Origin of linen

Introduction To Linen The Oldest Fibre:

Linen is one of the oldest cultivated natural fibres. It is taken from the flax plant; and Linen is a bast fibre that is taken from the stem of the plant.

Linen is the oldest fibre that originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe. Linen was one of the chief imports of Greece from Egypt and Phoenicia.

Linen cloth was used to wrap mummies in ancient Egyptian tombs. They considered linen as a symbol of purity on earth, and of glory in heaven. The burial wrapping shave been found to be in good condition by archeologists, proving the amazing durability of the flax fiber.

History Of Linen:

Flax is the oldest fibre on record. It was grown by the Egyptians along the banks of the Nile (Reference: Kadolph, Langford, Hollen & Saddler, 1993).Other sources lay claim to the earliest usage of flax, to be in the Stone Age(Reference: Cohen &Johnson, 2010).


Linen yarn is produced from a plant called flax. The generic name of the flax plant is Linum Usitatissi. The flax plant can be cultivated only in one growing season and thus, commonly known as an annual plant.

The weather must be warm and dry with deep, rich, soil with less clay and hydrated.


Harvesting is done when the flax plant turns brownishin colour, indicating that the plant is about to matureand ready for harvesting.

The flax plant can be picked in green, yellow and brown.Yellow: most suitable for fibre production.Green: the flax plant pulled early yields weak fibers.Brown: over ripen flax produces short fibres called tow.

The collected stalks are tied in bundles called beets and are then ready for extracting the flax fiber inside the stalk.

Preparation Of The Fibre:


Processing Of Linen:


The seeds and leaves are removed from the stems of the flax plant by passing the stalks through a coarse comb called ripple.It is a tool consisting of vertical pins fixed on a wooden piece that look like a comb. This whole process is called rippling.


The retting process loosens the woody bark of the plant by soaking it in water.Removing of the stalk without harming the flax fiber is very difficult and requires great care. This process is very important to determine the strength of the flax fibre.

The Following Are The Methods Used For Retting Process:

Dew Retting:

This method is specifically used in climates with less rainfall and very effective in areas with heavy night time dews.The stalks are widely spread over a field for about 2-3 three weeks. Once the fermentation takes place, the fibre turns darker in colour and is ready for further process..

Pool Or Dam Retting:

A widely practiced method of retting, water retting involves submerging bundles of stalks in a stagnant pool of water. The stalk is soaked for about 15- 20 days to decompose the woody bark..

Mechanical Retting:

Here, the stalks are soaked in a tub of warm water, quickening the decomposition of the stem. The flax plants are removed from the water, squeezed and is kept for drying for some time before breaking. The stalk becomes partially separated from the fibre when the wet plants are placed in fields to dry..


The bundle of dry flax is pulled through the flax breaking tool by beating it repeatedly till all of the stalks are smashed into small pieces of bark called shives. Breaking either can be done manually or by mechanically..


The stalk converted into shives is now passed through a scutching machine. The machine removes the broken shives by means of rotating wooden paddles releasing the flax fibre from the stalk.


Hackling is the combing process done by hand or machine where it strengthens and separates the short fibre from the long staple fibres.

Tow-The shortest fibre

Line-The medium length fibre

Strick-The longest flax fibre


Tow is put through carding operation, before the spinning process. Line fibers (20-30cm) are put through machines called spreaders which combine fibres of the same length..

Methods Of Spinning:

  1. Dry spinning
  2. Wet spinning
Dry Spinning:

No moisture is used, producing rough uneven yarn which is not strong (inexpensive fabrics)

Wet Spinning:

Passing rove through hot water, gummy substance of fibre is dissolved, smooth and strong yarn is drawn out..

Physical Properties Of Linen:

Length12″ to 20″
LustreFairly lustrous
StrengthStronger than cotton but has less strength than silk
Elongation1 to 1.5% elongation at break
HygroscopicityIt is a hydroscopic fibre
ElasticityInelastic fibre
Diameter8 – 30 um
Moisture regain %11 – 13%
ResilienceIt is relatively stiffer, has less resilience
Heat conductivityGood conductor of heat

Chemical Properties Of Linen:

Chemical compositionCellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin, moisture, wax, pectin
Degree of polymerizationThis has not been asserted with certainty
Fine structureCrystalline: 75 – 80% Amorphous: 20 – 25%
Effect of alkalisStrong alkalis can degrade the fibre. Resistance is good
Effect of acidsCold acids do not affect. Hot concentrated acids hydrolyze the fibre
Effect of sunlightProlonged exposure to sunlight will degrade the fibre
Affinity to dye-stutfsIt is not suitable to dye. But it can be dyed by direct & vat dyes
Effect of bleachingIt is difficult to bleach. Sodium hypochlorite weakens the fiber. Sodium perborate is effective

Biological Properties Of Linen:

Effect of mothNo effect
Effect of micro-organismLinen fibre is attacked by fungi & bacteria. Mildew feeds on linen fabric.

Advantages Of Linen:

  • Excellent strength, gains strength when wet
  • Hydrophilic: absorbs water and dries quickly
  • Cool in warm weather
  • Washable
  • When washing and ironing, it can withstand extremely high temperatures.
  • No static, pilling, or lint problems
  • Unique texture from the thick-and-thin pattern of the fibres.

Disadvantages Of Linen:

  • Wrinkles very easily
  • Fair abrasion, low durability
  • Poor drape and elasticity
  • Expensive

Uses Of Linen:

Tableware, suiting & shirting, clothing apparel, decorative fabrics, surgical &sewing thread, bed linen, kitchen towels, high-quality paper, handkerchief linen,upholstery, draperies and wall coverings.


  • Linen reduces gamma radiation almost by half and protects humans against solar radiation.
  • Common flax is the national flower of Belarus.
  • Flax is one of the most strongest natural fibres which is two times stronger than cotton and three times stronger than wool.

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