Wednesday, 26 May 2010


One of my antique linen table cloth which I inherited from my mother.

I remember one of my aunts planting a field of Flax. The purpose of this was to produce linen sheets for her two daughters. Later my cousin used those sheets. When they were wet she could barley lift them! It was also a struggle to put them on the beds as they were so heavy. I think those sheets will live for the next one thousand years!

Flax fibers are amongst the oldest fiber crops in the world. The use of flax for the production of linen goes back at least to ancient Egyptian times.
Pictures on tombs and temple walls atThebes depict flowering flax plants. The use of flax fiber in the manufacturing of cloth in northern Europe dates back to Neolithic times. In North America, flax was introduced by the Puritans.
Flax fiber is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of the flax plant. Flax fiber is soft, lustrous and flexible; bundles of fiber have the appearance of blonde hair, hence the description "flaxen". It is stronger than cotton fiber but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such asdamasks, lace and sheeting. Coarser grades are used for the manufacturing of twine and rope. Flax fiber is also a raw material for the high-quality paper industry for the use of printed banknotes ( now mainly made of plastic.)

The pretty flowers of the flax plant.

Flax (also known as common flax or linseed) (binomial name: Linum usitatissimum) is a member of the genus Linum in the familyLinaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India . Flax was extensively cultivated in ancient Ethiopia and ancient Egypt. In a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia dyed flax fibers have been found that date to 34,000BC
New Zealand flax is not related to flax, but was named after it as both plants are used to produce fibres.

Flax fibres vary in length from about 25 to 150 centimeters (18 to 55 in) and average 12-16 micrometers in diameter. There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics and longer line fibres used for finer fabrics. Flax fibres can usually be identified by their “nodes” which add to the flexibility and texture of the fabric.
The cross-section of the linen fibre is made up of irregular polygonal shapes which contribute to the coarse texture of the fabric.

Highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, linen fabric feels cool to the touch. Linen is among the strongest of the vegetable fibers, with 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. It is smooth, making the finished fabric lint free, and gets softer the more it is washed. However, constant creasing in the same place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads. This wear can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased during laundering. Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily, explaining why it wrinkles so easily.
Linen fabrics have a high natural luster; their natural color ranges between shades of ivory, ecru, tan, or grey.
Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching. Linen typically has a thick and thin character with a crisp and textured feel to it, but it can range from stiff and rough, to soft and smooth. When properly prepared, linen fabric has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. It can gain up to 20% moisture without feeling damp.
When freed from impurities, linen is highly absorbent and will quickly remove perspiration from the skin. Linen is a stiff fabric and is less likely to cling to the skin; when it billows away, it tends to dry out and become cool so that the skin is being continually touched by a cool surface. It is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. The fibers do not stretch and are resistant to damage from abrasion. However, because linen fibers have a very low elasticity, the fabric will eventually break if it is folded and ironed at the same place repeatedly.
Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can also damage the fabric, but it is resistant to moths and carpet beetles. Linen is relatively easy to take care of, since it resists dirt and stains,
has no lint or pilling tendency, and can be dry cleaned, machine washed or steamed. It can withstand high temperatures, and has only moderate initial shrinkage.
Linen should not be dried too much by tumble drying: it is much easier to iron when damp. Linen wrinkles very easily, and so some more formal linen garments require ironing often, in order to maintain perfect smoothness. Nevertheless the tendency to wrinkle is often considered part of the fabric's particular "charm", and a lot of modern linen garments are designed to be air dried on a good hanger and worn without the necessity of ironing.

A characteristic often associated with contemporary linen yarn is the presence of "slubs", or small knots which occur randomly along its length. However, these slubs are actually defects associated with low quality. The finest linen has very consistent diameter threads, with no slubs.

Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is primarily grown in Western Europe. In very recent years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China, but high quality fabrics are still confined to niche producers in Ireland, Italy and Belgium. Also countries including Poland, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Britain and some parts of India.

The seed pods of the flax plant;

Flax seeds contain high levels of dietary fiber including lignans, an abundance of micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids (table). Flax seeds may lower cholesterol levels, especially in women. Initial studies suggest that flax seeds taken in the diet may benefit individuals with certain types of breast and prostate cancers. Flax may also lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels. There is some support for the use of flax seed as a laxative due to its dietary fiber content though excessive consumption without liquid can result in intestinal blockage. Consuming large amounts of flax seed may impair the effectiveness of certain oral medications, due to its fiber content, and may have adverse effect due to its content of neurotoxic cyanogen glycosides and immuno-suppressive cyclic nonapeptides.

A hand embroidered linen towel also inherited from my mother.

Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather.
Textiles in a linen-weave texture, even when made of cotton, hemp and other non-flax fibers are also loosely referred to as "linen". Such fabrics generally have their own specific names other than linen; for example, fine cotton yarn in a linen-style weave is calledMadapolam.
The collective term "linens" is still often used generically to describe a class of woven and even knitted bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles. The name linens is retained because traditionally, linen was used for many of these items. In the past, the word "linens" was also used to mean lightweight undergarments such as shirts, chemises, waistshirts, lingerie (a word which is cognate with linen), and detachable shirt collars and cuffs, which were historically made almost exclusively out of linen.
Linen textiles appear to be some of the oldest in the world: their history goes back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics which date back to about 8000 BC have been found in Swiss lake dwellings.

Dyed flaxfibers found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back even earlier to 36,000BP
Linen was sometimes used as currency in ancient Egypt. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth. Some of these fabrics, woven from hand spun yarns, were very fine for their day, but are coarse compared to modern linen.

Today linen is usually an expensive textile, and is produced in relatively small quantities. It has a long "staple" (individual fiber length) relative to cotton and other natural fibers.[4]
Many products are made of linen: apron, bags, towels (swimmers, bath, beach, body and wash towel), napkins, bed linen, linen tablecloth, runners, chair cover, man and woman wear.

Linen was used by Egyptians in ancient times for mummification. Egyptians used linen as burial shrouds. Moreover, priests only wore linen clothes and worshippers were only allowed to enter the temple if they are wearing a linen cloth. Linen fabric has been used for table coverings, bed coverings and clothing for centuries. The exclusiveness of linen comes from the difficulty of working with the thread making it time consuming to produce (flax in itself requires a great deal of attention to grow). Flax thread is not elastic so is difficult to weave without breaking threads. Thus it is more expensive to manufacture than cotton.

The Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 as an Oral Archive of the knowledge of the Irish linen industry which is still available within a nucleus of people who formerly worked in the industry in Ulster. There is a long history of linen in Ireland.
Plutarch, who lived one hundred years after the birth of Christ, wrote that the priests of Isis also wore linen because of its purity.
In December 2006 the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Natural Fibres to raise the profile of linen and other natural fibers.

When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses II, who died 1213 BC, was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation - after more than 3000 years.
In the Belfast Library there is preserved the mummy of "Kaboolie,' the daughter of a priest of Ammon, who died 2,500 years ago. The linen on this mummy is in a like state of perfection. When the tomb of Tutankamen was opened, the linen curtains were found intact.

The word linen is derived from the Latin for the flax plant, which is linum, and the earlier Greek linon. This word history has given rise to a number of other terms:

line, derived from the use of a linen thread to determine a straight line;

liniment, due to the use of finely ground flax seeds as a mild irritant applied to the skin to ease muscle pain

lining, because linen was often used to create a lining for wool and leather clothing

lingerie, via French, originally denotes underwear made of linen

linseed oil, an oil derived from flax seed

linoleum, a floor covering made from linseed oil and other materials

In addition, the term in English, flaxen-haired, denoting a very light, bright blonde, comes from a comparison to the color of raw flax fiber.
some excerpts courtesy Wikipedia.