Linen generally refers to a fine woven cloth made from a plant known as flax. Traditionally, many other types of cloths though made from cotton or other materials are also collectively called as linens, have their specific names to distinguish between them and pure linen. Linen has the quality of being exceptionally cool in hot weather, which is why this fabric is preferred for use by many women all over the world.
Linen textile is not an invention of the modern world, remains of many such cloths made from linseed and straw have been found in Egypt, which date back to at least 10,000 years. Due to the value of the cloth, it was often used as currency for trade and in barter system as a common commodity. Its value to the Egyptians was such that it was used to wrap mummies to show significance of the dead and purity of the soul.
The production of linen is a laborious task, which could very well be the reason for its high cost. In modern times, it is only produced in small quantities due to its high cost and lengthy production process. It is generally produced in two different qualities one is with shorter tow fibres, which makes it coarser where as the other type is produced with longer and finer fibres making a fine fabric.
The cloth is generally 2 to 3 times stronger than normal cotton but constant creasing and ironing damages the fibre largely. One other property of linen is that it gets softer and smoother with every wash, which is why many people use it for summer clothes. Another reason why it is used for making clothes in the summer season is its quality to absorb perspiration quickly and dry out quickly as well, thus giving a feeling of coolness.
As the quality of the cloth is dependent on the length of fibres, harvesting of the crop has a significant role in determining the quality of the final fabric. For producing finer fabrics, the crop is hand harvested and the entire plant is pulled from the root or is cut very close to the root to get the longest possible fibre for making the cloth.
After harvesting, the seeds are removed from the plant, which is done by using a special profess called rippling. After removing the seeds, a process called retting uses bacteria to decompose the pectin, which binds the fibres together and thus the fibres are loosened. Natural methods are generally used for the sake of protecting the environment, but they are time consuming and laborious. The process of retting takes place in tanks, pools or directly in the fields.
The woody portion of the stalks is removed by crushing them through metal rollers. This process is called “Scutching”. After this process, the fibres are separated from the stalks, tow, and linseed, to leave behind only the soft fibres.
After this process, the fibres are then spun into yarn, which is then knitted to make linen cloth. This cloth can then be bleached and dyed. Special printing dyes are used to make textures and other prints on the fabric.