Linen is crisp, clean and comfortable. Soft, yet strong and durable. The more it is used, the softer and stronger it becomes. It can absorb up to 20% of its weight in moisture before it feels damp, and easily releases moisture to the air to remain cool and dry to the touch. Flax remains colorfast and launders beautifully. It has the additional advantage to be non-allergenic.
Linen is a yarn or fabric made from the cultivated flax plant, named ‘Linum usitatissimum’. Linum Usitatissimum translates from Latin as “most useful linen.” It is a cellulosic plant fiber, or bast fiber, and it forms the fibrous bundles in the inner bark of the stems of the plant. The plant is an annual that grows to a height of about a meter and the fibers run the entire length of the stem and help hold it upright. In naming this species, botanists recognized the inherent value of the humble flax plant. For ten thousand years or more, man has known this gentle gift of nature was the source of textiles with special properties: soft hand, rich color absorption, lasting durability, and unrivalled comfort.
The original flax to be used for its fiber was the wild, Linum angustifolium. This is not grown commercially, and is found in southwestern Europe, including Britain, to the Mediterranean, Madeira and the Canaries. It is considered by some experts to be a distinct species in its own right and the parent of Linum usitatissimum, the cultivated flax. The fiber strands are normally released from the cellular and woody stem tissue by a process known as retting (controlled rotting). In Ireland this was traditionally done in water, rivers, ponds or retting dams.
Flax is most renowned as the raw material for an extraordinary fabric. Flax is one of the few crops still produced in Western Europe. Climatic conditions in this region are perfect for growing flax. One of nature’s strongest vegetable fibers, it gets stronger when wet so is ideal to resist the rigors of the laundering process.
Irish linen is the brand name given to linen produced in Ireland. Irish linen is made from the natural flax fiber. Linen is cloth woven from, or yarn spun from the flax fiber, which was grown in Ireland for many years before advanced agricultural methods and more suitable climate led to the concentration of quality flax cultivation in northern Europe (Most of the world crop of quality flax is now grown in Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands). Since about the 1950s to 1960s the flax fiber for Irish Linen yarn has been, almost exclusively, imported from France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It is bought by spinners who produce yarn and this, in turn, is sold to weavers (or knitters) who produce fabric. The best of these yarns are still spun, on the whole, from Northern European flax.
With Belgian linen, for centuries, flax has been grown and transformed into linen fabrics throughout Flanders, the westernmost region of Belgium. The climate and soil of the region, interlaced with many small rivers, have made it ideal for linen production.
Pure linen is an absolutely beautiful and strong fabric and has wonderful characteristics, such as being very durable, long lasting, highly absorbent and quick drying.