Linen is a fabric manufactured from the fibres of flax. The flax plant is a slender annual from two to three feet high and has small pointed leaves placed alternately on the stem. It bears a pale blue flower.
Flax is a native of Egypt, and the fact that the mummies of Egypt were wrapped in linen proves that it is one of the oldest cloths woven.
The flax plant seems to thrive best in a moist climate. It is extensively cultivated in the north of Ireland, France, and Holland.
The seed is sown in March, and the plants, when the seeds are ripe in autumn, are pulled up by the roots. The seeds are used for medicinal purposes, and when pressed, yield linseed oil. The stems of the plant are hollow, and consist internally of a woody portion called shore or boon, and externally, immediately below the bark, of the cellular tissue from which the flax is prepared.
After the plants are pulled, if the object be to use the seeds, they are spread out in the sun to dry, and the seeds are beat out; this is called rippling.
But if the fibrous part be the chief object, the plants are pulled up before they are fully ripe, and they are then tied in bundles and laid to soak in pools or ditches of water; they are then spread on the grass until fermentation takes place in the glutinous matter which binds the fibres together, thus loosening the fibres and setting them free. This process is called retting.
The next process is called breaking or scutching, which consists in beating the stalks with a broad, flat board, in this way separating the woody fibre from the flax.
The flax is now sent to the spinning mill, where it is roughly sorted and heckled or combed into two grades; the coarse or tangled fibres are called tow, and the finer and longer fibres are called line.
The line is again sorted into different qualities, after which it goes through what is called the drawing process. In this the flax is formed into a continuous ribbon or sliver; it is then drawn until the fibres are evenly arranged in a direction parallel to each other.
The flax is then spun into yarn by much the same process as cotton, the only difference being that it is spun while wet, at a temperature of 120° Fahrenheit.
The flax is now ready for weaving; after weaving, it is carefully bleached.
Ireland, Belgium, and Germany are the most extensive linen manufacturing countries.
Linen possesses many advantages over cotton. It is stronger and more enduring. It is smoother and more lustrous. It is cooler and does not absorb and retain moisture so readily. Not having a fuzzy surface, it is capable of a higher gloss or finish when laundered.
Some of the best-known linen materials are: Huckaback, a dicelike pattern very heavy and serviceable, used for toweling.
Crash, often spoken of as Russia crash, very satisfactory for roller towels; twilled crash, not as serviceable as Russia crash, but cheaper.
Damask, a peculiar weave in which the figure has a satin finish.
Art linen is one in which the thread is round and hard twisted.
Holland, a heavy unbleached linen used for upholstering purposes and occasionally for dresses.
Then come the various grades of linen from sheeting down to fine shirting, and again to linen lawn and grass cloth, which is one of the sheerest fabrics woven.
In giving these names, no attempt has been made to touch upon what might be considered novelties, but only those that are considered standard materials have been mentioned.