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fabric or yarn made from the fiber of flaxflax,
common name for members of the Linaceae, a family of annual herbs, especially members of the genus Linum, and for the fiber obtained from such plants. The flax of commerce (several varieties of L.
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, probably the first vegetable fiber known to people. Linens more than 3,500 years old have been recovered from Egyptian tombs. Phoenician traders marketed linen in Mediterranean ports. Worn by Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish priests as a symbol of purity, it also typified luxury as in the phrase "purple and fine linen." Flax was cultivated by the Romans and introduced by them into N Europe. The production of linen was encouraged by Charlemagne, and linen became the principal European textile of the Middle Ages. Flanders has been renowned from the 11th cent. for its creamy flax and fine thread. French Huguenots excelled in working flax and carried the art abroad, notably to Ireland, where Louis Crommelin established (c.1699) a manufactory at Lisburn, near Belfast. Ireland is still the largest producer of fine linen, with Belgium, Japan, and Russia producing somewhat lesser amounts. The first flax-spinning mill was opened in England in 1787, but only in 1812 was linen successfully woven with power looms. The industry suffered in relation to cotton because many textile inventions were not applicable to linen, the inelasticity of the fiber causing it to break readily under tension. Although linen exceeds cotton in coolness, luster, strength, and length of fiber, the expense of production limits its use. After the flax fiber is removed from the stems, it is delivered to the mills, where it is hackled to separate and straighten the fibers, overlapped on a spreadboard to form a continuous ribbon, drawn out through rollers, then wound from the roving frame on bobbins in a loosely twisted thread. For fine goods the thread is usually spun wet. Linen may be bleached in the yarn or in the piece. It is woven into fabrics ranging from heavy canvas to sheer handkerchief linen.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a fabric made from flax yarn, primarily by weaving fibers. When cotton yarn is included as the warp or weft, the fabric is called cotton warp linen. The most valuable properties of linen are its great strength, its ability to absorb moisture with a comparatively high air- and heat-permeability, and its resistance to decomposition. Linen is also distinguished by its fine quality and increased durability, which are improved by fabric finishing. Linens are very strong and their resistance to shrinkage when dampened is comparatively high. The weight of 1 sq m of linen ranges from 100 g (batiste) to 1,000 g or more (tarpaulin). Linens are used in the manufacture of underwear, industrial articles, packaging material, and other products.

Several types of linens are distinguished according to their use and structure, including table damask (tablecloths and napkins); damask and terry; canvas and toilet cloths; suit and dress fabrics (mat, tricot); sheeting, fine underwear, and ticking; and coarse (industrial) linen, interlinings, sail cloth, tarpaulin, packaging materials, and fire hoses. Linen is produced unbleached, semi-bleached, bleached, and dyed. Fabrics with a mixture of flax and lavsan have excellent properties; for example, they are wrinkle-proof and durable.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A cloth made from flax fibers, noted for its strength, weavability, durability, and minimum discharge of lint.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a. a hard-wearing fabric woven from the spun fibres of flax
b. (as modifier): a linen tablecloth
2. yarn or thread spun from flax fibre
3. clothes, sheets, tablecloths, etc., made from linen cloth or from a substitute such as cotton
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in classic literature ?
{bleaching grounds = open spaces where newly woven linen is spread to whiten in the sun; legitimist....
{usitatissimum had been left behind = the species name of linen means "most useful"; Madame Savon = literally, Mrs.
The Frenchman looked at the linen, considered for a moment, then looked inquiringly at Pierre and, as if Pierre's look had told him something, suddenly blushed and shouted in a squeaky voice:
When they reached the water side they went to the washing cisterns, through which there ran at all times enough pure water to wash any quantity of linen, no matter how dirty.
She got the linen folded and placed in the waggon, she then yoked the mules, and, as she took her seat, she called Ulysses:
Twice a week they had to put through hotel linen, - the sheets, pillow-slips, spreads, table- cloths, and napkins.
At seven in the evening they broke off to run the hotel linen through the mangle.
As for the rest, every bit was made by her own hands--featherstitched pinning blankets, a crocheted jacket and cap, knitted mittens, embroidered bonnets; slim little princess slips of sensible length; underskirts on absurd Lilliputian yokes; silk-embroidered white flannel petticoats; stockings and crocheted boots, seeming to burgeon before her eyes with wriggly pink toes and plump little calves; and last, but not least, many deliciously soft squares of bird's-eye linen. A little later, as a crowning masterpiece, she was guilty of a dress coat of white silk, embroidered.
In the meantime in the hut the cat was busy weaving the linen and tangling the threads as it wove.
Thee'st got feathers and linen to spare--plenty, eh?"
"It ud be a poor tale if I hadna feathers and linen," she said, hoarsely, "when I never sell a fowl but what's plucked, and the wheel's a-going every day o' the week."
The amount found, they concluded, pegged the linen cloth as medieval, less than 700 years old.