Linen, a lightweight, airy fabric that is commonly worn during summer, is made from the fibers of the flax plant. It can utilized in a variety of ways, showing up on dining room tables and in clothes closets alike. The quality of the linen depends on the retting process, which determines the fineness of the fiber and the resultant quality of the fabric.
Rough-spun linen is made from thicker fibers and is coarser in texture. This type of linen is traditionally used for work wear, such as butcher’s aprons and other work gear. Heavier than linen traditionally used for clothing, the rough-spun variety is very durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear. This type of linen, because of its weight, is also traditionally used for embroidery or lacework.
The use of linen has been around since 5,000 B.C. when Egyptians wove linen into fabric to use as clothing. Dresses, coats and cloaks for both women and men were made from linen. Today, linen is used to make a range of other garments, including dress shirts, pants and suits. It is prized for its lightweight breathability, making the fabric well-suited for warm weather and humid conditions.
Linen can be blended with other fibers to create a sturdier fabric; when mixed with wool, it is called wincey. The addition of wool increases the insulative abilities of linen, making it an acceptable fabric for cooler temperatures. The strength of both wool and linen made wincey a common choice of working people around the turn of the 20th Century, as it provided warmth and durability. Today, a cotton-linen blend has become the preferred choice, especially for summer wear. Cotton is lighter than wool and helps linen keep its shape better, adding a slight sheen to the finished product.
The thickness of linen depends on the final use. The linen used for dresses, pants and other clothing has traditionally been much finer and sheerer than linen for household items. One of the primary drawbacks of linen is how easily it wrinkles. After one wear, linen needs to ironed to maintain its presentability. Because of sheer linen's delicate nature, ironing can be a challenge -- proper care demands steaming instead of heavy pressing.
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