How It's Made... Linen

How It's Made... Linen

At Fine Cell Work, we use only the best quality yarns and cloth in our production. Linen cloth is used in some of our best selling items such as our lavender bags, our Shakespeare range and of course, our popular pineapple collection.

If you have ever bought one of our embroidered products then you are probably familiar with the look and feel of linen. However, you may not know the origins of this beautiful cloth. Read on:

Linen cloth is made from the fibres that grow inside the stems of the flax plant, one of the oldest known cultivated plants in human history.

Flax is grown around the world but the finest quality is produced in Western Europe. It is prized not only for its fine, strong fibres, but also for its seeds, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The plants grow to around one metre tall and have pale blue flowers.

Flax plants are ready to be harvested for their fibres when the stem begins to turn yellow and the seeds turn brown.

The quality of the finished linen product is often dependent upon growing conditions and harvesting techniques. For best results and to generate the longest possible fibres, flax is hand-harvested by pulling up the entire plant. Fabric made from hand-harvested flax is finer, more supple, and more highly valued than fabric made from flax that is machine-harvested. (This goes some way towards explaining the high cost of linen.)

After harvest, flax stalks are allowed to dry in the open air for several weeks before they undergo threshing to remove the seeds from the stalks. Hand threshing is usually achieved by simply beating the dried stalks until all the seed pods have been crushed, then shaking the seeds free.

The fibres must then be loosened from the stalk. This is achieved through a process called ‘retting’ which uses bacteria to decompose the pectin that binds the fibres together. Natural retting methods take place in pools of water, or directly in the fields. Chemical retting methods are faster, but are more harmful to the environment and to the fibres themselves.

The stalks are then ready for ‘scutching’, a process which removes the woody parts of the stems by crushing them between metal rollers, then separated with combs to leave behind only the long, soft flax fibres.

After the fibres have been separated and processed, they are spun into yarns and woven into linen textiles. These textiles can then be bleached, dyed, printed on, or finished with a number of treatments or coatings to become the cloth that you are familiar with.

Quick fire facts about linen; 

  • Linen was sometimes used as a form of currency in ancient Egypt.
  • Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can damage the fabric, but it is resistant to moths and carpet beetles.
  • Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth.
  • A characteristic often associated with linen yarn is the presence of "slubs", or small knots which occur randomly along its length and are considered part of the aesthetic appeal of an expensive natural product
  • In 1923 the German city Bielefeld issued banknotes printed on linen.
  • Linen is very durable and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. The fibres do not stretch, and are resistant to damage from abrasion.
  • The collective term "linens" is still often used generically to describe a class of woven household textiles traditionally made of linen.
  • The word "linen" is derived from the Latin for the flax plant, which is linum.


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