Linen is an amazing fabric: it’s not only wonderful to wear, but is also the oldest known fibre, as well as one of the most sustainable!
Linen comes from the flax plant. The plants go through a process called “retting” to help separate the fibres. Flax is a bast fibre, which means that the structure is basically a bunch of long fibres inside of a thicker tube. The retting breaks down the outside and the “glue” holding the fibres together, which then allows the fibres to be separated, spun, and woven or knit.
Linen is absorbent, breathable, and stronger than cotton. The fibres are porous, and it’s great at keeping you cool in the summer but it can also be insulating in colder temperatures. It’s not very elastic, though, and is known for holding wrinkles.
I love linen because…
it gets better with use, becoming softer and silkier over time. It can be crisp and stiff or have a beautiful drape, and typically is woven with that signature linen texture. It also has a natural luster, which makes it more dimensional. While the wrinkles are seen as a downside for most people, I actually love the look of worn linen; the only pieces I avoid are tight-fitting skirts or dresses where you get a large straight crease across the front after sitting. The feeling of linen is lovely, the texture and softness is unique, and the fact that it just gets better with age makes me want to hang on to my linen pieces forever.
Why linen is so sustainable
- Growing flax requires less water than cotton.
- There is very little waste with flax; other part of the plant, like the seeds, can be used to produce linseed oil or flax seeds for consumption.
- Linen typically requires fewer pesticides, herbicides and fungicides than cotton. They are still used, but you can avoid this by looking for organic linen!
- The durability of linen means it lasts longer than other materials.
Hemp is also very similar to linen with a lot of the same benefits.
- The process to make linen takes more time and work, which generally makes it more expensive.
- Organic linen can be difficult to find, although according to Bead & Reel, “linen produced in China has been grown with agro-chemicals and the processing is also higher impact, whereas European and Japanese linen is produced in more natural and low impact methods… you can also feel confident that good quality linen from European or Japanese mills is a good sustainable choice”.
- Due to the lack of elasticity of the fibres, they can break along permanent creases over time. In particular, this is something to be mindful of with respect to areas that are constantly bent or creased, such as where the collar of a shirt folds down.
- The wrinkling can be a con, but I think you just need to be mindful of the kind of garments you choose.
Where to find linen clothing
- Eileen Fisher also carries organic linen.
- Pyne & Smith is a California brand that makes linen dresses.
- Conscious Clothing has an organic linen line.
- Ode to Sunday*makes an entirely linen collection
- Beaumont Organic has a lot of linen and linen blend pieces.
Linen also is wonderful for home textiles; I’m currently saving up to invest in some linen bedding!
Are you a fan of linen?
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