From sheets to pillow covers, the home décor world has experienced a resurgence of linen. What is this fabric that has so embedded itself into our culture that even the term “linens” implies a type of woven bed, bath or kitchen textile? And how is it sustainable?
Flax is cultivated to produce both seeds and a fibrous stalk that can be broken down, spun into yarn and woven into cloth. It’s one of the oldest fabrics known to man; the first evidence of woven linen dates back to before 8,000 BC. It’s gone from being the mummification cloth of choice for the ancient Egyptians to a staple household and garment textile throughout the world.
Linen is naturally eco-friendly and low toxin thanks to natural resistance to pests and disease. The growth of flax for linen requires no pesticides or chemical fertilizers, it also requires only a fraction of the water a cotton crop would consume. Because of its long history, ease of growth and cultivation and high yield, it’s also incredibly easy to track the supply chain from farm to manufacture, making linen an easy choice for a sustainable textile.
The nature of the flax fiber also means it’s incredibly strong and durable, so it lasts very well. The biggest challenge with linen is that it wrinkles so easily. Summertime flax fields are a sea of small blue flowers that transform into rattling seed heads when ready to harvest. After the seeds are harvested (cool sustainable point—every part of the flax plant is used), the flax plants are left to lay in the field in a process called “retting”. Sun and rain cause the tough outer fibers to break down, making the long, inner fibers accessible. It’s a mechanical process, not a chemical one, making another point for linen’s sustainability. The fibers are then twisted into thread, and woven into a fabric that is significantly stronger than cotton.
Linen will not usually carry an “organic” label simply because the entire process is, by its very nature, sustainable that there have been few efforts made to certify the process as organic. However, a growing demand for organic flax seed, and flax seed oil, has resulted in even more linen crops. And since the entire plant is used…
No matter how you look at it, linen is a smart, sustainable fabric choice—from bedding to towels, outfitting your home with linens just makes sense.