Linen

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Linen is a textile
Textile
A textile or cloth is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres often referred to as thread or yarn. Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibres of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands...

 made from the fiber
Fiber
Fiber is a class of materials that are continuous filaments or are in discrete elongated pieces, similar to lengths of thread.They are very important in the biology of both plants and animals, for holding tissues together....

s of the flax
Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather.

The word "linen" is cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 with the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 for the flax
Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 plant, which is linum, and the earlier Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 linon. This word history has given rise to a number of other terms in English, the most notable of which is the English word line
Line (geometry)
The notion of line or straight line was introduced by the ancient mathematicians to represent straight objects with negligible width and depth. Lines are an idealization of such objects...

,
derived from the use of a linen (flax) thread
Yarn
Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres, suitable for use in the production of textiles, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, embroidery and ropemaking. Thread is a type of yarn intended for sewing by hand or machine. Modern manufactured sewing threads may be finished with wax or...

 to determine a straight line.

Textiles in a linen-weave texture, even when made of cotton
Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

, hemp
Hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 and other non-flax fibers are also loosely referred to as "linen". Such fabrics generally have their own specific names other than linen; for example, fine cotton yarn in a linen-style weave is called Madapolam
Madapolam
Madapolam is a soft cotton fabric manufactured from fine yarns with a dense pick laid out in linen weave. Linen weave is the simplest and thickest interlaced, reversible basic weave, in which the appearance of the face and back of the woven fabric is the same. Its smallest repeat is 2/2, where two...

.

The collective term "linens
Linens
Linens are fabric household goods, such as pillowcases and towels.Originally, many, such as bed sheets and tablecloths, were made of linen. Today, the term "linen" has come to be applied to all related products even though most are made of cotton, synthetic fabrics or blends...

" is still often used generically to describe a class of woven
Weaving
Weaving is a method of fabric production in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads are interlaced at right angles to form a fabric or cloth. The other methods are knitting, lace making and felting. The longitudinal threads are called the warp and the lateral threads are the weft or filling...

 and even knitted
Knitting
Knitting is a method by which thread or yarn may be turned into cloth or other fine crafts. Knitted fabric consists of consecutive rows of loops, called stitches. As each row progresses, a new loop is pulled through an existing loop. The active stitches are held on a needle until another loop can...

 bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles. The name linens is retained because traditionally, linen was used for many of these items. In the past, the word "linens" was also used to mean lightweight undergarment
Undergarment
Undergarments or underwear are clothes worn under other clothes, often next to the skin. They keep outer garments from being soiled by bodily secretions and discharges, shape the body, and provide support for parts of it. In cold weather, long underwear is sometimes worn to provide additional...

s such as shirt
Shirt
A shirt is a cloth garment for the upper body. Originally an undergarment worn exclusively by men, it has become, in American English, a catch-all term for almost any garment other than outerwear such as sweaters, coats, jackets, or undergarments such as bras, vests or base layers...

s, chemise
Chemise
The term chemise or shift can refer to the classic smock, or else can refer to certain modern types of women's undergarments and dresses...

s, waistshirts, lingerie
Lingerie
Lingerie are fashionable and possibly alluring undergarments.Lingerie usually incorporates one or more flexible, stretchy materials like Lycra, nylon , polyester, satin, lace, silk and sheer fabric which are not typically used in more functional, basic cotton undergarments.The term in the French...

 (a word also cognate with linen), and detachable shirt collars and cuffs, which were historically made almost exclusively out of linen. The inside cloth layer of fine composite clothing fabrics (as for example jackets) was traditionally made of linen, and this is the origin of the word lining.

Linen textiles appear to be some of the oldest in the world: their history goes back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics which date back to about 8000 BC have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Dyed flax
Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 fibers found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

 suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back even earlier to 36,000 BP
Before Present
Before Present years is a time scale used in archaeology, geology, and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the "present" time changes, standard practice is to use AD 1950 as the origin of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon...

.

Linen was sometimes used as currency in ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

. Egyptian mummies
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth. Some of these fabrics, woven from hand spun yarns, were very fine for their day, but are coarse compared to modern linen.

Today linen is usually an expensive textile, and is produced in relatively small quantities. It has a long "staple" (individual fiber length) relative to cotton
Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

 and other natural fiber
Natural fiber
Fibers or fibres are a class of hair-like materials that are continuous filaments or are in discrete elongated pieces, similar to pieces of thread. They can be spun into filaments, thread, or rope. They can be used as a component of composite materials. They can also be matted into sheets to...

s.

Many products are made of linen: apron, bags, towels (swimmers, bath, beach, body and wash towel), napkins, bed linen, linen tablecloth, runners, chair cover, men's and women's wear.

Description


Linen is a bast fiber
Bast fibre
Bast fibre or skin fibre is plant fibre collected from the phloem or bast surrounding the stem of certain, mainly dicotyledonous, plants. They support the conductive cells of the phloem and provide strength to the stem...

. Flax fibers vary in length from about 25 to 150 cm (18 to 55 in
Inch
An inch is the name of a unit of length in a number of different systems, including Imperial units, and United States customary units. There are 36 inches in a yard and 12 inches in a foot...

) and average 12-16 micrometers
Micrometre
A micrometer , is by definition 1×10-6 of a meter .In plain English, it means one-millionth of a meter . Its unit symbol in the International System of Units is μm...

 in diameter. There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics and longer line fibers used for finer fabrics. Flax fibers can usually be identified by their “nodes” which add to the flexibility and texture of the fabric.

The cross-section of the linen fiber is made up of irregular polygonal shapes which contribute to the coarse texture of the fabric.

Properties


Highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, linen fabric feels cool to the touch. Linen is among the strongest of the vegetable fibers, with 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. It is smooth, making the finished fabric lint free, and gets softer the more it is washed. However, constant creasing in the same place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads. This wear can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased during laundering. Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily, explaining why it wrinkles so easily.

Linen fabrics have a high natural luster; their natural color ranges between shades of ivory, ecru, tan, or grey. Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching. Linen typically has a thick and thin character with a crisp and textured feel to it, but it can range from stiff and rough, to soft and smooth. When properly prepared, linen fabric has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. It can gain up to 20% moisture without feeling damp.

When freed from impurities, linen is highly absorbent and will quickly remove perspiration from the skin. Linen is a stiff fabric and is less likely to cling to the skin; when it billows away, it tends to dry out and become cool so that the skin is being continually touched by a cool surface. It is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. The fibers do not stretch and are resistant to damage from abrasion. However, because linen fibers have a very low elasticity, the fabric will eventually break if it is folded and ironed at the same place repeatedly.

Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can also damage the fabric, but it is resistant to moth
Moth
A moth is an insect closely related to the butterfly, both being of the order Lepidoptera. Moths form the majority of this order; there are thought to be 150,000 to 250,000 different species of moth , with thousands of species yet to be described...

s and carpet beetle
Carpet beetle
Carpet beetle may refer to any of the following types of beetle:*Dermestidae, a family of Coleoptera*Varied carpet beetle, a 3 mm–long beetle that can be a serious household pest...

s. Linen is relatively easy to take care of, since it resists dirt and stains, has no lint or pilling
Pill (textile)
A pill, colloquially known as a bobble, is a small ball of fibres that forms on a piece of cloth from wear. Pill is also a verb for the formation of such balls....

 tendency, and can be dry cleaned, machine washed or steamed. It can withstand high temperatures, and has only moderate initial shrinkage
Shrinkage (fabric)
Shrinkage is when a fabric becomes smaller than its original size, usually through the process of laundry. Novice users of modern laundry machines sometimes experience accidental shrinkage of garments, especially when applying heat. Others may intentionally try to shrink a garment in their size...

.

Linen should not be dried too much by tumble drying: it is much easier to iron when damp. Linen wrinkles very easily, and so some more formal linen garments require ironing often, in order to maintain perfect smoothness. Nevertheless the tendency to wrinkle is often considered part of the fabric's particular "charm", and a lot of modern linen garments are designed to be air dried on a good hanger and worn without the necessity of ironing.

A characteristic often associated with contemporary linen yarn is the presence of "slubs", or small knots which occur randomly along its length. However, these slubs are actually defects associated with low quality. The finest linen has very consistent diameter threads, with no slubs.

Measure


The standard measure of bulk linen yarn is the lea, which is the number of yards in a pound of linen divided by 300. For example a yarn having a size of 1 lea will give 300 yards per pound. The fine yarns used in handkerchiefs, etc. might be 40 lea, and give 40x300 = 12,000 yards per pound. This is a specific length therefore an indirect measurement of the fineness of the linen, i.e. the number of length units per unit mass. The symbol is NeL. (3)

More commonly used in continental Europe is the Metric system, Nm. This is the number of 1,000 m lengths per kilogram.

In China, the English Cotton system unit, NeC, is common. This is the number of 840 yard lengths in a pound.

Production method



The quality of the finished linen product is often dependent upon growing conditions and harvesting techniques. To generate the longest possible fibers, flax is either hand-harvested by pulling up the entire plant or stalks are cut very close to the root. After harvesting, the seeds are removed through a mechanized process called “rippling” or by winnowing.

The fibers must then be loosened from the stalk. This is achieved through retting
Retting
Retting is a process employing the action of micro-organisms and moisture on plants to dissolve or rot away much of the cellular tissues and pectins surrounding bast-fibre bundles, and so facilitating separation of the fibre from the stem...

. This is a process which uses bacteria to decompose the pectin that binds the fibers together. Natural retting methods take place in tanks and pools, or directly in the fields. There are also chemical retting methods; these are faster, but are typically more harmful to the environment and to the fibers themselves.

After retting, the stalks are ready for scutching
Scutching
Scutching is a step in the dressing of flax in preparation for spinning. The scutching process is the first attempt to remove the straw and woody stem from the flax fibers. The flax fibers that are spun are inside the woody stalk, so to obtain the fibers the stalk must be removed. Scutching can be...

, which takes place between August and December. Scutching removes the woody portion of the stalks by crushing them between two metal rollers, so that the parts of the stalk can be separated. The fibers are removed and the other parts such as linseed, shive, and tow
Tow
In the composites industry, a tow is an untwisted bundle of continuous filaments, and it refers to man-made fibres, particularly carbon fibres ....

 are set aside for other uses. Next the fibers are heckled
Heckling (flax)
Heckling splits and straightens the flax fibers, as well as removing the fibrous core and impurities from flax. Heckling is done with heckling combs by pulling the flax through the combs. This parts the locked fibers and makes them straight, clean, and ready to spin. After heckling, the flax is...

: the short fibers are separated with heckling comb
Heckling comb
Heckling combs are used to remove the fibrous core and impurities from flax. A heckling comb, or heckle is a bed of iron, steel or brass "nails"- sharp, long, tapered, tempered, polished pins driven into wooden blocks at regular spacing. In the heckling process the flax is drawn through the nails,...

s by 'combing' them away, to leave behind only the long, soft flax fibers.

After the fibers have been separated and processed, they are typically spun into yarns and woven or knit into linen textiles. These textiles can then be bleached, dyed, printed on, or finished with a number of treatments or coatings.

An alternate production method is known as “cottonizing” which is quicker and requires less equipment. The flax stalks are processed using traditional cotton machinery; however, the finished fibers often lose the characteristic linen look.

See also: hand processing flax

Producers


Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is primarily grown in Western Europe. In very recent years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China, but high quality fabrics are still confined to niche producers in Ireland
Irish Linen
Irish Linen is the tenth of the Nuala Anne McGrail series of mystery novels by Roman Catholic priest and author Father Andrew M. Greeley....

, Italy and Belgium. Also countries including Poland, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Britain and Kochi
Kochi
-Places:* Kochi, a city in the state of Kerala, India, formerly known as Cochin* Kingdom of Cochin, a former feudal city-state on Malabar Coast, India** Fort Kochi, one of the three main urban components which constitute the present day city of Kochi, Kerala, India...

 in India. High quality linen fabrics are now produced in the United States for the upholstery market.

Uses


Over the past 30 years the end use for linen has changed dramatically. Approximately 70% of linen production in the 1990s was for apparel textiles whereas in the 1970s only about 5% was used for fashion fabrics.

Linen uses range from bed and bath fabrics (tablecloths, dish towels, bed sheets, etc.), home and commercial furnishing items (wallpaper/wall coverings, upholstery, window treatments, etc.), apparel items (suits, dresses, skirts, shirts, etc.), to industrial products (luggage, canvases, sewing thread, etc.). It was once the preferred yarn for handsewing the uppers of moccasin
Moccasin (footwear)
A moccasin is a slipper made of deerskin or other soft leather, consisting of a sole and sides made of one piece of leather, stitched together at the top, and sometimes with a vamp . Though sometimes worn inside, it is chiefly intended for outdoor use, as in exploring wildernesses and running from...

-style shoes (loafers
Loafers
Slip-ons are typically low, lace-less shoes. The style most commonly seen, known as a loafer or Slippers in American culture, has a moccasin construction. First appearing in the mid-1930s from Norway, they began as casual shoes, but have increased in popularity to the point of being worn in America...

), but its use has been replaced by synthetics.

A linen handkerchief, pressed and folded to display the corners, was a standard decoration of a well-dressed man's suit during most of the first part of the 20th century.

Currently researchers are working on a cotton/flax blend to create new yarns which will improve the feel of denim during hot and humid weather.

Linen fabric is one of the preferred traditional supports for oil painting
Oil painting
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil—especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body...

. In the United States cotton is popularly used instead as linen is many times more expensive there, restricting its use to professional painters. In Europe however, linen is usually the only fabric support available in art shops. Linen is preferred to cotton for its strength, durability and archival integrity.

Linen is also used extensively by artisan bakers. Known as a couche, the flax cloth is used to hold the dough into shape while in the final rise, just before baking. The couche is heavily dusted with flour which is rubbed into the pores of the fabric. Then the shaped dough is placed on the couche. The floured couche makes a "non stick" surface to hold the dough. Then ridges are formed in the couche to keep the dough from spreading. It sort of looks like this /\o/\o/\o/\o/\ where the "o" is the dough and the /\/\/\/\ is the folded couche.

In the past linen was also used for books (the only surviving example of which is the Liber Linteus
Liber Linteus
The Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis is the longest Etruscan text and the only extant linen book...

). Due to its strength, in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 linen was used for shield
Shield
A shield is a type of personal armor, meant to intercept attacks, either by stopping projectiles such as arrows or redirecting a hit from a sword, mace or battle axe to the side of the shield-bearer....

s and gambeson
Gambeson
A gambeson is a padded defensive jacket, worn as armour separately, or combined with mail or plate armour. Gambeson were produced with a sewing technique called quilting. Usually constructed of linen or wool, the stuffing varied, and could be for example scrap cloth or horse hair...

 (among other roles such as use for a bowstring), much as in Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 it was used to make a type of body armour, referred to as a Linothorax
Linothorax
The linothorax was a type of upper body armor used by the Ancient Greeks, as well as other civilizations, from the Mycenaean Period through the Hellenistic Period. The earliest attested account of a linothorax used for battle is recorded in Book 2 of Homer's Iliad . It is worn by Ajax the lesser...

. Also because of its strength when wet, Irish linen
Irish linen
Irish linen is the brand name given to linen produced in Ireland. Linen is cloth woven from, or yarn spun from the flax fibre, which was grown in Ireland for many years before advanced agricultural methods and more suitable climate led to the concentration of quality flax cultivation in northern...

 is a very popular wrap of pool/billiard cues, due to its absorption of sweat from hands. Paper made of linen can be very strong and crisp, which is why the United States and many other countries print their currency on paper that is made from 25% linen and 75% cotton.

History


Linen was used by Egyptians in ancient times for mummification. Egyptians used linen as burial shrouds. The ancient Egyptians wore linen on a daily basis. They wore only white because of the extreme heat. Linen fabric has been used for table coverings, bed coverings and clothing for centuries. The exclusiveness of linen comes from the difficulty of working with the thread making it time consuming to produce (flax in itself requires a great deal of attention to grow). Flax thread is not elastic so is difficult to weave without breaking threads. Thus it is more expensive to manufacture than cotton.

The Living Linen
Living Linen
The Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 as an oral archive of the knowledge of the Irish linen industry still available within a nucleus of people who were formerly working in the industry in Ulster....

 Project was set up in 1995 as an Oral Archive of the knowledge of the Irish linen
Irish linen
Irish linen is the brand name given to linen produced in Ireland. Linen is cloth woven from, or yarn spun from the flax fibre, which was grown in Ireland for many years before advanced agricultural methods and more suitable climate led to the concentration of quality flax cultivation in northern...

 industry which is still available within a nucleus of people who formerly worked in the industry in Ulster. There is a long history of linen in Ireland.

The discovery of dyed flax fibers in a cave in Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

 dated to 36,000 BP
Before Present
Before Present years is a time scale used in archaeology, geology, and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the "present" time changes, standard practice is to use AD 1950 as the origin of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon...

 suggests people used wild flax fibers to create linen-like fabrics from an early date.
The use of linen for priestly vestments was not confined to the Israelites. Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 wrote that the priests of Isis also wore linen because of its purity.

In December 2006 the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Natural Fibres
International Year of Natural Fibres
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres, as well as the International Year of Astronomy.The proposal for this international year originated in FAO at a joint meeting of the Intergovernmental Group on Hard Fibres and the Intergovernmental Group...

 to raise the profile of linen and other natural fiber
Natural fiber
Fibers or fibres are a class of hair-like materials that are continuous filaments or are in discrete elongated pieces, similar to pieces of thread. They can be spun into filaments, thread, or rope. They can be used as a component of composite materials. They can also be matted into sheets to...

s.

Antiquity


When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses II, who died 1213 BC, was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation - after more than 3000 years.

In the Belfast Library there is preserved the mummy of "Kaboolie,' the daughter of a priest of Ammon, who died 2,500 years ago. The linen on this mummy is in a like state of perfection. When the tomb of Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun , Egyptian , ; approx. 1341 BC – 1323 BC) was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty , during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom...

 was opened, the linen curtains were found intact.

Earliest linen industry


The earliest records of an established linen industry are 4,000 years old, from Egypt. The earliest written documentation of a linen industry comes from the Linear B
Linear B
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization...

 tablets of Pylos
Pylos
Pylos , historically known under its Italian name Navarino, is a town and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Pylos-Nestoras, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit. It was the capital of the former...

, Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, where linen is depicted as an ideogram
Ideogram
An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms.Examples of...

 and also written as "li-no" (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

: λίνον, linon), and the female linen workers are cataloged as "li-ne-ya" (λίνεια, lineia).

The Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

ns, who, with their merchant fleet, opened up new channels of commerce to the peoples of the Mediterranean, besides developing the tin mines of Cornwall
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

, introduced flax growing and the making of linen into Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 before the common era
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

, but it is not until the twelfth century that we can find records of a definite attempt to systematize flax production.

When the Edict of Nantes
Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Nantes, issued on 13 April 1598, by Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. In the Edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity...

 was revoked, in 1685, many of the Huguenots who had to flee France settled in the British Isles, and amongst them was Louis Crommelin, who was born, and brought up as a weaver of fine linen, in the town of Cambrai
Cambrai
Cambrai is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included...

. He fled to Ulster, and eventually settled down in the small town of Lisburn, about ten miles from Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

. Belfast itself is perhaps the most famous linen producing center throughout history, during the Victorian era the majority of the world's linen was produced in the city which gained it the name Linenopolis
Linenopolis
Linenopolis was a nickname applied to Belfast, Northern Ireland in the 19th century.During the American Civil War there were disruptions to the supply of cotton reaching Europe, and during this period Irish linen experienced somewhat of a revival. There was a shortage of cotton goods on the world...

.

During the late war Cambrai became well known as one of the centers of the most desperate fighting. The name "cambric
Cambric
Cambric, pronounced , "one of the finest and most dense species of the cloth manufacture", is a lightweight plain weave cloth, originally from Cambrai, woven in greige, then bleached and piece-dyed, often glazed or calendered. Initially made from flax, then cotton in the 19th century, it is also...

" is derived from this town.

Although the linen industry was already established in Ulster, Louis Crommelin found scope for improvement in weaving, and his efforts were so successful that he was appointed by the Government to develop the industry over a much wider range.than the small confines of Lisburn and its surroundings. The direct result of his good work was the establishment, under statute, of the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland in the year 1711.

Religion


In the Jewish faith, the only law concerning which fabrics may be interwoven together in clothing is one which concerns the mixture of linen and wool. This mixture is called shaatnez and is clearly restricted in "Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together" and , "'...neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.'" There is no explanation for this in the Torah itself and is categorized as a type of law known as chukim, a statute beyond man's ability to comprehend. Josephus suggested that the reason for the prohibition was to keep the laity from wearing the official garb of the priests, while Maimonides thought that the reason was because heathen priests wore such mixed garments. Others explain that it is because God often forbids mixtures of disparate kinds, not designed by God to be compatible in a certain way, with mixing animal and vegetable fibers being similar to having two different types of plowing animals yoked together. And that such commands serve both a practical as well as allegorical purpose, perhaps here preventing a priestly garment that would cause discomfort (or excessive sweat) in a hot climate. Linen is also mentioned in the Bible in Proverbs 31, a passage describing a noble wife. Proverbs 31:22 says, "She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple."

Etymology


The word linen is derived from the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 for the flax
Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 plant, which is linum, and the earlier Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 linon. This word history has given rise to a number of other terms:
  • Line
    Line (geometry)
    The notion of line or straight line was introduced by the ancient mathematicians to represent straight objects with negligible width and depth. Lines are an idealization of such objects...

    , derived from the use of a linen thread
    Yarn
    Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres, suitable for use in the production of textiles, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, embroidery and ropemaking. Thread is a type of yarn intended for sewing by hand or machine. Modern manufactured sewing threads may be finished with wax or...

     to determine a straight line;
  • Liniment
    Liniment
    Liniment , from the Latin linere, to anoint, is a medicated topical preparation for application to the skin. Preparations of this type are also called balm...

    , due to the use of finely ground flax seeds as a mild irritant applied to the skin to ease muscle pain
  • Lining
    Lining
    Lining may refer to:* Lining , the process of inserting an inner layer of fabric, fur, or other material* Brake lining, consumable surfaces in brake systems* Product lining, offering for sale several related products...

    , because linen was often used to create a lining for wool
    Wool
    Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

     and leather
    Leather
    Leather is a durable and flexible material created via the tanning of putrescible animal rawhide and skin, primarily cattlehide. It can be produced through different manufacturing processes, ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.-Forms:...

     clothing
  • Lingerie
    Lingerie
    Lingerie are fashionable and possibly alluring undergarments.Lingerie usually incorporates one or more flexible, stretchy materials like Lycra, nylon , polyester, satin, lace, silk and sheer fabric which are not typically used in more functional, basic cotton undergarments.The term in the French...

    , via French, originally denotes underwear made of linen
  • Linseed oil
    Linseed oil
    Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, is a clear to yellowish oil obtained from the dried ripe seeds of the flax plant . The oil is obtained by cold pressing, sometimes followed by solvent extraction...

    , an oil derived from flax
    Flax
    Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

     seed
  • Linoleum
    Linoleum
    Linoleum is a floor covering made from renewable materials such as solidified linseed oil , pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and mineral fillers such as calcium carbonate, most commonly on a burlap or canvas backing; pigments are often added to the materials.The finest linoleum floors,...

    , a floor covering made from linseed oil and other materials


In addition, the term in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, flaxen-haired, denoting a very light, bright blonde, comes from a comparison to the color of raw flax fiber.

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