An eco guide to linen
Flex in flax: Linen, gentle on your skin and the planet
Words— Frank And Oak staff
A fine linen shirt or dress can be really practical in the hot summer months. (How many weddings do you have this year?) Linen if a fabric that has a lot going for it but also happens to be one of the most naturally eco-friendly fabrics around.
Linen is made from flax plant fibres. Flax’s stiff fibres give linen its signature textured appearance and the resulting weave is resilient, breathable, anti-bacterial, and gentle on your skin (and the planet). Compared to the production of cotton, the transformation of flax into linen requires less irrigation, pesticides and energy. The production and harvesting of flax is cost effective and nothing is wasted with another major by-product of the plant being Linseed (aka Flaxseed) oil which is a popular ingredient for varnishes and often used as a nutritional supplement. The flax plant also uses 13 times fewer pesticides than potatoes but is only 1% of the industry's fibre consumption.
The downside? Linen is known to get wrinkled. But that’s part of the charm! Who is perfectly pressing their clothes these days? Let go and embrace the crinkled imperfection of linen.
Linen has a rich history
Linen that has been looked after lasts much longer than cotton. It’s one of the oldest fibres around. Dyed flax fibres were found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia which is evidence that woven linen fabrics from wild flax were used around 36,000 years ago. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibres, yarns, and various types of fabrics have also been found in Swiss lake dwellings that date from 8000 BC.
The ancient Egyptians used it as currency and it became a key part of the mummifying process as it came to symbolize light and purity (as well as wealth)—so much so that the Bible mentions that angels wear linen.
The ancient Greeks also used it as battle armour, glueing layers of linen together with animal fat in what they called linothorax.
Linen is naturally strong, naturally moth resistant, and is fully biodegradable when untreated. Its natural colours include ecru, tan, ivory, and grey.
Linen also withstands high temperatures, making it the ideal fabric for humid summers. It absorbs 20% of its weight in moisture, without holding bacteria and actually becomes stronger when it’s wet and softer the more times you wash it. While most fabrics get worse with more washes, you could argue that linen just gets better.