While Ireland at one time did grow flax and also spun the fiber into yarn, both the agricultural and spinning aspects of the creation of linen have virtually ceased production in Ireland. The yarn is now generally imported.
Once the linen is spun and woven into cloth it can be made into a number of products such as bed linens, towels, clothing and upholstery. Natural linen fabric is a light creme to tan color as show in the photo below.
The most familiar Irish linen however is bleached into pristine white fabric such as this stunning tablecloth below.
The care of linen is quite easy. Linen is actually stronger wet than when dry. It becomes softer and brighter with each washing. This is why antique linen sheets are still readily available and often sell for a dear price. Linen washes well in a machine that is not overly full. It should be line dried as heat from a dryer increases the breakdown of the fiber. White linen benefits from full sun exposure when drying. If you plan on pressing the linen it is best to do this while the linen is damp or gently mist the linen while ironing. Ironing on the wrong side will eliminate creases and ironing on the right side will enhance the sheen of the linen.
Linen fabric is wonderful in both the summer and winter. It is absorbent and can help to keep one cool. In the winter the fabric retains body heat. When wearing linen you must expect the fabric to crease. Because linen can absord up to 20% of its weight in moisture yet still remain lightweight, this makes sleeping on linen sheets a dream. You truly do sleep like a baby.
At the finer end of linen cloth you will find damask linen. Damask cloth is a weave which is quite labor intensive as it is a tightly woven cloth that features an intricate design often depicting flora and fauna.
Damask is created by a long "float"(yarn length) in which the warp (lengthwise yarn) is woven with a weft (crosswise yarn). Because of the angle of the damask weave, damask cloth reflects light differently. The appearance of the cloth will change based on where the observer views the cloth.
Here is a close up of a damask print.
Linen is also quite lovely with the addition of lace. You can often find lovely handkerchiefs of Irish linen for a reasonable price.
One of my current loves is linen upholstery. I am toying with the idea of covering my formal dining chairs in linen. Linen upholstery is actually a wise choice as linen resists stains and if a stain arises it is fairly easy to remove.
You can find some good deals on vintage and antique Irish linen on Ebay. I am currently watching a sheet with this dazzling monogram. It will be for the fashionista's bed.
I hope you enjoyed this post from the DTA March 2009 archives.