What is Linen?

Sheer Linen Window Panel – White + Ivory

This weekend I was on a hunt for curtains for our living room. We have a double rod in the living room, so I wound up with cotton/linen opaque curtains in a steel gray color on the outer rod, and on the inner rod I’m using white sheer linen curtains. I got to thinking, what is linen exactly? It’s a material I hear of all the time. Not to be confused with “linens” in your “linen” closet (which were indeed made of linen at some point in history, and just kept the nomenclature). I’m talking linen curtains, linen pants, even linen as listed in the ingredients in the fabric our sofa is upholstered in. I’m not sure why, but I just never thought to research exactly what linen is made of. In fact, for the longest time I thought linen was just a form of cotton, an assumption that most likely originated with my association of cotton “linens” in the “linen” closet. So I did a little research, which you may find interesting if you have felt the same linen quandary as I did this weekend.

Linen was used as far back as ancient Egypt and earlier, and since then has been used for currency, clothing, painting, books, and even as a cloth used for baking processes. Linen is actually made of flax fiber, making it a very light and cool fabric. And yes, I mean the same flax whose flax seeds are often found in crackers and bread at Whole Foods. Typically the entire plant is harvested, or as close to the entire plant as possible, to acquire the longest fibers possible. Bacteria is used to loosen up the fibers, and then all the pieces (the wood, fibers, seeds, etc) are all separated from each other for different uses. The longest fibers are then woven together to make fabric.

Apparently linen generally does not take dye well, which is most likely the reason I have seen a lot of linen combined with other fabric (like my cotton/linen curtains). On top of that, the proper way to bleach linen is by using the good old natural bleaching tendencies of our sun. There are also chemical-heavy ways to do this that are faster, but still not simple.

All this makes for a very labor intensive process to create the fabric. Suddenly I understand why linen is such a special fabric!

What do you prefer, cotton or linen?

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