Fibre Fridays: Linen

This week’s fibre feature is linen. Linen has been used as fabric for thousands of years. Some of the oldest fabrics found were made of linen, dating back to 2,000 BC in Egypt.

Linen is a fantastic hot weather fibre. It is cool to the touch and breathes very well, keeping the wearer protected from the hot sun without over heating. Linen is unique in being one of the few fibres that is stronger when it is wet, making it a very durable fabric.

Linen comes from a plant called flax. Unlike cotton, where the fibre comes from a pod that the plant produces, linen is made from the inner stalk. This type of fibre is called a bast fibre. Other bast fibres include nettle, hemp and rattan. The plant is grown to a height of about 4 feet. When it is ready, the plants are pulled up from the roots and left to decompose in a process called retting. This unbinds the unwanted outer bark from the inner bark that makes the fibre. The two types of bark are separated by big metal rollers in a process called scutching. The fibre lengths are combed to find the longest fibres which are then spun into thread or yarn. It is easy to see how linen production is labour intensive. The highest quality linen is produced in Western Europe and the Ukraine, with the best coming from Ireland, Italy and Belgium. Part of this is due to the ideal climates in these regions for growing the plants. We found two amazing documentaries that show the process of producing linen in Europe. They are in French, but with English subtitles. The first is about linen production and farming, while the second highlights the innovations that are being made in linen and flax being used in less traditional production.

BE LINEN MOVIE from Benoit MILLOT on Vimeo.

BE LINEN MOVIE 2 from Benoit MILLOT on Vimeo.

We have lots of linen and linen blends in the shop that would work well for a summer top. Rowan Pure Linen is made in Italy and comes in a great range of 8 muted colours.

Kilda - from Rowan The Pure Linen Collection

Kilda – from Rowan The Pure Linen Collection

Also from Rowan we have Silkystones, a 48% linen, 52% silk blend. For our Summer Top KAL, Maya is currently knitting Hane out of this yarn and it is turning out beautifully!

River - Rowan Silkystones Collection

River – Rowan Silkystones Collection

Maya's Hane in progress

Maya’s Hane in progress

We love our linens so much, and we want you to love them as well, which is why we are offering a discount on Artesano’s Linen Silk DK for you! Regularly £7.95, it is now £5! This linen, wool and silk blend has great texture from the linen, drape from the silk and a bit of bounce from the wool. It comes in 8 subtly variegated shades.

Artesano Linen Silk

Artesano Linen Silk

Last but not least we have a brand new yarn to tell you about. We have just received our first shipment from The Fibre Co. We have 6 fantastic shades of Meadow. The Fibre Co. is known for their unusual blends of fibres to create unique yarns. Meadow is 40% Merino Wool, 25% Baby Llama, 20% Silk and 15% Linen. This heavy laceweight has amazing drape with a subtle texture. With 545 yards per skein, you can do a lot of knitting with just one or two balls. We don’t have the patterns available online yet, but they are available in-store.

Hidalgo - Meadow pattern available in store

Hidalgo – Meadow pattern available in store

The Fibre Co. Meadow

The Fibre Co. Meadow

2 thoughts on “Fibre Fridays: Linen

  1. First of all, I have to say I really love this Fibre Friday -series: there’s a lot I knew already, but with each fibre I have learnt something new too. When it comes to linen, how would you evaluate it’s effect on the environment? I assume it beats cotton by requiring less water & pesticides. Also processing seems to be possible with no chemicals. But how about hemp or nettle? From ecological point of view, how would you order these fibres?

    • Hi Paula, and thank you so much for your comment! It made me so happy to hear that you are enjoying the series.

      I’m afraid there is no easy answer to your question. As a main rule, as you probably are aware of, natural fibres per se are less damaging to the environment than any manmade fibre. However it is nearly impossible to order the plant fibres in a ridgid hierarchy. Traditional cotton production is very damaging as it uses enormous amounts of both pesticides and water and that is even before the processing has begun. But cotton production is also the one which is furthest developed when it comes to eco-friendly production, and you have organic cottons which production has a very low impact on the environment, this cotton will be less harmful than for instance a traditionally processed hemp yarn.

      Also how do you measure the overall impact when most fibres go through several stages of production at different companies, even in different countries. A cotton that has been made with the use of no pesticides, but which is dyed with chemical dyes, and sold locally might be less harmful, than plant dyed, organic cotton which is sent half way around the world to be sold…and was it sent by ship, car or by air?

      Do you see where I am heading with this?

      Right, so what do we know for sure. We know that the large yarn companies are not able to trace where they get their fibres from because they have to buy them at the ‘world wide fibre bank’ to make their large scale production viable. In some cases they will buy fibres from a specific source because that source can provide certificates proving that the fibre is organic or fairly traded, and most importantly it provides the production chain. So, don’t buy plant fibres from a large company unless it is clearly labeled as organic, if it isn’t you can be absolutely sure that its eco footprint is humongous.

      Then there are smaller companies that can’t afford this kind of labelling, but in my experience, are much more open about the origin of their fibres simply because they actually know where they come from having sourced them themselves. It is easier to find the information you want, probably on their website, and also to get in direct contact with them to ask if you have any questions.

      The answer to your question is unfortunately, that you have to gather the information about each fibre, and brand, and based on that information make up your own mind about what is better than the other, based on your values, for you. I would say that the difference here does not lie in the fibres themselves, but in the companies that process them. At Knit with attitude we spend a lot of time finding out as much as we can about the yarn that we carry, gathering this information and making it available to our customers, I do hope that there is at least some help in that.

      🙂 Maya

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