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Q: Do you ever use linen when designing a clothing line?
A: I have not used any linen, or flax as this cloth is also called, on any of my clothing designs, as of yet. However, I still plan to incorporate this fabric into various shirt designs in the not too distant future.

History of Linen

Linen is the term given to cloth produced from the fibers of the flax plant. Cloth made from the harvesting of the flax plant has been in use for a very long time, all over the world. Flax is believed to be the oldest domesticated plant species. The use of linen goes all the way back to the old Roman days and earlier. Archeologists found a sample of flax cloth in a cave in the nation of Georgia that was carbon dated at 30,000 years of age. Linen is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the bible many times. Linen was the preferred fabric of ancient Egypt due to its cool feel in warm weather. The ancient Egyptians also associated linen with spiritual purity. The old Egyptian pharos were known for wearing fine linen. The ancient Egyptians used linen and flax based resins to mummify their dead. In more recent times linen has primarily been used for industrial purposes. Linen is now finding its way back into the clothing industry. Linen is now popular in pants and jackets but also works well for designing shirts.

Even in this day and age, linen, like hemp, is still a surprisingly labor intensive fabric to produce. The flax plant, like hemp and bamboo, follow the same basic process of turning the woody and fibrous stems of a domesticated plant into a usable textile fiber. The flax plant is first grown in fields like any other row crop. The leaves of the flax plant are useful as animal feed and the seeds are useful as a food product to both animals and humans. Flax seed oil is a popular health supplement, as is hemp seed oil. Even in these times of automation, the stocks of flax and hemp are still often cut by hand at the base of the roots when harvest time comes. Cutting flax stocks is referred to as winnowing. Flax stocks, like hemp stocks, are then broken down by bacteria to remove the excess plant tissue from the valuable fibers. This process has traditionally been done in pools of water or just by leaving the stocks to decompose in the fields after being cut or winnowed. This process is referred to as retting. Next, the dried and retted stocks of the flax plant are rolled between metal rollers to further separate the cellulose pith from the plant fiber. The process of rolling flax stocks between steel rollers is referred to as scrutching. The scrutching process also produces some industrially useful oils as a by- product. Lastly, the flax fibers are separated by a carding process and made into useful fibers for textiles, this process is referred to as hackling.

Ecological and Social Impact of Linen

Q: Could linen provide a large scale alternative to cotton as a textile of choice?
A: Some of the reasons for flax not being suitable as a large scale substitute for cotton are the fact that flax is somewhat slow growing, and is labor and time intensive to harvest and turn into cloth. Flax is not as thirsty for water, nor as vulnerable to pests and diseases as cotton; however, a troubling amount of pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and fertilizer is used in the large scale cultivation of flax. The flax plant is notably vulnerable to drying out and dying from even moderate water shortages. There is a growing demand for organically grown flax; however, the basic problems associated with the cultivation of flax will make organic flax farming a somewhat expensive and tedious process. Linen receives only a mediocre environmental friendliness rating. It is unlikely that there will be any large scale interest in making cottonized flax. Flax simply grows too slowly to be a competitor to cotton. If linen were to replace cotton as the fabric of choice it would have by now.

Q: What are the advantages of incorporating linen into a clothing design?
A: Linen has a nice cool feeling in warm weather and is a natural fiber so it “breathes” well and is not likely to cause skin irritation to people with allergic reactions to synthetic fibers. Linen holds its shape well and shrinks very little after drying in a dryer. Linen has good resistance to abrasion and wear. Linen is not very prone to attracting and producing lint. Linen is also biodegradable.

Q: What are the disadvantages of using linen?
A: Linen, like all of the plant stem or leaf derived fabrics, is a bit less soft and flexible than cotton or rayon. Linen is prone to getting brittle and having the fibers break over time. The breaking and drying out of linen fibers over time is often first observed in broken fibers around high wear areas and areas of frequent creasing. These areas of high ware and frequent creasing are places such as cuffs and collars. The cuffs and collars on linen shirts are the first places to show the signs of wear and ageing, and generally show signs of wear faster than garments made out of more pliable fabrics. Linen also does not stretch and give very well, but this is also the reason linen holds its shape well. Linen is also well known for wrinkling easily and requiring frequent ironing.