In an age where there are so many synthetic fabrics used for everything from patio furniture upholstery to athletic clothing, many of us simply don’t give much thought to the origins or root materials of even the most common fabrics we encounter.
Linen, for example, is one such fabric that people use every day all over the world, yet very few of us could tell you what linen is made of (or how it’s made).
What is Linen Made of?
In short, linen is made from the stem of the flax plant. While those of us who are more health conscious will quickly recognize flax seeds as a popular source of Omega-3 fatty acids used in popular smoothies and other “heart healthy” foods, the history of flax stems being used for linen actually goes back thousands of years.
The Latin name for flax, as it turns out, is linum usitatissimum, with “linum” not coincidentally sounding an awful lot like its English variation, “linen”. But the origins of linen being used as a natural, manmade fabric actually dates back even further than Roman times, to the ancient Egyptians. Flax was harvested in Egypt for linen as early as the 4th millennium BC, and excavated artwork from that period depicts various stages of flax processing — proving its specific use for linen.
A Demand for Linen
The next logical question, then, is why was there a need for linen in the first place? Although the exact purpose of the very first incarnation of linen will forever remain a matter of speculation, it makes sense that hunter-gatherer early human civilizations greatly benefited from having bags. In order to collect an ample amount of supplies, linen was used to carry nuts, berries, and other foods (as opposed to relying only on that food which can be carried with your bare hands).
How is Linen Made?
While the full process of how linen is made requires a pretty in-depth scientific explanation (beyond the purposes of this article), here’s the summarized version:
- Cultivating: About 100 days are needed for flax seeds to mature into harvestable plants ready for linen production. When ready for harvest, each flax stalk is between two to four feet tall.
- Harvesting: Each stalk of flax must specifically be pulled from the ground (as opposed to cut at the base). This ensures that no sap is lost, which could negatively impact the quality of the linen.
- Rippling and Retting: The process of removing seeds and leaves, and eventually releasing the internal fiber (used for linen) from its stalk.
- Spinning: The linen “rovings”, which are said to resemble strands of long blond hair, are put onto a spinning frame. From there, they are drawn out into a long thread and then spooled to be sold and used by manufacturers for their particular end-product needs.
In today’s world, linen is used for a wide range of purposes, wherever strength and longevity are among the most important attributes of a needed fabric. These include everything from tablecloths and bed sheets to wallpaper and artist canvases.
Spink & Edgar, for example, uses linen in the comfort layers of its beds to help add long-term durability to other more delicate fibers such as wool and cotton. While linen is characteristically porous and breathable, it also holds up extremely well when exposed to moisture and perspiration over many years of use. For more information, visit a Spink & Edgar retailer near you.
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