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What is linen? Definition & Classification

Linen is a natural fiber used for light summer clothing or fine napkins. The advantages of the material are undisputed. But what about sustainability? And what exactly is linen anyway?

Linen fabric green gray

Linen - the more ecological alternative to cotton?

The flax plant (also: common flax) is a frugal plant that requires little water and can cope with low pesticide use. Its seeds can be used to produce linseed oil, which has a high omega-3 fatty acid content. The stalks, on the other hand, are used to obtain the fibers from which the valuable linen fabric is made.

Definition: What is linen?

Linen is a natural fiber with many advantages: It is very strong and tear-resistant, stain-resistant, bactericidal and lint-free. It absorbs and releases moisture from the air - linen therefore also has a cooling effect and is perfect for bedding and light summer clothing; at the same time, the fabric is dry warming.

How is linen made?

Cultivation of the flax plant is rather unproblematic, as the plant is quite frugal. However, the further production process is laborious: Unlike most plants, flax is not mown, but is torn out of the crop ("ruffled") so as not to destroy the fibers, which are obtained from the stalks.

To obtain the linen fibers, several processing steps are now necessary: farmers first remove the bolls and then spread the remaining plant in the field: Sun, rain and morning dew ensure that the fibers separate from each other ("tauröste"). This fermentation process takes several weeks.

flowering flax
Flowering flax plant

Only now the plant is dried. By breaking and swinging one obtains the long fibers, from which finally a yarn can be spun. Since linen fibers are inherently quite irregular, care must be taken to weave a very uniform, expensive yarn.

Where does linen come from?

The largest producer of flax fibers is China, followed by Russia, Belarus and Belorussia. In Europe, flax is grown mainly in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The plant also grows in North America; however, Canada produces primarily linseed oil.

Is linen and flax the same thing?

beige linen fabric
Linen fabric looks noble and at the same time robust.

In fact, the terms are often used interchangeably: The scientifically correct name for the flax plant is "common flax," and the fibers obtained are called both flax and linen fibers.

The fabric made from the fibers is usually called linen (cloth). In fact, this is actually also a collective term: because "linen" was originally made not only from flax, but also from hemp fibers. Both plants are closely related and their fibers are so similar that no difference is visible to the naked eye.

Flax: How sustainable is linen compared to cotton?

Flax has some ecological advantages: It is (like cotton) a natural product that is biodegradable. However, unlike its cheap competitor, it requires significantly less water, fertilizer and pesticides in cultivation.

Linen - the ideal material for napkins?

Linen is stain-resistant and robust: it is a very nice material for napkins, which should be durable and timeless. Unlike cotton, linen creases relatively easily. This is considered a disadvantage for clothing and bedding, but gives napkins a beautiful look. However, those who prefer a smooth surface can also achieve this through proper care, washing and ironing.