Before I started my research, I didn’t know that linen is made from the flax plant. We’re talking the same flax that provides the seeds that provide all those good Omega-3 acids. Here is some etymological goodness from Wikipedia:
The word linen is derived from the Latin for the flax plant, which is linum, and the earlier Greek linon. This word history has given rise to a number of other terms:
line: derived from the use of a linen thread to determine a straight line;
liniment: due to the use of finely ground flax seeds as a mild irritant applied to the skin to ease muscle pain
lining: because linen was often used to create a lining for wool and leather clothing
lingerie: via French, originally denotes underwear made of linen
linseed oil: an oil derived from flax seed
linoleum: a floor covering made from linseed oil and other materials
In addition, the term in English, flaxen-haired, denoting a very light, bright blonde, comes from a comparison to the color of raw flax fiber.
Hooray for multipurpose plants!
Linen is naturally creamy white to light tan in color, pure white is only achieved through bleaching. It is notorious for wrinkling, but linen lovers just accept that as part of its charm. It is a great hot-weather fabric because it absorbs a lot of moisture (e.g. sweat) without feeling damp and dries quickly, which cools the skin.
Linen is many times stronger than cotton, and is actually stronger wet than it is dry. Slubby texture is a sign of lower-quality linen; the good stuff is very smooth. The fabric doesn’t create lint, it is naturally dirt-resistant, and it takes dye well. It is nonallergenic and antistatic. Though it is crisper and less drapey than cotton, it gets softer over time with washing — and it is machine washable! The long flax fibers are relatively inelastic, which causes the wrinkling. Repeated creasing actually breaks the fibers, causing perma-wrinkles.
It is a naturally eco-friendly fabric, as flax requires less water and fewer pesticides than cotton. And, being a natural fiber, linen fibers are recyclable and biodegrade.
Linen fabric is usually labeled handkerchief weight, medium weight, or heavyweight/bottomweight. (Fabric weight is unstandardized and a bit confusing, read here for more info.)
* Handkerchief weight: 3-4 oz.
* Medium (shirt) weight: 4.5-6.5 oz.
* Heavy or “bottomweight”: 7-8 oz.
Next: sewing with linen, and sources for linen.
Thanks to Tamar for suggesting this topic!