Linen vs. Linens

Have you ever wondered why the household textiles we use for everyday use such as bed bath and kitchen textiles are all referred to as “linens” even though they are not made of linen?  Doesn’t make a bit of sense to me.

I was at a thrift store not long ago and spied a tablecloth I liked.  I looked it over and didn’t find any stains and it appeared to be in very nice condition, like new.  I asked the lady what was the price.  She quoted me the price and I considering the size of the cloth decided it was a bargain.  So I took it to the cashier station to pay.  This same lady came to the station to take my money.  At which point she looked over the cloth and said she should have charged me more since it was so large and because it was linen.  I thought, “hmmm, linen, really?” .   I didn’t think so.   But okay, I’m not a fabric expert, so I thought I’d gotten an even better deal.  Once arriving home and putting my new find in the washer, I noticed a label on it which I promptly read that stated: 100% polyester!  Linen, really?  Glad I didn’t  pay more!   I really wanted to go back to that shop and tell the woman she didn’t know what she was talking about.  But, alas I don’t have time to be the linen police!

Since I’ve began my online handmade tablecloth shop, I’ve been curious about linen and linens.  I  see that some of the fabrics I’ve purchased to make my products with do show on the label linen as a percentage of the fiber content.   So what is linen?  I turned to Wikipedia for some help.   There is so much fascinating history of linen but here’s a teeny bit of what I learned:

Linen, one of the oldest textiles in the world,  is made from fibers of the flax plant which has been made into thread.  The term we use today as “linens” is often used in a generic sense to describe the class of woven or even knitted bed, bath, table, or kitchen textiles.  The name “linens” came about because traditionally, linen was used for many of these items.  I also learned that in the past, the word “linens” was also used to mean lightweight undergarments, more than what we think of undergarments today.  It included shirts, chemises, waistshirts, lingerie and detachable shirt collars and cuffs.  The inside cloth layer of fine composite clothing fabrics (as for example jackets) was traditionally made of linen, and this is the origin of the word lining. 

Linen was sometimes used as currency in ancient Egypt.  Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity and as a display of wealth.  Today, linen is usually an expensive textile.  It is labor intensive to manufacture.  When made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. 

These facts have been extracted from the Wikipedia site.  Read more here about the fascinating history of linen:

I hope this has helped you, as is has me, to understand and accept “linens” as a proper term for the collection of textiles we use everyday; even though they are NOT linen!  I hope also you have enjoyed this micro lesson about linen and  that you will check out the Wikipedia site and my studio on ArtFire where I have a collection of linens for sale.







1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Irish Linen: Among our Favourite Things « The World's Finest Linen

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