The majority of the world’s linen originates in France. The flax plant, from which linen is made, thrives in the rich soils and damp and temperate climate typical of coastal Western Europe. The stiff and slightly napped fibres give all linen textiles a characteristic textured appearance, with thicker yarns producing more pronounced irregularities. The porous quality of linen fabrics enables them to absorb and release moisture to remain cool and dry. The fabrics launder and age beautifully, becoming softer with time.
Linen is one of the world’s oldest textiles. Made from stalks of flax, an annual metre-high plant with pale-blue flowers, it has been documented in the eastern Mediterranean region since 6000 BC. The many references to linen in biblical texts indicate its importance in ancient societies. Its Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, translates to ‘most useful’ and describes linen’s value to the Old World economy.
The flax plant thrives in the rich soils and damp and temperate climate typical of coastal Western Europe, from Normandy to the Netherlands, and it has a prominent place in European history, reaching high popularity in the medieval period. Linen was the most readily available fabric for apparel and home textiles until the imported and more affordable cotton was introduced in the 18th century. Still today, the majority of the world’s linen originates in France.
Resistant to pests, flax requires very few agro-chemicals for its cultivation, and since the plant does not need watering, linen is naturally environmental friendly. The fibres used for textiles are obtained from the plant stems through a time-consuming process of fermentation, crushing, combing and spinning, making linen a relatively expensive and luxurious material.
Like other bast or stem fibres, linen is stiff and slightly napped. These qualities are carried on to the yarn and further to the woven fabrics, giving all linen textiles a characteristic textured appearance, with thicker yarns producing more pronounced irregularities. The strong and non-elastic fibres are naturally long-staple, which makes linen fabrics lustrous, durable and resistant to pilling, but also prone to wrinkling.
The porous quality of linen fabrics, both coarse and fine, enables them to absorb and release moisture to remain cool and dry. Linen dyes well and is easily woven, commonly in a simple plain-weave construction. The fabrics launder and age beautifully, becoming softer with time.