Linen: one of the world’s most frequently used fabrics. For thirty-six thousand years, linen and its flax-derived ancestors have been used to clothe humanity in wispy layers of lightweight comfort. But, why? How did such a complex fiber become a fashion industry MVP? We have our theories.
First and foremost, flax. The superfood grown throughout Europe is at the core of linen, although getting it there is no easy feat. While flax is a relatively easy plant to grow, the process of turning the plant into linen is a laborious one. Traditionally, one starts off by allowing the flax plant to rot. Fibers are pulled, by hand, away from the woody part of the plant. More modern methods call for machine work and chemicals, but heritage methods are far from extinct.
Great civilizations of the ancient world like Egypt and Mesopotamia are known to have used linen and other flax derivatives for a variety of purposes, with clothing being only one of its applications. Biblical references allude to centuries of use in the Middle East. It’s versatility and ability to help its wearer stay cool in even the most scorching climates make its use no surprise. Fun fact: linen absorbs sweat comfortably and allows heat to escape quickly from the human body!
But linen isn’t only one of the world’s most used fabrics because it suits warm weather. It’s moth and stain resistance make it the ideal candidate for clothing in and out of season, as well as tablecloths and napkins. Wash it or send it to the cleaners, and the results will be very similar. Linen is easily ironed and hangs dry.
From keeping you cool even in the hottest of climates to just being a stylish addition to any wardrobe, your linen collection could last you, and your family, for generations. Fading, softening, and changing character as it ages, this beautiful fabric has a style and personality all of its own.
Caring for Linen. Linen is low maintenance. It doesn’t require taking special measures to clean, and can be washed by hand, machine, or a dry cleaner drop off. To increase its longevity wash it on a gentle cycle at a lower temperature when possible.
Like us, linen changes as it ages. Over time, it grows softer and more absorbent. Like skin, it gains new texture as the years roll on, and can be styled differently over time as a result.
Tumble dry linen at a low temperature to avoid the rapid breakdown of fabric strands that is bound to happen when using higher heat. Hang drying never fails. Linen responds quite quickly to heat and a little summer breeze.
You may love the natural creases and wrinkles that form in linen after it’s been washed, in which case there is no need to iron it at all. If you do want a wrinkle-free look, iron the fabric while it’s damp to avoid scorching the fibers and hang it up on a hanger immediately after you’re done to finish drying flat.
Linen may not attract moths, but it can fall prey to mildew. Store it well in dry, and preferably cool, spaces. Avoid chemical repellents and the use of plastic bags when storing linen. Let the fabric breathe!
Dealing With Stains. From time to time you may need to tackle stains on your linens, and there are several ways you can do so without harming the fabric. For any stain, act quickly. The longer a stain is left to soak into your linen the harder it will be to remove. Start by scraping away any excess on the garment. Do so gently with a spoon or blunt knife to avoid damaging the fibers. Grab some tissue or paper towel to blot the stain from the outside, but don’t spread it, and remove any extra liquid that may further the spread. Don’t rub the garment with a cloth as this will only rub the stain deeper into the fabric.
Commercially available spots-stain removers work, and usually involve rubbing the product into the stain before washing it at a slightly higher than normal temperature (be aware of shrinkage). But, you could try a more natural approach. Carefully dispense droplets of vinegar onto the stain, blot it, and repeat. If you’re looking to brighten up dull or stained clothes, now is the time to add lemon juice.
Squeeze the juice over the affected area and leave it on until you can see the color begin to change. When it’s at the level you’re happy with, wash the area clean in cold water.
You may be inclined to clean the garment in hot water, but pause before doing so. You should only use hot water if you’re adding a cleaning agent. Hot water on its own can help the stain settle. Add powder stain cleaner or some white wine vinegar to aid in ousting it from the fabric. Avoid tumble drying stain treated clothes to avoid setting any leftover stains. When dealing with a nasty stain, always hang dry.
When it comes to treating stains in linen that are older and already set in you should follow the same process as above but soak the garment in hot water first, not forgetting to add a natural or chemical stain remover. You can test to see if the stain is coming out by gently rubbing the garment but be careful not to rub too hard as this can have the opposite effect and rub the stain further into the fabric.
Treat your linen well and it will last a lifetime. Don’t panic when the odd accident does take place and a stain appears but instead use our guide to treating stains quickly and effectively without making the issue any worse.
Environmental Benefits of Linen. Linen is a strong and sustainable fabric. It changes texture as you wash it over the years but remains durable and versatile. Thanks to its strength, clothing, tablecloths and bed linens last longer than their cotton counterparts. Fewer replacements mean less production, which is good for your wallet and the environment in tandem.
All good things do come to an end though, and linen is no exception. When your garment has reached the end of its long life, and if it’s untreated (aka, not dyed), it’s fully biodegradable.
The flax plant is a hardy grower that needs very little water and will thrive even when soil conditions are far from perfect. And, most of the plant can be used. While its fibers are used to make linen, one of its byproducts, linseed oil, is used for wood varnish.
When left to rot naturally, disposal of any waste from the harvesting process is not impactful on the environment. Producers who use chemicals to quicken the process must find more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of the waste byproduct to keep harsh chemicals from entering the water chain. It’s crucial that we demand certified organic linen be used in our clothing and tableware. This assures us that the linen has been untreated and will biodegrade at the end of its wearable use.
Linen has global appeal and despite its highly practical nature will always be seen as something of a luxury fabric. The work that goes into making it is couturian in nature, which is why it’s considered such a desirable cloth for homeware and clothing. If something is good enough to be an Egyptian pharaoh’s burial cloth, it’s good enough for us.