Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated with textiles. As I have explored numerous ways to make, color on and with, manipulate, sew with fabrics, I have learned a lot about them. This post is the second in a series about fabrics for those who are curious, but may not have studied them. This series will explore how fabrics are made as well as some of the ecological consequences of creating these fabrics. The first post in this series explained a bit about a new kind of fabric: recycled polyester. Here’s another about one of the oldest human-made fabrics: Linen.
Linen is a type of fabric that is made from the flax plant. Creating linen is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. To make the best quality linen, traditional methods require most steps to be done by hand to preserve the “long staple” of the plant. The phrase “staple” refers to the individual fiber length of the plant which is about 3 times longer than cotton. This makes linen an extremely durable fabric and gives it a crisp hand (texture).
Most linen is made in Europe in fields that have grown flax for many, many years. People or machines cut the flax near the root to preserves the staple of the plant. Seeds are removed, then the plant is put through the retting process. Retting uses either bacteria, or chemicals to the linen fibers from the fiber. In some larger factories this can mean water pollution in the area surrounding the production facility (more on the ecological factors in a future post). Then, the fiber is crushed to help separate the linen fibers from other parts of the plant (linseed being one of the leftovers used for other purposes). The fibers are them combed to help separate shorter fibers from longer ones. After this the linen fiber is then spun into yarn and knit, or woven into cloth.
Linen dyes beautifully.
It seems to drink in the colors. It is one of my favorite fabrics to use. The collar seen in the picture uses linen as the base fabric with a layer of silk organza as an iridescent layer on top. I have used both natural dyes and cold water batch dyes on linen and each worked extremely well.
Linen is traditionally used in household fabrics and apparel. Nowadays, referring to the “linens” may not mean the actual linen fabric, but instead a group of household fabrics such as sheets, dish towels and aprons. Linen can be blended with hemp, cotton and other natural fabrics to create a less expensive alternative to pure linen.
Pros: dyes very well, strong, drapes well on the body, wicks away moisture and heat naturally, can be created with low impact on the environment, can be blended with other fibers
Cons: wrinkles easily, expensive, the process of creating linen can pollute water supplies, labor intensive (so beware of labor laws)