An intro to linen
Linen has long been a warm weather staple, and it’s no surprise given the fabric’s moisture-wicking, breathable qualities. Linen fibres are highly absorbent and can even take in up to 20% of their dry weight in moisture without feeling damp to touch – no wonder it’s an Australian favourite in summer! Often described as the fabric of ‘relaxed elegance’, linen is a strong and durable natural fibre, meaning it will last for many summer seasons if cared for properly.
Linen is also loved for its lower environmental impact compared to cotton, as the plant it comes from can be grown in poor soils and requires very little (if any) fertiliser. The production process is also less water intensive and very little of the plant goes to waste.
Where does linen come from?
Linen is one of the world’s oldest fabrics, having been used in Ancient Egypt and even earlier, with fibres found in Swiss dwellings that are from 8000BC – though of course manufacturing processes have changed since then! While we don’t know much about the true origins of linen, historians have found that in Ancient Egypt it was reserved for the upper class and was even used as currency. This link between linen and societal status has also been seen in Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece – no wonder it’s known as a luxe fabric even today! Eventually the flax plant was brought over to Western Europe, with the region becoming one of the world’s biggest linen producing areas as a result.
You might be surprised to learn that linen comes from the flax plant which is commonly grown in Europe and is non-GMO. It’s a fairly quick-growing crop, with roughly 100 days between planting and harvesting. A few weeks after the flax has flowered, it is cut, bundled, and dried in the field. Linen fabric then comes from the soft inner stalks of the flax plant, which are treated, spun, and then woven into linen.
How is linen made?
There are nine stages to linen production, and while you might be familiar with the first two (growing and harvesting), it’s the next seven steps that make linen the soft, breathable fabric we all love!
After the flax is grown and harvested, it goes through a process known as ‘rippling’, where the flax seeds are removed from the dried stalks. The seeds don’t go to waste, as flax seeds are used in a wide variety of applications in the food industry. Fun fact – they’re a great source of protein, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids!
Once all the seeds are removed, the flax stalks go through ‘retting’, where the linen fibres are loosened from the woody stalks. This is usually done by soaking them in water, but some manufacturers choose to separate them using chemicals or by machine. If you’ve ever wondered how linen gets that gorgeous natural beige colour, this is how! It is during the retting process that the fibre gets its colour and just like wine, the amount of sun and the environment it’s grown in can affect its colour. Because of this, linen grown in the same field might have a completely different hue year-to-year.
The next part of the process has an unusual name – ‘scutching’. Though its name is odd, the process is a simple one, as this is where the linen fibres are separated from the stalk by running it through a special machine. The scutching process removes impurities and leaves the flax silky smooth. The flax fibres are then combed to remove any contaminants, and to ensure all the fibres are facing in one direction. Once the fibres are ready, they are the spun to create the yarn, which in turn is woven into a fabric. The weaving process is part of what helps keep you cool when wearing linen, as the fabric has a wider weave.
Finally, the fabric is dyed and finished, which gives it the soft hand-feel and range of colours that can be seen in Sportscraft’s collection of linen pieces.
Most Flax for clothing is grown in Europe, taking roughly 100 days from planting to harvesting.
A few weeks after the flax has flowered, its cut, bundled, and dried in the field.
After the stalks have dried, the flax seeds are removed from the stalk.
The linen fibres are loosened from the woody stalk mainly by soaking in water, but they can me separated using chemicals or by machine.
Linen fibres are then separated from the stalk by running it through a machine.
The flax fibres are then combed to remove any contaminations, and to face all of the fibres in one direction.
The linen fibres are spun together to create the yarn.
The yarns are woven into a fabric. The wider weave of linen helps to keep you cool.
The fabric is dyed and finished to the fabric its beautiful colours and soft handfeel.
How to care for your linen
Linen can be washed by hand or in the washing machine, however it’s always best to check the care instructions on your garment just in case, as any added details (buttons, zips, embellishments) may require specialist care. Linen should be washed in cold water and with a gentle soap without brighteners. Brighteners are very harsh on linen and will cause damage to the fibres, particularly if used repeatedly.
When using a washing machine, choose a short cycle to conserve energy (and keep that bill low!). If the garment only has a small patch of staining/dirt, we suggest simply spot cleaning it by hand.
Remember to only wash as needed, as you’ll be saving on water, detergent, and energy, as well as extending the lifespan of your clothing.
Pro tip: low phosphate detergents are better for the environment. When shopping, always check the packaging for a 'p' meaning low phosphorus or (even better) 'np', meaning it contains 0 to 0.5% phosphorus. Why are phosphates bad? While they are added to detergents to soften water and keep dirt in the laundry water, they can contribute to nutrient pollution resulting in algal blooms and poor water quality.
Linen should never go in the dryer. Not only does it use a ton of energy, it can also cause wear, strain, and even shrinkage to your lovely linen items. To keep linen looking its best, always air dry it.
Linen does crease, so to get rid of those pesky creases, run a warm iron over your damp linen then hang or lay flat to dry. The sun is quick to fade clothing, so avoid leaving colours in the sunlight for too long – especially during blazing Australian summer days!
Pro tip: add two drops of lavender (or 5 if you love the scent!) to 100ml of water and gently spray the surface of your linen clothes. This will help relax the fibres while you're wearing them and help keep the fabric looking smooth.