The term "linen" refers to fabric made from flax fibers, however today it is often used as a generic term to describe bed, bath, table and kitchen textiles because traditionally linen was so widely used for towels, sheets, etc. As used today the word "linen" is descriptive of a class of woven textiles used in homes as towels, sheets, and tablecloths. In the past, the word also referred to lightweight undergarments such as shirts, chemises, waistshirts, lingerie, and detachable shirt collars and cuffs. Linens were manufactured almost exclusively of fibers from the flax plant Linum usitatisimum.
Linen is the oldest textile material in the world. Its history goes back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibres, yarns and various types of fabrics which date back to about 8000 B.C. have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Linen was used in the Mediterranean in the pre-Christian age. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity. Some of these fabrics, woven from hand spun yarns, were extremely fine and the fineness of the yarns in them cannot be produced on spinning machines.
Today flax is a prestigious, expensive fiber and only produced in small quantities. It has a long "staple" (individual fiber length) relative to cotton and other natural fibers.
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