ETYM Prop. an adj from Old Eng. lin flax, AS. lîn flax, whence lînen made of flax.
1. A fabric woven with fibers from the flax plant.
2. A high-quality paper made of linen fibers or with a linen finish; SYN. linen paper.
3. White goods or clothing made with linen cloth.
Yarn spun and the textile woven from the fibers of the stem of the flax plant. Used by the ancient Egyptians, linen was introduced by the Romans to northern Europe, where production became widespread. Religious refugees from the Low Countries in the 16th century helped to establish the linen industry in England, but here and elsewhere it began to decline in competition with cotton in the 18th century.
To get the longest possible fibers, flax is pulled, rather than cut by hand or machine, just as the seed bolls are beginning to set. After preliminary drying, it is steeped in water so that the fiber can be more easily separated from the wood of the stem, then hackled (combed), classified, drawn into continuous fibers, and spun. Bleaching, weaving, and finishing processes vary according to the final product, which can be sailcloth, canvas, sacking, cambric, or lawn. Because of the length of its fiber, linen yarn has twice the strength of cotton, and yet is superior in delicacy, so that it is suitable for lace making. It mixes well with synthetics.