The Luxury of Linen

Linen is one of nature’s little luxuries.

Details of the flax plant from which linen is derived | Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen | Image via Wikipedia
Details of the flax plant from which linen is derived | Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen | Image via Wikipedia

HISTORY

Made from the linseed (or flax) plant, the history of linen dates back thousands of years. Linen textiles are some of the oldest in the world – used for table coverings, bed coverings, and clothing.

Linen was first produced in ancient Mesopotamia and was favoured by the upper classes as a sign of wealth, and by priests as a symbol of light and purity. In ancient Egypt, linen was even used as currency. It was also used as death shrouds. Remarkably, when the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses II, (who died in 1213 BC), was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were perfectly preserved after more than 3,000 years.

USES

Prized for its exceptional strength, linen has been used to make books, shields, body armour, wraps for billiard cues, and even currency. Did you know that the United States and many other countries print their bills on paper that is made from 25% linen and 75% cotton? (FYI: In Canada, our bills use to be made of pure cotton, but as of 2011 have been replaced with a synthetic polymer.)

For centuries, linen was woven by hand until the invention of the spinning machine during the Industrial Revolution. Since flax is a crop requiring a good deal of effort to cultivate, and due to the inelasticity of the fibre making the threads more difficult to work with and prone to breakage, linen is relatively costly to produce.

A field of flax in France
A field of flax in France | Image via Au Lit Fine Linens

Of late, the fashion industry has fallen in love with linen: in the 1970s only about 5% of linen production was used for fashion fabrics, whereas in the 1990s, approximately 70% was allocated for apparel textiles. Part of the resurgence in popularity has to do with the desirability of natural and eco-friendly materials, and an appreciation for artisan crafts.

Christian Dior | The Little Dictionary of Fashion

In spite of the great competition of cotton, I think linen is the top material for summer. It is cool and fresh and at the same time just as rich as silk or wool. Linen gives to the colour a subtleness that no other material has. And as well as looking nice, linen is a very convenient material – hard-wearing and easy to handle. It tailors well – like wool – and is equally suitable for suits, frocks, or even summer coats. In hot weather for town wear nothing is nicer than a linen suit in a dark colour – preferably black. In the country there are hundreds of lovely shades of light and bright colours to choose from.

~ Christian Dior, The Little Dictionary of Fashion

CHARACTERISTICS

Linen’s natural hues range from ecru, ivory, tan, and grey. Pure white linen is obtained by bleaching.

Linen may be crisp or soft; smooth or textured with naturally occurring “slubs” or small knots. This is not a flaw, and, in fact, adds to its natural beauty.

Linen is the perfect summer fabric: it feels cool to the touch, is breathable, and is highly absorbent. I have many linen garments in my closet; and seek it out when I am shopping. Linen garments just get better and better with age. Every summer these breezy pieces are at the forefront of my stay-cool wardrobe. I consider wrinkles just part of linen’s charm.

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CARE

Linen is easy to care for and actually gets softer over time.

  • Can be dry-cleaned, machine-washed, or steamed
  • Best to air dry – hanging on a hanger to dry may eliminate the need to iron
  • Iron when damp if desired.
  • Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can damage the fabric
  • Resistant to moths
  • Resists dirt and stains
  • Does not lint or pill
  • Can withstand high temperatures and with little initial shrinkage
  • Can show signs of wear over time if repeatedly folded or ironed into a crease such as a collar or hem

ULTIMATE LUXURY

A linen Chanel flap bag? Yes, really!

Chanel Vintage Camellia Flower Natural Linen Double Flap Bag | Rice and Beans Vintage
Chanel Vintage Camellia Flower Natural Linen Double Flap Bag | Rice and Beans Vintage

Have you ever slept in linen sheets? I haven’t, but I want to!

Image via Au Lit Fine Linens
Image via Au Lit Fine Linens

I did however make a nightgown from a beautiful vintage linen tablecloth. I have plans to make many, many more. And perhaps a matching robe…

Made in Canada Linens: Au Lit Fine Linens

Chanel Bag: here

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Susan Written by: