Cotton comes from the cotton plant, but linen comes from the flax plant. They are both natural fibres but have many different qualities. You often hear the word ‘linen’ used to describe a whole range of household goods but this is not to be mixed up with the actual fabric of linen.
Did you know that linen is the strongest natural fibre known to man? You’ll even find it in paper money to make the notes stronger. Thicker than cotton, the fibres have variable lengths with most being very long. This is what gives it its strength and as such, linen can last a very long time. Cotton is made strong through a spinning process, weaving many fibres into yarns and then yarns into fabric.
‘Hand’ refers to how a material feels in your hand. Linen feels crisper than cotton but turns more flexible when handled. It transforms into a more fluid shape, creating an elegant drape with a lustrous silky texture. For an excellent range of all Dressmaking Fabric, visit http://www.quality-fabrics.co.uk/dressmaking-fabrics-14-c.asp
You might think that linen can often look wrinkly and that’s down to the natural resin in the fibres called lignin. Both cotton and linen contain this resin. The wrinkles become less obvious and smoother when used and handled.
Natural fibres perform excellently in terms of moisture absorbency. In fact, linen can soak up 20% of its own weight in water before even feeling damp. Cotton can absorb a quarter of its own weight before becoming damp. Linen also gets stronger when wet. It also has natural qualities to prevent the growth of bacteria, particularly important when used for household items like towels and bedding. It is their absorbency that makes them so comfortable next to our skin as they interact perfectly with our bodies.
Linen has the clever ability to keep us both warm in winter and cool in the summer. The fibres are hollow, meaning both water and air can move freely along them. When used in the winter in throws or blankets, the fibres will retain the warmth absorbed from the body, acting as a natural insulator. During the summer, the hollow fibres allow cooler air to travel between the fabric and the skin.
Linens and cottons are thought to help with many conditions, from decreasing stress to helping to get a better night’s sleep. Linen has also been said to assist with health problems such as dermatitis and arthritis. For those who suffer with allergies, linen is the perfect choice and due to its natural ability to repel microorganisms – its great to use on inflamed skin for those with skin conditions.
Linen has an incredibly long history, going back many thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians even used linen for their currency. The human use of the flax plant dates back to around 8000 BC. Cotton has also been in use since prehistoric times with evidence from as far ago as the Neolithic period between 6500 to 2500 BC.