AskDefine | Define linen

Dictionary Definition

linen

Noun

1 a fabric woven with fibers from the flax plant
2 a high-quality paper made of linen fibers or with a linen finish [syn: linen paper]
3 white goods or clothing made with linen cloth

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

Old English līnen, from Germanic *līnīno-, from *līnom, from or cognate with Latin linum.

Pronunciation

  • /ˈlɪnɪn/

Noun

  1. (uncountable) Thread or cloth made from flax fiber.
  2. Domestic textiles made from linen or linen-like fabrics, such as tablecloths, bedding, towels, and the such.
    She placed the freshly washed linens into the linen closet.
  3. (colour) A light beige colour, like that of linen cloth.
    linen colour:   

Translations

material
items
colour

Derived terms

Related terms

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Extensive Definition

Linen is a material made from the fibers of the flax plant.'''

Flax fiber

The term "linen" refers to yarn and fabric made from flax fibers; however, today it is often used as a generic term to describe a class of woven bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles because traditionally linen was so widely used for towels, sheets, etc. In the past, the word also referred to lightweight undergarments such as shirts, chemises, waistshirts, lingerie, and detachable shirt collars and cuffs. Linens were manufactured almost exclusively of fibers from the flax plant Linum usitatissimum. But textiles made of cotton, hemp, and other plant fibers have also been referred to as 'linen' which can make the exact referent of the term somewhat unclear.
Highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, linen fabric feels cool to the touch. Linen is the strongest of the vegetable fibers with 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. It is smooth, making the finished fabric lint free, and gets softer the more it is washed. However, constant creasing in the same place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads. This wear can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased during laundering. Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily explaining why it wrinkles so easily.
Linen textiles may be the oldest in the world. Their history goes back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns and various types of fabrics which date back to about 8000 B.C. have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Linen was used in the Mediterranean in the pre-Christian age. Linen was sometimes used as currency in ancient Egypt. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth. Some of these fabrics, woven from hand spun yarns, were extremely fine and cannot be matched by modern spinning techniques.
Today linen is usually an expensive textile and is produced in relatively small quantities. It has a long "staple" (individual fiber length) relative to cotton and other natural fibers.

Description of flax fibers

Flax fibres vary in length from about 25 to 150 centimeters (18 to 55 in) and average 12-16 micrometers in diameter. There are two varieties: shorter tow fibres used for coarser fabrics and longer line fibres used for finer fabrics. Flax fibers can be identified by their typical “nodes” which add to the flexibility and texture of the fabric. The cross-section of the fibre is made up of irregular polygonal shapes which contribute to the coarse texture of the fabric.

Properties of flax

Linen fabrics have a high natural luster and their natural color ranges between shades of ivory, ecru, tan, or grey. Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching. Linen typically has a thick and thin character with a crisp and textured feel to it, but can range from stiff and rough to soft and smooth. When adequately prepared, linen has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. It can gain up to 20% moisture without feeling damp.
When freed from impurities it is highly absorbent and will quickly remove perspiration from the skin. Linen is a stiff fabric and is less likely to cling to the skin and when it billows away it tends to dry out and become cool so that the skin is being continually touched by a cool surface. It is a very durable, strong fabric and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. It does not stretch and is resistant to damage from abrasion. However, because it has very low elasticity it can break if it is folded at the same place repeatedly. Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can also damage the fabric, but it is resistant to moths and carpet beetles. 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. It can withstand high temperatures and yields only moderate initial shrinkage.
An alternate production method is known as “cottonizing” which is quicker and requires less equipment. The flax stalks are processed using traditional cotton machinery; however, the finished fibers often lose the characteristic linen look.

Producers

Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is primarily grown in Western Europe. In very recent years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China, but quality fabrics are still confined to niche producers in Ireland, Italy and Belgium.

Uses

Over the past 30 years the end use for linen has changed dramatically. Approximately 70% of linen production in the 1990s was for apparel textiles whereas in the 1970s only about 5% was used for fashion fabrics.
Linen uses range from bed and bath fabrics (table cloths, dish towels, bed sheets, etc.), home and commercial furnishing items (wallpaper/wall coverings, upholstery, window treatments, etc.), apparel items (suits, dresses, skirts, shirts, etc.), to industrial products (luggage, canvases, sewing thread, etc.).
Linen fabric is one of the preferred traditional supports for oil painting. In the United States cotton is popularly used instead as linen is many times more expensive there, restricting its use to professional painters. In Europe however, linen is usually the only fabric support available in art shops. Linen is preferred to cotton for its strength, durability and archival integrity.
In the past linen was also used for books (the only surviving example of which is the Liber Linteus). Due to its strength, in the Middle Ages linen was used for shields and gambeson, much like how in Classical antiquity and Hellenistic Greece linen was used to make multi-plied Hoplite cuirasses. Also because of its strength when wet, Irish linen is a very popular wrap of pool/billiard cues, due to its absorption of sweat from hands. Paper made of linen can be very strong and crisp, which is why the United States and many other countries print their currency on paper that is made from 25% linen and 75% cotton.

Linen's history

Linen has been used for table coverings, bed coverings and clothing for centuries. The exclusivity of linen stems from the fact that it is difficult and time consuming to produce (flax in itself requires a great deal of attention in its growth). Flax is difficult to weave because of its lack of elasticity, and therefore is more expensive to manufacture than cotton. The benefits of linen however, are unmatched.
Due to the parallel arrangement of its fibers, linen is a stronger, sturdier fabric than cotton. In addition, linen is highly absorbent (perfect for dish towels and napkins). Due to its insulating qualities, linen coverings (such as smocks) provide cooling benefits, ideal for warm kitchens. The subtle combination of firmness and softness of linen make this fabric a favorite.
Linen can be machine-washed (and grows softer with time and use) and then ironed while still damp with a hot iron. Linen products tend to outlast cotton, enduring up to 20 years of use.
The Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 as an Oral Archive of the knowledge of the Irish linen industry still available within a nucleus of people who were formerly working in the industry in Ulster . There is a long history of linen in Ireland.
The use of linen for priestly vestments was not confined to the Israelites, but from Plutarch, who lived and wrote one hundred years after the birth of Christ, we know that also the priests of Isis wore linen because of its purity.

The antiquity of linen

When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, who died 1213 BC, was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation - after more than 3000 years.
In the Belfast Library there is preserved the mummy of "Kaboolie,' the daughter of a priest of Ammon, who died 2,500 years ago. The linen on this mummy is in a like state of perfection. When the tomb of Tutankamen was opened, the linen curtains were found intact.

Earliest linen industry

In olden days, in almost every country, each family grew flax and wove the linen for its own use; but the earliest records of an established linen industry are 4,000 years old, and come to us from Egypt. The earliest written documentation of a linen industry comes from the Linear B tablets of Pylos, Greece, where linen is depicted as an ideogram and also written as "ri-no" (Greek: λίνον, linon), and the female linen workers are catalogued as "ri-ne-ja" (λίνεια, lineia).
The Phoenicians, who, with their merchant fleet, opened up new channels of commerce to the peoples of the Mediterranean, besides developing the tin mines of Cornwall, introduced flax growing and the making of linen into Ireland before the birth of Christ, but the internal dissensions, which even in those early days were prevalent in Erin, militated against the establishment of an organized industry, and it is not until the twelfth century that we can find records of a definite attempt to systematize flax production.
When the Edict of Nantes was revoked, in A.D. 1695, many of the Huguenots who had to flee the country settled in the British Isles, and amongst them was Louis Crommelin, who was born, and brought up as a weaver of fine linen, in the town of Cambrai. He fled to Ulster, and eventually settled down in the small town of Lisburn, about ten miles from Belfast.
During the late war Cambrai became well known as one of the centers of the most desperate fighting. The name "cambric" is derived from this town.
Although the linen industry was already established in Ulster, Louis Crommelin found scope for improvement in weaving, and his efforts were so successful that he was appointed by the Government to develop the industry over a much wider range .than the small confines of Lisburn and its surroundings. The direct result of his good work was the establishment, under statute, of the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland in the year 1711.

Religion

In the Jewish religion, the only law concerning what fabrics which may be used in clothing is the mixture of linen and wool. This mixture is called shaatnez and is clearly restricted in Bible verse |Deuteronomy|22:11|HE "Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together" and Bible verse |Leviticus|19:19|HE, "'...neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.'" There is no explanation for this in the Torah and any attempt to explain the restriction is generally considered futile. This is a type of law known as hukim, a statute beyond man's ability to comprehend.

Linguistic note

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.

External links

References

linen in Czech: Len
linen in German: Leinen (Faser)
linen in Spanish: Lino
linen in French: Lin textile
linen in Indonesian: Linen
linen in Italian: Lino (fibra)
linen in Dutch: Linnen
linen in Japanese: リンネル
linen in Polish: Tkanina lniana
linen in Russian: Льняная ткань
linen in Simple English: Linen
linen in Swedish: Linnetyg

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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