Flax & Hemp are the two most eco-friendly and vegan fibers on the planet. Linen is made of flax. In order to understand why linen and hemp are the ultimate eco-friendly & vegan fabrics, I decided to dedicate a separate post on each of them.
Flax and hemp are very similar but not the same, for the sake of clarity, what follows here is the rich story of linen making.
At the end of the article you’ll fully understand why linen is both eco-friendly and vegan.
The History of Linen
Linen is a type of textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. Linen textiles are one of the oldest textiles in the world.
The history of linen use goes back many thousands of years. Dyed flax fibers are found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia which is evidence that woven linen fabrics from wild flax were used some 36,000 years ago.
Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics have also been found in Swiss lake dwellings that date from 8000 BC.
In ancient Egypt linen was used for mummification and for burial shrouds because it symbolized light and purity as well as wealth. Linen was so valued in ancient Egypt that it was used as currency in some cases.
Linen was also produced in ancient Mesopotamia and reserved for higher classes.
The spread of Linen
Linen has always had a high cost because it is difficult to work with the thread (flax thread is not elastic and it is very difficult to weave into a cloth without breaking threads) and also because the flax plant requires a lot of attention during cultivation.
The first written evidence of linen comes from the Linear B tablets of Pylos, Greece, where linen has its own ideogram and is also written as “li-no” in Greek. ( lino being the Spanish and Italian word for linen ) The Phoenicians, who had their merchant fleet, brought flax growing and the making of linen into Ireland. Belfast became in time the most famous linen producing center in history. The majority of the world’s linen was produced there during the Victorian era.
Some religions even made rules that involved linen or they just mention them in religious concept. The Jewish faith restricts wearing a mixture of linen and wool. Linen is also mentioned in the Bible in Proverbs 31. Bible also mentions that angels wear linen.
The Arrival of Linen in Europe
Linen was brought to Europe through trade and around the 13th century, Western Europe had become the world’s center for the flax industry, peaking in the 1800s. ( look further in this text at the dates today’s linen weaving companies were established )
Since its arrival, flax has always been present in Western Europe, – France, Belgium and The Netherlands, – because the plant grows best there. The region’s rich soil combined with its temperate climate ensures the ideal alternation of sun and rain for a large and strong plant. The longer and stronger the fiber, the better the quality of the linen. More than 75% of flax fibers used worldwide to weave linen fabric come from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In 2018 about 136 000 acres of flax was sown in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, which represented 80% of the worldwide flax production. The best linen craftsmen are still found in Western Europe today: be it farmer, spinner or weavers. The expertise that was perfected during previous centuries spans generations and is still being passed on. Transforming flax into quality linen is an art.
WATCH HOW LINEN IS MADE
The Use of Linen
Linen is used for a variety of applications: from bed and bath fabrics, home and commercial furnishing items, apparel items to industrial products. It was even used for books and for a type of body armour. The use for linen has changed in time and especially in the last 30 years. While in the 1970s only about 5% of world linen production was used for fashion fabrics, 70% of linen production in the 1990s was used for apparel textiles.
In terms of ecology, linen is a real champion, only beaten by hemp. The plant does not require irrigation and hardly any plant-protection products ( read: chemicals or pesticides ). The fiber is harvested through natural processes and all other parts of the plant are used for the production of, for instance, food, paper, or insulation material.
Spinning and weaving do not have a large impact on the environment and again, all residuals are processed resulting in zero waste. The Libeco-Lagae mill, the best linen weaver in Belgium and probably in the whole of Europe, is fully powered by green energy and they only select partners who make high demands in terms of ecology for the finishing of the fabric.
Linen is durable, lasts for a lifetime if taken well care of. Linen can easily be recycled and is 100% bio-degradable (when unbleached and/or naturally dyed ). In my opinion, linen is precisely at its best when fully natural.
From growth & blooming, processing the fiber, spinning the yarn to the final weaving, the processing of linen is a long, multi-step procedure. The final color depends on the sun exposure and the influence of the soil during the retting process. And quality will entirely depend on the expertise of the finishing partners, each having their own specialty.
For us, Belgian owners of the eco-hotel Marcel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it was a natural choice to opt for Libeco-Lagae linen sheets, pillow cases and curtains.
Linen is, YES, 100% vegan. No animals are killed or harmed during the harvesting and manufacturing process. As long as pesticides have not been used, there will be no negative impact on wildlife or the ecosystems. The absence of chemicals and pesticides will preserve water, air and plants that animals eat.
Then also yes, linen is 100% organic.
4 More Unique Qualities of Linen
Flax fiber is hollow on the inside and can absorb moisture well, in fact a linen fabric can absorb up to 20% of its own weight in water! The fiber also releases the moisture easily, which makes the fabric dry quickly. A useful characteristic in towels, bath linen and bed linen.
Flax fiber has great thermoregulating qualities ; the hollow structure of the fiber breathes and makes it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
As a natural fiber, flax contains minimal traces of allergens.
If you have a sensitive skin, we highly recommend you wear linen and use as many linen fabrics as you can.
The extent to which harmful UV rays penetrate fabric is determined by various factors, such as the density, sun protection factor (SPF) and color of the fabric. Linen is usually densely woven, has a high SPF (the rating that is found on sunscreen) and light colors are recommended. This is because harmful UV rays do not penetrate light colors as much as they do dark colors.
Where can you buy Linen?
With 1,000 years of history behind it, pure Irish linen is considered a superior fabric, noted for its smooth weave, strength and tactile finish.
THOMAS FERGUSON IRISH LINEN ( est. 1798 ) are widely acknowledged as the finest linen Jacquard weaver in the world. This reputation for quality has been developed through many generations of dedication and skill and owes much to the company’s rich heritage.
This weaving expertise combined with fine, high quality yarns, and modern looms; produce a linen damask cloth which is unusually soft and fine, has a wonderful natural lustre and yet is strong enough to last a lifetime, with normal domestic use.
STOKER MILLS ( est. late 1960s )
Led by local brothers Richard and Ryan Saunders, Stoker Mills produce one of the most unique and exclusive collections of authentic Irish Linen fabrics in the world today. Handcrafted from 100% natural flax, our linen fabrics and linen products are sourced by fashion designers, interiors experts and costume departments around the globe.
JOHN ENGLAND ( est. 1964 )
Belgian Linen is a registered trademark of the Belgian Flax and Linen Association, a trade association that represents over 1,500 artisans and companies that grow and transform flax in Belgium
In the United States, Belgian Linen experienced competition from the established label ‘Irish Linen’. This label of the ‘Irish Linen Guild’, the guild of Northern Irish linen weaving, enjoyed a high reputation and was generally regarded as top quality. In order to compete with Irish Linen, the Flax Office opened an office in New York in the 1960s and the Belgian Linen label was promoted. To this day, the label is still highly regarded in the United States.
LIBECO-LAGAE ( est. 1858 )
Don’t expect linen to be cheap if you want the real quality. It’s a 100% natural product which requires a lot of manual labor.
I can guarantee you it’s worth paying every penny for !
The Natural Beauty of Products Made of Linen
Today, thanks to the technical advancement, linen is used in a wide variety of products.
HOUSEHOLD LINEN ( sheets, pillowcases, towels, table linen )
UPHOLSTERY & DECORATION ( curtains, upholstery for furniture, in cars )
Last but not least – Tourism & Linen
If you’re ever visiting my beautiful Flanders & you need a place to stay, try to book a room in B&B De Vlaschaerd . On the rural verge of the city of Kortrijk this 19th century former flax factory has been totally restored. Everything has been renovated with an eye and respect for its industrial past. The old chimney in the garden as well as the impressive steam engine from 1884 have been rehabilitated.
A nice piece of industrial archeology.
On this domain two former flax wells have been converted into a cosy holiday house. In the hangar next to these flax wells two other little houses have been built. You can thus chose out of three separate entities.
My gratitude for making this article possible goes to Libeco-Lagae for their valuable insight in linen, WealthyAffiliates for their technical support and encouragement for this website.
If you like this article, may we kindly encourage you to comment or ask. We promise we'll get back to you within 24 hours.