Linen is a textile made from the fibres of the flax plant. Linen is laborious to manufacture, but the fibre is very strong, absorbent and dries faster than cotton. Garments made of linen are valued for their exceptional coolness and freshness in hot and humid weather.
Linen fabrics have a high natural lustre; their natural color ranges between shades of ivory, ecru, tan, or grey. Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching. Linen fabric typically varies somewhat in thickness and is crisp and textured, but it can in some cases feel stiff and rough, and in other cases feel soft and smooth. Linen fabric has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. Linen can absorb a fair amount of moisture without feeling unpleasantly damp to the skin, unlike cotton.
Linen is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. The fibres do not stretch, and are resistant to damage from abrasion. However, because linen fibres have a very low elasticity, the fabric eventually breaks if it is folded and ironed at the same place repeatedly over time. Hanging your linen garments is recommended to avoid this.
Linen is relatively easy to take care of, since it resists dirt and stains, has no lint or pilling tendency, and can be dry-cleaned, machine-washed or steamed. It can withstand high temperatures, and has only moderate initial shrinkage. Pre-washing / pre-shrinking is still recommended.
Linen should not be dried too much by tumble drying, and it is much easier to iron when damp. Linen wrinkles very easily, and thus some more formal garments require ironing often, in order to maintain perfect smoothness. Nevertheless, the tendency to wrinkle is often considered part of linen's particular "charm", and many modern linen garments are designed to be air-dried on a good clothes hanger and worn without the necessity of ironing.
A characteristic often associated with linen yarn is the presence of slubs, or small, soft, irregular lumps, which occur randomly along its length. In the past, slubs were traditionally considered to be defects, and were associated with low quality linen. However, in the case of many present-day linen fabrics, particularly in the decorative fashion / furnishing industries, slubs are considered as part of the aesthetic appeal of an expensive natural product. In addition, slubs do not compromise the integrity of the fabric, and therefore they are not viewed as a defect. However, the very finest linen has very consistent diameter threads, with no slubs at all.
The word linen is of West Germanic origin and cognate to the Latin name for the flax plant, linum, and the earlier Greek λινόν (linón). This word history has given rise to a number of other terms in English, most notably line, from the use of a linen (flax) thread to determine a straight line. Lining, the inner layer of fine composite cloth garments (as for example dress jackets) was traditionally made of linen, hence the word lining. Lingerie is also a cognate of linen.
Linen textiles appear to be some of the oldest in the world: their history goes back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics dating to about 8000 BC have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Dyed flax fibres found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back even earlier to 36,000 BP.