Flax – Linen

Linen fabric is mainly used in summer clothing because of its cool, fresh feel. It was once however used for household linens as it becomes softer and more supple with use.

How is Linen Made?

Linen is natural cellulose from the stem of the flax plant. It is produced as a staple fibre which means the length of the fibres is limited by conditions of growth. Staple fibres can range anywhere between 5mm to 30cm or more. The flax plant grows very easily in cool humid climates; the task of extracting the cellulose material from the flax stem is very laborious, seeing how even now it is still mainly done by hand. Machinery would harm the stem as the inner plinth (the part that holds the fibres together) must be rotted away. These fibres can then be spun into thread, cord and twine which are then woven into linen fabrics.

Linen is an ancient fabric, possibly the oldest one known. It is referenced in the bible and references can be found in Switzerland dating back around a thousand years. Mummies in Ancient Egyptian tombs have been found wrapped in linen. Linen was became very popular in the 11th Century when people realised that it could be used to treat medical ailments such as leprosy and also used for bandages. Linen was used for paper and also the linseed oil was used to make ink.

Main Physical Properties of Linen Fabric

  • Strong, Durable and long lasting
  • Smooth Surface
  • Good Drape
  • Highly Absorbent, Fast Drying, fresh and cool to wear
  • Non-Static
  • Crisp, firm handle; stiffer than cotton
  • Shrink-proof, launders well
  • Low elasticity so creases very badly
  • Dirt Repellent and Anti-Microbial
  • Biodegradable and Recyclable
  • Can be coated with synthetic resin treatment, meaning that it becomes crease-resistant.
  • Stain-resistance can be achieved using Teflon.
  • Able to absorb up to 20 times its own weight without feeling wet.

Different Types of Linen Fabric

Linen fabric is produced in lots of different weights from very fine to very coarse. They can also be loosely or closely woven depending on the end product. Natural linen is a beige colour but this is usually bleached white and then either kept white or dyed the desired colour.

Linen fabric is primarily used for summer garments but is also used frequently in interior furnishings. Its high absorbency and colour-fastness mean that it is an ideal choice for household linens as well as the fact it doesn’t pick up ‘lint.’

Linen fabric is stiffer than cotton and for this reason it is commonly used for interlinings in garments that require structure, blinds and its anti-allergy and anti-microbial properties mean that it is used for mattress ticking.

Linen is generally blended with other fabrics to make it more manageable and bring out its good qualities whilst improving its faults. Some typical blends are Linen 50% Cotton 50%, Linen 70% Nylon 25% Elastane 5%. It can also be mixed with Viscose, Polyester and Silk.

Linen can also be finished using a technique called Beetling. Beetling is a now rare finishing process that causes the fabric to have a high lustre and shine. A large machine is used to flatten the fibres in the fabric in the production process.

  • Holland Linen – Holland Linen is a plain woven linen fabric that is treated with either starch or oil, making it opaque and even stiffer to handle. This is often used for lampshades and other furnishings.
  • Cambric Linen – Cambric linen is the finest linen and the thinnest. It originates from Cambria in France. This type of linen is used mainly for delicate pieces such as sheer fabric and handkerchiefs.
  • Butchers Linen – Butchers Linen is named this, as its coarse thick handle means that it would be used for a butcher’s apron and other hard-wearing garments. It is very tough, and washes and dries well.
  • Glass-towelling Linen – Glass towelling Linen is again known by its main purpose, drying glassware. Linen used for this purpose generally has a looser weave to make it even more absorbant.
  • Huckabuck – Huckabuck is a fabric usually made from a cotton linen blend. It is loosely woven.


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Kelly Mitchell

Written by Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell, extremely competent and reliable, she is currently in her third year at the University of Lincoln UK, studying Fashion. Kelly is responsible for the Fabrics, Fibers and Leathers sections of our Dictionary


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