Linen is a versatile and durable fabric with a long history. Because of its strength and breathability, it has been used as both a utility and a luxury fabric in the home. Recently, linen became more commonly used for clothing and a variety of household items, such as handkerchiefs, tablecloths and bedding.
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There is evidence that linen was used for clothing and household items, such as bedding, in 8000 B.C. in what is now Switzerland. The earliest written history of linen is on 4,000-year-old Grecian tablets, which recorded a strong linen textile industry. The natural fibers of linen also made it the fabric of choice in the mummification of kings in ancient Egypt, and is so strong and long-lasting that mummies found recently still had perfectly intact linen wrappings. It has been used as both a heavy-duty utility fabric and a fine luxury fabric. Currently, linen is used for everyday apparel as well as higher-end heirloom household items.
Linen is made from the flax plant and is two to three times as strong as silk or cotton. The long fibers of the flax plant have a natural vegetable wax coating, which creates a subtle sheen when woven together in a textile. The flax plant's fiber is naturally strong, soft and light; linen fabric made from these fibers is breathable and durable. Its natural off-white color tolerates dyes well and retains its color without fading. It wrinkles easily but can be pressed flat with a hot iron. The natural fibers of the flax make the woven textile slightly bumpy with a smooth finish.
The cost of linen varies widely and depends on the quality of the fibers used and the density of the weave. As of 2010, lower-end linen, which is rougher than a more finely woven linen, can be found for $12.98 a yard. This type is often used for everyday household linens and clothing. A more finely woven linen, which is lighter, smoother and has more sheen, can be found for $99 a yard. This type of linen is most commonly used in heirloom household items, baptismal gowns and high-end clothing.