I love that you're LINEN on me ❤️️


Hahahaha, okay sorry that’s a really bad pun.

Last week, I’ve mentioned how cotton, despite its popularity and ubiquity in the textile world today, is extremely water- & chemical-intensive. I named linen as one of the possible alternatives.

Why is linen a gem in our closet?


Linen, like cotton, is a natural fibre made from flax plant, so it is sometimes also called flax on fabric tags. It is not a stranger in human history, where the earliest linen found 36,000 [1] to 9,000 years ago [2], depending on sources (didn’t really look into it but it sounds impressive :P).

The name comes from the Latin (linum)/Greek (λίνον (linon)) of the flax plant [1]. Because of it’s notable white colour, lightweight and durable construction, it was used to make undergarments. It’s not surprising that the root word for lingerie is linen [3]!

Photo credit: http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/food/764147/flax-what-is-flaxseed-is-linseed-good-for-you-health-benefits

Photo credit: http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/food/764147/flax-what-is-flaxseed-is-linseed-good-for-you-health-benefits

Photo credit: https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/tag/flax-seed/

Photo credit: https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/tag/flax-seed/



Linen is better than cotton in terms of environmental impact because it is not as water- & chemical-intensive.




It grows best in cool & humid climates, but it is not a difficult crop to grow [5]. Flax is usually grown in moist climates using rainwater alone. [4] Cotton, on the other hand, grows in dry climates, where it requires intensive irrigation. As a result, flax requires 60% less water to grow vs cotton [4].



The flax plant is not immune to diseases and pests, but it is not as vulnerable or dependent on pesticides or insecticides as cotton. Even when chemicals are used, flax needs just a 1/5 of the pesticides and fertilizers required to grow chemical cotton [4].



Flax can grow on a variety of soils, so it is not demanding on land uses (more flexible, you don’t have to compete with land which is better for food production to grow flax!) Because it doesn’t require intensive irrigation, (1) the underground water will not be drawn excessively, and (2) soil nutrients won’t be washed away, or that soil salinity won’t be affected that much, so that the land can still retain a level of fertility (ultimately reducing chances to desertification).



It is said that flax plants absorb carbon dioxide at a high rate [4, 6], but I haven’t found the comparison with how much CO2 cotton absorbs, so can’t really make a comparison…



However, it is labour-intensive. Well, we can’t have it all!



One possible downside you need to bear in mind is that one inevitable stage in the production of linen is retting, a process needed to loosen the fibres from the stalk by using bacteria to decompose the pectin that binds the fibers together.

This can be done in natural retting and chemical retting. (Of course we are looking at natural retting 😛)



  • Within natural retting, ‘water retting’ is more draining for the environment than the ‘field retting’.

    • Water retting means the flax are immersed in water such as river or pond to speed up the natural breakdown process, but the nutrients from the decaying stalks are emitted directly into the water, which is a heavily polluting process.

    • With dew/field retting, the stalks are left in the field with rain, dew and sunshine for several weeks to rot naturally, in a process that is significantly less polluting.
  • The European Confederation of Linen and Hemp (CELC) or the Club Masters of Linen (honestly I think they are the same organization…) gives a certification on spinner to ensure that the fibre is dew-retted [7].


Water retting can either be using natural water or in tanks. Tank retting uses water contained in concrete. Waste retting water requires treatment to reduce harmful toxic elements before release. The liquid can be used as liquid fertilizers as it is rich in plant minerals such as nitrates [8]. However, I haven’t looked into the environment & energy requirements of such process so I cannot comment on the benefits of this process.

If you’re interested in how flax are turned to linen fibres, you can check out this antique video which I find very interesting to watch...

I got this link from http://purelinenblog.blogspot.hk/2013/03/source-of-linen_15.html



Understanding that linen is better to the environment is one thing, but enjoying wearing it is another. The properties of linen makes it a good summer fabric, but not in winter!



  • very absorbent

  • cool to touch

  • very breathable

  • gets softer and more absorbent the more it is washed

  • very durable & strong. Like cotton, it is stronger wet than dry.



  • It doesn’t stretch, so you can’t expect it to be as comfortably tight fitting if the garment measurements aren’t right to begin with!

  • That it is very breathable and cool makes the wearer uncomfortably shivering in strong A/C or in winter!

  • Poor elasticity, hence easily wrinkles or creases. Constant creasing or sharp folds can break fibre, e.g. collar, hems.

  • There might be slubs in linen, which some people might consider it as aesthetically unpleasing, but it doesn’t really matter...



  • Warm wash (machine)

  • Can be machine dried but remove when still slightly damp, as overdrying can make it stiff

  • Because it is very absorbent, be sure to store it at cool dry place to avoid moths

  • Easier to iron when damp


Next time if you consider buying cotton, why not consider linen? 😉

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FabricsKammie Lau