Stefanie Rudolph

Linen - the textile fibre with the longest history

and why it matters in the future.

The origin of linen fabrics


In ancient Egypt, linen fibres and the fabrics made from them were so popular that linen was even traded as currency. Accordingly it comes as no surprise that a linen shirt - a burial object - from the 4th millennium BC turned out to be the oldest woven garment in the world. Technically and stylistically, however, a lot has changed since then.

Linen Fashion Woman

After linen had temporarily received less attention due to the advent of cotton and later synthetic fibres, it has gradually found its way back into our wardrobes since the 1990s, proving once again that its excellent properties are not only useful for mummification or home textiles such as bed linen or tablecloths, but also for high-end fashion.

Get over floppy country fashion and all the other clichés that this fabric serves - linen is surprisingly versatile and helps create unique looks in the field of fashion.

Not only does linen have a number of great properties, this fibre is also a purely natural and therefore sustainable one. This aspect is very beneficial, especially with regard to the current generation of customers, which is increasingly moving towards the lifestyle of health and sustainability and shaping the associated change in consumer behaviour. Nevertheless, linen, until now, accounts for only two percent of the world's fibre production, which is equivalent to 2 million tonnes of linen production annually. The largest growing regions are China, the EU (especially Belgium and France) as well as Russia and Belarus, Ukraine and last but not least Egypt. Consequently, what is special about linen fibre is that it is the only natural fibre available on the market in controlled organic quality from domestic cultivation (Western Europe).

Linen Seeds

But what exactly is grown here?


It is the flax plant from whose resistant stems the linen or flax fibres are obtained. The fibre belongs to the genus of bast fibres.

But not only the fibres, but also the seeds of the plant can be used in various ways, e.g. as oil, protein or a kind of nectar - in the food sector as well as in animal food or medical products - or, last but not least, as linseed oil.

Advantages and disadvantages of linen as a textile fibre


Compared to other bast fibres, such as hemp or jute, the linen fibre is easily divisible and finely spinnable, making it ideal for clothing and bed linen. The linen fibre is smooth and the linen fabric traps little air - consequently linen is lint-free. In addition, the fibre is naturally bactericidal, dirt-repellent and has good antistatic properties.

In addition, linen fibre, by its very nature, offers good moisture management. Linen absorbs up to 35% of its own weight in moisture without feeling clammy, as the fibres exchange moisture quite quickly with ambient air. This creates the cooling effect of linen, which makes it a particularly popular summer fabric.

The accumulation or saving of water on the surface of the fabric is also the cause of its antistatic properties. Since linen absorbs moisture extremely well, it must be taken into account that it also requires a correspondingly long drying time after washing.

The linen fibre is very tear-resistant, but at the same time extremely inelastic. So on the one hand it is extremely strong in form, hard-wearing and durable, but on the other hand it is also particularly prone to creasing. However, creases in linen clothing are not a reason to hide - this condition has been made socially acceptable as "noble crease", as it can at the same time be seen as an obvious sign of quality.

Furthermore linen is susceptible to friction. Linen fabric has a lower abrasion resistance than cotton, for example, and should therefore only be washed on the delicate washing cycle or by hand without rubbing.

Finally, it should be mentioned that dry heat damages the fabric, which is why the use of dryers is generally not recommended. Also, when ironing, make sure that the fabric is still slightly damp. This is recommended for another reason - as strong as the linen, unfortunately, are the creases that the material can cause. To make the ironing process easier, it is therefore recommended to iron the material when it still has a bit of moisture in it.

Otherwise, linen is quite resistant and hard-wearing - boil wash, suds, dry cleaning agents or high ironing temperatures cannot harm the material.

Coloured linen

The thing about colouring


Care should be taken when bleaching linen, as it can lose up to a fifth of its weight during full bleaching, for example. This in turn also affects the result of the dyeing process. The unbleached, slightly beige natural shade of linen consequently leads to less pure colour results. However, there are different dyeing methods to cater for these particularities.

Advantages and disadvantages in the manufacturing process


In the past, the production of linen was considered harmful to the environment because lyes were used in the production process. Today, more environmentally friendly methods have emerged that are gentler on nature. For the conventional cultivation of linen, basically few pesticides and mineral fertilisers are used. If, in addition, flax is grown under controlled organic conditions, the environmental impact is even lower. However, the possibilities of comprehensive organic cultivation are limited due to the time-consuming harvesting and retting on the ground. Dew retting, or ground retting, is the most common and at the same time the most environmentally friendly method of detaching the fabric from the fibre bundle. As the name suggests, this method requires dew, which is not available in dry regions. Here, warm water roasting is used for this purpose, which leads to the formation of waste water that can damage the environment.

Labelling and qualities


The CELC (European Confederation of Flax and Hemp) awards the masters of linen seal, a protected trademark, for linen products from 100% Western European cultivation, from field to fabric. The four symbols with the stylised "L" stand for qualities ranging from pure linen to half linen.

In Germany, according to the Textile Labelling Act (TKG), the terms flax or linen apply to bast fibres from the stalks of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum). But half-linen is also a protected term for a blended fabric made of cotton and linen. The usual mixing ratio is 50:50. The thin longitudinal thread (warp thread) consists of pure cotton, the strong transverse thread (weft) consists of 100 % linen. According to the Textile Labelling Act, a fabric designated as half-linen must consist of at least 40 % linen. Pure linen, on the other hand, must contain pure flax yarns in the warp and weft. The abbreviation for the fibre raw material flax / linen is LI (proportions of raw materials in blended fabrics); only 100 % linen may be designated as "linen, pure".

Linen Close Up

Conclusion

Linen has not been completely replaced by anything in the 10,000 years that it has probably been in use. And it's not that it's just somehow keeping its head above water these days, no, it almost looks like a textile comeback. Because linen, thanks to its natural origin and a quite environmentally friendly production process, fits well into the globally increasing sustainable lifestyle and a more and more conscious consumer behaviour. Furthermore, it offers a multitude of useful properties and is used in various areas of life.

As a result, linen (like almost every fibre) is irreplaceable for some products, while it is not at all or only partially suitable for others.

Even if our focus on business shirts and crease-resistant fabrics means that we have to give priority to other fibres such as cotton or merino wool, we still value the properties of linen very highly and incorporate at least some of it into our fabrics to give them more durability and stability in shape or to make use of its cooling, water-absorbing properties.

Stefanie Rudolph

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