Linen is crisp, clean, comfortable, and soft, yet strong and durable. The harder you use it, the softer it gets and the stronger the fibres become. Linen is so highly absorbent that it holds up to twenty percent of it's weight in moisture before it feels damp, and easily releases it's moisture into the air to remain uniquely cool in the summer. It has excellent launderability, and it is non-allergenic, non-static, and lint free. It is even mildew and moth resistant. Bed sheets made out of linen are uncommonly strong, soft, and wonderfully cool for sleeping.
Scientific experience confirms that both temperature and muscular tension are diminished when people use Linen fabrics. It is the most appropriate fibre to bring physical and psychic well-being. Linen helps us sleep. Sleep comes quickly, is deeper and more restful. In a humid environment we fall asleep more comfortably. The air maintained in the fibre makes it a natural insulator in winter. Its inherent wicking properties move moisture well creating both cool and comfortable summer nights.
Next comes a process called retting, actually a form of rotting.
Dew Retting: the stalks are spread on grass and kept moist for several weeks. The combined action of bacteria and moisture decomposes the tissue surrounding the true flax fibres. The fibres can then be separated from the woody bark and straw of the stalk.
Water Retting: more commonly, the stalks are retted in slow-moving bogs for 1 to 2 weeks, or in large tanks of warm water for 4 - 8 days.
After retting, the flax stems are dried and sent through a machine that breaks them into pieces called shives. Next, in a process called scutching, the machine separates the shives from the fibres. In the next step, called hackling, the fibre is combed to produces long parallel fibres called line, and short fibres called tow. The tow is spun into yarns by methods similar to those of spinning cotton. Special machinery spins the long line linen fibres into fine yarns.
Linen is the oldest textile material in the world. Evidence shows Flax being grown 9,000 years ago in Syria & Turkey. The Egyptians grew Flax along the Nile river 7,000 years ago, and the ancient linen used to wrap mummies has lasted just as long. Evidence of linen has been also found in Switzerland that is 10,000 years old, and it has always been used in Europe in varying degrees. In fact, the term 'lingerie' came from the use of linen as undergarments in the middle ages. Modern use of linen began in Europe in the 1600's, and the tradition of fine linen weaving is notable in France, Belgium, and Ireland. However, linen weaving never became popular in the United States, because in 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which made cotton yarn more economical than linen yarn.
Of the 230 species of flax, only one "Linum usitatissimum" is grown commercially. Differences of this species are grown for fibre and for seed. The plant grows 3 to 4 feet and has white or blue flowers. The variety grown for fibre has a slender stem that branches near the top. Seed flax is bushier, and is grown for linseed oil.
Fibre flax is harvested 3 to 4 months after planting. If the plants are harvested too early, the fibres will be fine and silky, but weak. If the plants become too ripe, the fibres will be stiff and rough and difficult to spin into yarn.
France and Belgium produce high quality fibre, which is also more costly. Flax fibre is also produced in Eastern Europe, and on a limited scale in Ireland and Canada. Russia cultivates flax extensively, but despite a large total yield, the quality of the fibre is inferior to that of Western Europe, and is naturally less expensive.
Many factors in the growing season will affect the quality of the linen. Some factors are the time and weather of harvesting. It is critical to maximize the fibre length and strength without letting it get too old and coarse. Flax that has grown during the summer and harvested during the late summer will produce taller flax plants, which means longer and stronger fibres. However, the flax field cannot be used for other crops as it is too late in the season, therefore the linen grown at this time will be much more expensive as well. Soil conditions will affect the crop, as well as the care and attention of the farmer.
The lower quality linens are used for less expensive items, such as certain clothing, tea towels, friction towels, and other household linens. Chances are, if you find inexpensive bed sheets, they will have been made from low quality linen fibres, and they will neither be as soft or strong. They will also tend to feel course after laundering, and over time will be disappointing in comparison to the more costly good quality linens. What you pay for is definitely what you get!
A fantastic video about linen. It is subtitled in English.
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