Holly Ashby: Weird, Wonderful and Interesting Facts About Linen.
We love linen here at Lemuel MC (which probably comes as no surprise), so we’ve put together a list of the most interesting facts we could find about our favourite fabric.
In the language of flowers, flax (which linen is made from) means “benefactor”.
The word benefactor makes a lot of sense in its association with flax. While flax fibres make linen - which is brilliant in many ways - the plant itself has lots more uses, making soaps, lino and even paper. This means that in the manufacture of linen no part of the plant is wasted, as the parts not needed in fabric production are used elsewhere.
Crinoline skirts were made with linen or cotton.
Crinolines, the hugely impractical but undeniably impressive big hoop skirts that have been intermittently fashionable since the mid 19th century, were finished with either linen or cotton. They originally achieved their shape with stiff horsehair fabric, but with the invention of the steel-hoop cage crinoline in 1856 the skirts grew to sizes that would probably pass for a two-man tent. Funnily enough, this is something Brian May (owner of magnificent hair, guitarist in Queen, and hedgehog fan) has written a book about.
Allegedly, Casanova wore condoms made of linen.
And to test for holes, he would blow them up before use, which was very diligent of him (and perhaps part of his seduction technique?)
The Bayeux Tapestry is made from linen...
… which has been exquisitely embroidered with colourful yarns. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, and is absolutely enormous at over 230 feet long. Completed in the 1070s, it was commissioned by William the Conqueror's half brother, Bishop Odo, and ends with scenes of the English fleeing the Battle of Hastings - although everyone agrees the best bit is the arrow sticking out of the king’s eye.
The production of linen uses five to twenty times less water than cotton and synthetic fabrics.
A fact that increases its green credentials and makes it a great choice for sustainable fashion.
Ireland and linen have had a long love affair.
We talked before about how the linen trade in Ireland became established in the 17th century and provided Europe with its underwear. Ireland’s love of linen goes so far that stamps and coins there have often depicted flax leaves. This means that people walk around with pictures of the linen plant in their wallet - a sign of true devotion in our opinion.
Linen is tied up in the invention of the word “spinster”.
The word spinster, an unflattering way of describing an unmarried woman (who for some reason don’t get to be fun-loving bachelors), comes from a time where flax was still spun on spinning wheels. Being a “spinster” was a highly skilled occupation and seen as a desirable quality when women were looking for a husband, especially if they were after a pragmatic one who liked to assess their partner’s earning potential before falling in love.
In light of this, single spinsters were encouraged to take their spinning wheels and work outside in order to impress any passing chaps - associating this skilled profession with single women in the popular consciousness.
Linen lasts forever.
Well, not quite forever, but it certainly has the potential to last for a very long time. Much stronger than cotton and wool, flax yarns actually get stronger when wet. This means that unlike much of fast fashion, linen isn’t something that will start to look far from its best after a few washes - it actually becomes softer and more comfortable over time. Linen is also biodegradable, which is a big ecological advantage over man-made fibres.