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All About Linen

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A yarn or cloth made from the fibers obtained from the stem of the flax plant. Linen is used chiefly for table linens, towelings, handkerchiefs, dresses and suitings, sheetings, draperies, and slip covers. When well woven of high-quality yarns, linen fabric is strong and enduring, absorbent, and free from lint. It is lustrous, and it is cool to wear because the threads pack tightly and close the air spaces, the fibers do not hold still air, being free from curl or crimp, and because moisture evaporates rapidly from the average linen fabric. Unless specially treated, linen fabrics crush easily. Because flax does not readily retain stains and soil, linen fabrics are easily cleaned, but they are likely to fade when subjected to sunlight.

Linen is a comparatively expensive textile in the United States for several reasons. The preparation of flax fibers for spinning into yarn is dependent largely upon hand labor and requires considerable time for the different processes, including bleaching. It is also difficult to grow a flax plant that will produce a high percentage of fiber of uniform quality. Practically no flax for weaving is grown in this country, but must be imported from Europe.

Linens are most generally found in plain and in damask or satin weaves, because the stiffness of the flax fiber does not lend itself to lacy, open, or pile weaves. Small-patterned weaves such as diaper and huckaback are used for towels.

Today linens are frequently combined with spun rayon threads in novelty dress fabrics, while cotton threads are unevenly spun to resemble linen yarns and the resulting fabrics chemically treated to look like linen.

Care of Linen. Good linen is costly and deserves good care. If given proper care it is enduring and its beauty does not diminish.

Hand laundering of fine linens is practically a necessity, either at home or in a laundry specializing in such treatment. If washed before they are badly soiled there is less wear and tear on the articles. Many people have the habit of using bleaches on white linen far more often than is advisable. Flax fibers are highly absorbent, and if strong bleaches enter the fiber and are not fully rinsed out, a weakening of the fabric results. If bleaching is necessary for stain removal or whitening, use as dilute a solution of the bleach as will do the work, in cool water and for a brief period of time. Always rinse thoroughly; other-wise a hot iron will cause havoc by activating the chemical attack of the bleach.

Linen damasks especially should be ironed wet with a moderately hot iron, to bring out gloss and give body to the fabric. But, since the flax fiber is stiff and stemlike, do not press tight creases always in the same place in table linen, for eventually the stiff fibers will crack along the crease. Change the method of folding a napkin or tablecloth from time to time.

When linens are stored, they should be starchless, and put away clean and dry in a dry place. They are susceptible to mildew unless so stored. Blue paper wrappings are of some use in preventing the yellowing of white linens with age.

Colored linens should be washed with a mild soap and tepid water, to avoid fading. Dry in the shade, and iron with moderate heat.


Art Linen. A plain-woven linen made from round and hard-twisted yarns, and in wide and narrow widths. It is used for embroidery, drawnwork as well as undecorated runners, luncheon sets, dresses, and uniforms.

Cambric. A sheer, fine white linen in plain weave used chiefly for handkerchiefs, neckwear, and doilies.

Canvas. A heavy, firm fabric made from rather coarse linen yarns and used for interlinings of coats.

Crash. A coarse linen toweling in either twill or plain weave. A rough-textured material in plain weave is used for suitings and dresses.

Damask. A cloth made of figured or of satin weave in a variety of elaborate floral or geometric designs, and reversible. The terms single and double damask are applied to damask used for tablecloths and napkins, the former term being used to describe either cotton or linen damask woven with both ground and pattern, or the ground only, in five-shaft satin weave, i.e., the filling threads pass over four warp threads and under the fifth. The term double damask designates linen damask woven with both ground and pattern in eight-shaft satin weave, wherein the filling passes over seven warp threads and under the eighth.

Glass Toweling. A plain-woven white or cream linen material characterized by colored cotton warp and filling threads woven in to form checks. Used for wiping glassware and dishes, as good linen does not lint.

Handkerchief Linen. A sheer, fine, plain-woven fabric used for handkerchiefs, dresses and blouses, as well as lingerie. Heavy warp or filling threads are sometimes inserted to form checks.

Huckaback. A toweling material woven in small geometric patterns.

Sheeting. A plain-woven fabric similar to the cotton fabric used for sheets and pillow cases, but made entirely from linen yarns.

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