The Why and How of Linen

Linen is a fabric woven from the fibers of the flax plant. Linen is laborious to manufacture, but the fiber is very absorbent and garments made of linen are valued for their exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. Unlike cotton, linen has the ability to absorb moisture without feeling unpleasantly damp to the skin.

Linen is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. The fibers do not stretch and are resistant to damage from abrasion. However, because linen fibers have a very low elasticity, the fabric eventually breaks if it is folded and ironed at the same place repeatedly over time.

Linen is relatively easy to take care of, since it resists dirt and stains, has no lint or pilling tendency, and can be dry-cleaned, machine-washed or steamed. Linen should not be dried too much by tumble drying, due to its tendency to shrink lengthwise.

Linen wrinkles very easily, a tendency considered part of its particular charm. South Street Linen clothes are designed to be air-dried on a good clothes hanger and worn without the necessity of ironing.

Linen has been used as cloth for at least 10,000 years. The word linen comes from the Latin for the flax plant, linum. (The word ‘line’ derives from the use of a linen thread to determine a straight line.) There are records of an active linen industry in Egypt 4,000 years ago.

The successful cultivation of flax (the fiber from which linen is made) is extremely weather and climate dependent. Quality of soil, rotation of crops and harvest methods all effect the quality of the final product. After harvesting the flax plants have to undergo  a series of time-consuming processes to produce linen thread - rippling, retting, scutching and hackling. Watch this beautiful video to learn about the steps required to turn flax into linen.

Today the best flax is grown in western Europe, and high quality linen is still the provenance of niche producers in European Union countries. South Street Linen sources its material from mills in Lithuania and Ireland.

Every bolt of linen has been touched by many hands, perhaps in many countries. Linen is a fabric that links us to history. It is more comfortable against the skin than wool, more versatile than silk. It becomes softer after each washing. It is a classic fabric that endures.