidation of cellulose (linen's primary component).
Once rinsing and spinning cycles are complete, either line dry or lay the linen items flat until only slightly damp. Avoid wringing out linen before drying.
To keep white linens white, try drying them in the sun.

Dry Cleaning

Today, most manufacturers of linen items especially interior furnishings, recommend dry cleaning. Why dry clean a natural-fiber fabric? The underlying reason is not the linen, its self, but the dyes, finishes, interfacing, lining, buttons, trim and thread used in construction. The latter is especially a concern with garments. Probably the most quoted reason for choosing dry cleaning over laundering is that it is easier and less time-consuming. The decision rests with the consumer if the manufacturer's care label offers a choice between the two.

Ironing

Most people regard ironing as a chore, but ironing linen can become a less onerous task if you do it when the linen is still damp. Ironing while damp can limit this chore to almost nothing.

Storing Linen

Always launder or dry clean linen items before storing as soiled linen can encourage mildew.
Ventilation, light and lack of available food will discourage mildew growth.
Any mildew that may grow on your linens can be easily brushed away. Be sure to do this outdoors to avoid spreading spores in your house. After brushing, soak the linen in a solution of oxygen bleach and water, then launder. If possible, let dry in the sun.
Be sure all soap is completely rinsed from linen items before storing to avoid ³age spots² caused by the oxidation of cellulose, linen's primary component.
Store in a cool, dry, well ventilated place.
Use pure linen, cotton or muslin, not synthetics, as covers or garment bags.
Use acid-free tissue paper rather than regular tissue paper, the acid from which can yellow linen.
Do not store linens in plastic bags. Fumes from petroleum-based polyurethane can rot and streak the fabric.
Do not store linens in cedar chests or cardboard as the fume from these can yellow the fabric.
Be sure to refold linens from time to time if being stored for long periods.

The origins of Linen

Linen is the oldest textile material in the world. Its history goes back many thousands of years, well into the Stone Age. Fragments of Linen, in all stages of manufacture (straw, seeds and seed capsules, fibers, yarns, ropes and various types of fabrics) have been found amongst the remains of Swiss lake dwellings which date from about 8000 years B.C. However it was amongst the civilized people of ancient times that Linen became widely used. In Egyptian - SHENU, in Greek - LINON, in Latin - LINUM, Linen was part of domestic life around the Mediterranean basin long before the Christian era. Linen was scarcely used during the Dark Ages or in early Medieval times, but it regained its earlier popularity from the 11th century when it was realized that the use of Linen helped to cure many skin diseases, including leprosy. Today, despite the increased use of other natural fibers, and more recently the development of artificial and synthetic fibers, Linenıs prestige and reputation have remained high, and it is once again playing an important part on the fashion scene. Linen is also very much appreciated in the home as interior furnishings fabric and household linen.

The anatomy of flax

The botanical name of cultivated flax (of both the "oil" and "textile" varieties) is linum usitatissimum. One of the varieties of this species is characterized by a long (80/120 cm) relatively unbranched stem and bears small seeds - this is textile flax. Another variety has shorter stems (50/70 cm) and somewhat larger seeds. This variety is used for the production of a vegetable oil - "linseed oil". The flower of the flax plant has five petals, whose color varies according to the variety, from a pure "Linen blue", through pink (more or less violet) to white. The microscopic examination of a cross section of the plant shows the different layers of the stem. The fiber bundles, consisting essentially of cellulose (98%), are extracted from these different layers. The length, the composition and the cohesion of the fiber bundles produce the strongest, most absorbent, most comfortable of natural fibers.

Growing

Nearly 8 million hectares of flax are sown each year, but this includes different varieties that are cultivated both for the production of textile fibers and linseed oil. Western Europe ranks second among the producing countries of the primary vegetable textile material, Russia being number one. A fiber from the fields of the European Community, flax is grown mainly in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Ideal conditions for its growth include a homogeneous soil, adequate daylight, cool and short nights, and weather that is both damp and warm. The seeds are sown, fairly densely at around 2,000 seeds per sq. metre, as this encourages the young plants to grow straight and tall towards the light and air, and also encourages the development of long fibers. Normally flax is sown at the end of March or the beginning of April and is ready for harvesting in a comparatively short period of around 100 days.

Harvesting

Flax is harvested from the beginning of July to mid-August. Unlike cereals, textile flax is not cut, but pulled in order to preserve the full length of the fibers which run the entire length of the plant. In times gone by this was done by hand, one bundle of flax plants after another - painful and tiring work requiring a lot of manpower. Today, mechanical pulling machines are used; these ensure a speedier harvest with less exposure to weather conditions and consequently it is less costly. Once pulled, the flax "straw" is dried by spreading it out on the fields to form swathes. There are three degrees in the ripening of textile flax: green, yellow and brown. The second of these - yellow - has proved to be the most suitable for fiber production. Flax that is pulled too early - green - produces very fine but weak fibers. On the other hand, in over-ripe flax - brown - the stems are already lignified and the fibers are strong but brittle and produce too high a proportion of tow. However, when the flax is yellow, the fibers are long and supple, and therefore ideal for further processing.

Rippling or seed removal

The object of this operation is to retrieve the flax seeds from the seed pod, either after pulling or before scutching. The seed - "flax seed" or "linseed" - is used either as seed for next yearıs crop, or for the production of "linseed oil". After extraction of the linseed oil, a residue is left. This becomes "cattle cake" and because of its high protein content is a much sought after cattle food.

Retting

Retting is a process during which, with the help of micro-organisms, the adhesive substances or pectins that bind the fibers together and the rest of the plant are partially decomposed. This operation precedes scutching. Several "retting" methods are used: In dew retting, small bundles of the uprooted flax plant are left outdoors for 3/5 weeks. Used primarily in Belgium, water retting takes place in a tank containing temperature-controlled warm water (37°C.) for 4/8 days. Finally there is another process still under research using enzymes. The objective is to reduce the risks linked to weather changes in ordinary dew retting.

Scutching

This is a mechanical operation which, by breaking and beating the flax straw, separates the textile fibers in the stem of the plant from the woody matter and the bark. The straw is first broken by feeding it between a pair of round toothed cylinders. The broken straw is then rubbed and beaten by turbine blades, which remove the short fibers (tow) and the waste woody matter (shiv or shive). The layer of fiber which is produced by the scutcher is then separated into "hands". Scutching therefore produces the following products: - Fibers: 67% line flax (long fibers - 60/90 cm in length); 33% tow (short fibers - 10/15 cm in length). - Shiv (or shive): woody waste matter used for the manufacture of chip board. No part of the flax plant is wasted: the seeds produce linseed oil and cattle cake; the plant itself produces long and short fibers, and shiv.

Spinning

After scutching, the linen fiber is combed, spread out and drafted several times until a rove (a slightly twisted sliver of flax fiber) has been formed. This rove is then spun into a yarn but during this process it is soaked in warm water (60°/70° C.), which softens the natural gummy substances contained in the yarn and permits the individual fibrils within each fiber to slide in relation to each other, thus producing a very fine and regular yarn. This is called "wet spinning". However there is also another method of spinning flax, which is called "dry spinning", and which produces coarser yarns. The rove in dry spinning is spun without being soaked in warm water. The flax fiber can also be spun into a yarn by mixing other fibers (such as cotton, wool, silk, viscose, polyester, acrylicÉ) on looms used for spinning cotton or wool.


Fabric manufacture

As with other fibers linen can be woven or knitted. Traditional looms have been replaced by automatic ones, which with the latest technology, produce very sophisticated fabrics made of pure linen or of a mix of fibers (figured wovens, damasks, serges, honey-comb patterns, jacquards, velvets). Technological progress in knitting linen yarn has been such that a new kind of texture has been created.

Dyeing and finishing

Linen fabrics, once woven or knitted need to undergo certain other processes, such as bleaching, dyeing, calendering etc. In days gone by, bleaching was carried out in the open fields, where the pieces of fabric were spread out and exposed to the direct action of sunlight, rain and dew. Dyeing, like bleaching, can be done on the linen yarns either before weaving or on woven fabrics. Linen is easy to dye and print. Linen also lends itself to other treatments, such as flameproofing, crease resistancy, stain repellancy, stonewashing, and mercerizing.

Furnishing fabrics

Linen is strong, its colors are fast to washing, to dry cleaning and to light, and it can be manufactured so as to have excellent dimensional stability (i.e. it will not shrink). These qualities make Linen an excellent raw material for furnishing fabrics. Linen furnishing fabrics cover a wide range - curtainings, sheers, upholstery fabrics and wall coverings.

Household textiles

Linenıs intrinsic qualities of high moisture absorption, strength, excellent launderability and excellent color fastness when dyed or printed, along with the fact that it does not "lint" when used to dry glasses etc., make it probably the best fiber for household textiles. Its agreeable handle and luxurious appearance add to its value.

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