Why choose irish linen?
Many of us may not know that linen is the oldest fabric known to man and it even pre-dates the invention of the wheel. While it was prehistoric man who created the first-ever fabric from the fibres of the flax plant, the credit goes to the Egyptians who, in recognising it as a noble fabric, pioneered the production of what was to become the cloth of kings on industrial scale.
Linen was the favoured fabric of the Pharaohs and the aristocracy both in life and death three thousand years before Christ. Indeed, mass production of linen was essential because it would have taken approximately 1000 yards of linen to wrap around an Egyptian king, as part of the mummifying process.
It was to be several thousand years before linen made its way to Ireland. It is thought to have arrived in early second century. Historical records show that linen was being made in Ireland through the Middle Ages, it was not until 17th Century that the Irish Linen industry began to develop a structured way. Initially production was concentrated in the northern parts, particularly in the area of the Bann and the Lagan. To this day, the area is know as the Linen Homelands, from where LinenCrust imports its linen fabric to India.
What is it that sets Irish Linen apart? Why is it the preferred fabric of The White House, The Sultan of Brunei, Queen Elizabeth II, the Imperial Court of Japan and the Vatican?
Although pure linen is manufactured in other parts of the world, there are several special attributes that make the Irish fabric far superior. These are principally the fineness of the yarns and woven cloth that is still achievable by Irish spinners and weavers, as well as the skills - handed down from generation to generation - that are applied in the creation of delicately woven and intricately designed cloth. In addition, the softness of the water in Irish streams, which is harnessed for bleaching, dyeing and finishing, results in cloth which is off delightful and enviable handling and appearance. Irish Linen cannot be matched in these essential characteristics of a top-quality cloth.
There are other reasons that Irish Linen has become the world's favourite. The linen manufacturing process is complicated and requires great skill at each stage of production and not to say the quality flax plant itself. Linen is a natural fabric produced from fibres of the flax plant. The plant is sown in April, produces delicate blue flowers in June and is harvested in August. After pulling, the crop is laid out in the fields to ret, a process where the woody bark of the plant is naturally rotted so that the fibres come loose from the main stem.
The fibres are hackled (combed), to separate the long line and short tow fibres. The line fibres are generally drafted and doubled, and then lightly twisted before undergoing a wet spinning process. This produces strong, fine yarn. The short tow fibres are carded and drafted and then spun using a dry spinning method. Dry-spun yarns have a heavier count and are used for furnishing fabrics, heavy apparel and household textiles and knitwear. Ireland is the home of the most advanced wet and dry spinners in the world.
Finishing linen is also a complicated process, and new techniques are continually being developed to give the final fabric new properties and handling characteristics. Different finishing treatments can produce the crisp elegance of a fine damask tablecloth, the cool comfort of linen sheets, or meet the demands of the fashion industry for new textures and performance. Recent developments in finishing include softwash and aero finishes for a relaxed look and easy-care finishes which cut down linen's creasability and allow the fabric to be fully machine washed and tumble-dried.
Last but certainly not least, Irish Linen is admired because the production of it is environmentally friendly. The process from fibre to end product is monitored closely to ensure this. The entire flax crop is used - the left-over linseeds, oil, straw and fibre are used in everything from linoleum and soap to cattle-feed and paper. Waste is kept to a minimum during processing and the industry acts responsibly to ensure that all chemicals such as bleaches and dyes are treated fully before disposal.
Indeed, Irish Linen is a wondrous fabric, touching every element of our lives. It is synonymous with elegance and comfort, and the longer it is worn the more beautiful it becomes. Five thousand years after the Egyptians first developed it as a true lifestyle fabric, linen is as appropriate today as it was for the pharaohs. And Irish Linen is the best and most appropriate of all.