Linen yarn and fabric originate in the stem of a flowering plant. Before they become linen, however, the raw fibers are identified as flax. Bast fibers are those that come from plant stems and, consequently, flax is one of these. The stem of the linen plant, also known as linum usitatissimum, (now you know why it is referred to here as “the linen plant”) is composed of dozens of bundles that each contains roughly 30 individual strands of fiber. These strands can be quite long as the plant grows up to 2.5 feet in height. The fibers are stripped from the stem, processed, conditioned, and then spun into linen thread or yarn. Although the plant is native to Europe, it is now grown abundantly in North America. You may even spot it yourself in some unsavory places – such as a garbage dump or on railroad tracks!
Flax fibers have some interesting characteristics which require special treatment. Usually, the fibers are soaked in water for a period of time first so they will soften and break down some. Since the flax is very stiff, it must be combed repeatedly and broken (much like a wild horse) so that it is suitable for spinning. This rigidity and the length of the fibers translate into a very strong finished yarn which does not distort and holds dye incredibly well. Since the flax acted as a hydration system for the living plant, it also absorbs water and is therefore great for garments worn in hot or humid climates.
Knit Picks’ first hand knitting yarn containing linen, called CotLin, made its debut in the spring of 2007. Blended with cotton, its bright colors and light feel are perfect for summer tops and accessories. Cotlin can be machine washed and dried flat.