Linen is a natural fiber which comes from a plant known as flax. A variety of fabrics are made from linen fabric, though far more were produced (with a far greater variety of names!) historically than are readily available today. Linens available today include handkerchief linen (which is actually a fine weight of lawn), linen lawn, and linen suiting, all of which are usually plain-woven, and thus, types of linen tabby.
“Flax is a bast fiber taken from the stalk of a plant called linum usitatissimum. Bast fibers comprise a large group–flax, ramie, jute, and hemp being the most common. Others are sunn, kenaf, and urena. All bast fibers are largely cellulosic. Both the yarn and the fabric produced from flax are called linen.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, page 63)
“Flax is a bast fiber, meaning that the fiber extends from the root up the stem to the tip of the plant. As a fabric, it is called ‘linen.’ The flax fiber is long, strong, and a good conductor of heat (which is why linen feels cool to the touch). It has low resiliency, which is why it creases so readily–and is so laborious to iron. Flax has a slight luster, which makes it particularly suitable for fancy weaves like damask, because the play of light on the lustrous yarns brings out the woven pattern.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, page 15)
“One of the oldest textiles known. Beautiful, durable, and elegant; has a luster. Can be made naturally into sheer, medium, or even heavyweight fabrics. Used commonly for dresses, blouses, and suiting.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 50)
“Linen is made of flax fibers; fabric woven of hemp fibers is also termed ‘linen’. Hemp and flax can both be cultivated on otherwise marginal land, [are] durable, and can be blended with other natural fibers during spinning. Lower qualities, if not tightly woven of fine threads…can be prone to raveling along cut edges, and should have any open seams overcast or felled.
“Though prone to wrinkling, linen is cool and takes dye well. It will fade with sun exposure, particularly the darker colors. Linen has a good amount of body, and creases well for pleats.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)
For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.
Glossary Entries for Linen Fabrics:
- “Linen” on Wikipedia (Remember to read critically!)
- “The Prewash” by Sarai at The Coletterie
- “Fabric Series: Linen and Rayon” by Caitlin at The Coletterie
Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.
Updated January 10, 2012