Derived from Linum, the Latin word for the Flax plant, and the Greek Linon, Linen is a fabric associated with woven textiles known for domestic materials used for bed, bathing, and décor, such as towels, sheets, pillow cases, and tablecloths. Past references to linen, though, included lightweight undergarments like chemises, waist shirts, and lingerie.
Modern linen is composed of natural fibers (Cotton, silk, modals, and sometimes flax) and synthetic fibers (polyester and rayon), although at one time the fabric was made solely of fibers from the flax plant (linum usitatisimum), cotton, or hemp. In some cases, linen was made of a combination of flax fiber, cotton, and hemp. Now three thousand years old, Flax is one of the oldest fibers around and used in small amounts, so combinations continue to be the tradition.
Bulk linen yarn is measured in the lea (symbol: NeL), which equals out to three hundred yards per pound. This specific length (or indirect grist system, as which it is already known) is the count of length units per unit mass. The measurement of lea is calculated as thus: the length in the number of leas X 300. For example, forty lea handkerchiefs X 300 = 40X300= 12,000 yards per pound.
Linen was also used to make what were typically non-fabric items. During the Middle Ages, books (Liber Linteus is the only book surviving made of this fabric), shields, and gambeson were all made (either in whole in part) from linen, the last two due to their strength. Nowadays, billiard cues are wrapped in Irish linen because of the absorbent quality of the fabric. This works well with sweaty hands. Quality paper, too, is made of this fiber, which explains why paper currency is 25% linen and 75% Cotton. Because of its flax consistency, top-grade linen is firm and smooth.
For items composed of better-made material, it’s a good bet that the flax fiber is a part of that intricate combination. Because of flax’s extensive age, Linen is undoubtedly one of the oldest fabrics in the world. It’s understandable why such a fabric is still in use today.