The Friendliness of Linen

The stages of making linen

Do you think Saree as a basic garment? Do you think the fabrics with which sarees are made basic?

But have you realized that people who wear a Saree are considered basic and simple – plain Jane and uninteresting?

I do not have any statistic to prove this, although I believe that this is the larger perception.

Sarees might be basic (even though I don’t agree), but it has style. And unfortunately, style cannot be learnt.

It is inherent – it is binary – it is either there, or not there.

As some youngster told me recently ‘Sarees are for aunty-types’.

What can I say – millennials can be regressive too.

Unfortunately, media has perpetrated some stereotypes to which we have fallen prey.

Did you see that Instagram video between Kamala Harris and Mindy Kaling?

They bonded over their Indianness, but then K said, call me whatever, just don’t call me Aunty.

Ok, I am digressing, but circling back to the comment made by this kid.  

She spoke her mind, which she is allowed to. And though I just laughed it off during my brief encounter with her, I couldn’t give her a befitting reply. As is the case on most occasions, my arguments get ready (in my head) many moments after the moment.

So, when my argument was ready, she was gone, and I had to say it somewhere – and since this blog is my best friend these days, I decided to say it here.

Along with my argument, a host of whys and what’s started circling in my head.  

So, here’s my argument. My comeback.

In India, saree is a thriving industry. The handloom sector alone involves more than 35 lakh weavers (As per the Handloom census of 2019) and provides employment to 4.33 million people including those in the ancillary units i.e. spinners, dyers and printers.  

It cuts across class, economic statuses and cultures.

You will get sarees ranging from Rs. 100 to Rs. 10,00,000.

From Isha Ambani to Medha Patkar.

From Priyanka Chopra to Priyanka Gandhi – all wear sarees with aplomb.

Saree is a point of view.

To the wearer, the saree is an expression of herself – her individual way of expressing her identity, her place of which she is in complete control.

So, before we get pejorative about the saree and the one who is in it, consider the things I have said above.

If it supports the lives of so many people, there has to be something to it.

(I just love it when the comeback is logical and calm!).

Speaking of calmness…there is an air of calmness about Linen sarees.

A sense of understated brilliance and elegance about it.

Do you know why I am calling Linens ‘Friendly’?

Because it really is.

Linen is planet-friendly. Pure linens are a hundred percent bio-degradable. Even when blended with cotton.

Linen is skin-friendly – The fabric is naturally anti-bacterial and pathogen resistant. Their moisture-absorbent properties are higher as compared to cotton. It absorbs moisture off your skin and prevents allergies.

Linen is drape-friendly – The crisp appearance of the fabric, coupled with its supple texture makes it a very comfortable and stylish drape.

Linen comes from Flax – which is grown completely organically.

This image illustrate the flax crop.
The Flax crop. Source – Moderndane.com

Linen is a plant fiber – it comes from Flax.

Yes Flax. The seed we use to eat in our breakfast cereals.

It is amazing how many benefits there are of flax.

It is even used as an ingredient even in wood finish products. I learnt this earlier this year when I did an Influencer Marketing project with a Client.

And the same flax stem is used to make linen products – sarees, fabrics, shirts, trousers, jackets and a host of other clothing and home furnishing items.

When I dove deeper into how linen is made – I was most fascinated:

So linen threads are made from flax fibers.

The lush green crop that you see above undergoes a series of processes of rippling and retting before actually getting them yarn ready.

  1. Breaking – The Flax straws are first broken in a very traditional but practical wooden machine.

There is a wee bit of processing the straws undergo before actually getting into the breaking stage – but that i shall leave for another day.

In the breaking stage, the long straws are broken to disintegrate the straw into fibers. The outer chaff falls off and the inner core of the stem remains.

Breaking – a pre spinning step. Source – Journalwsd.org.uk

2. Scutching – After the process of ‘breaking’, something called scutching happens.

Another fancy wooden contraption which has two parts – a base with a blade and a lid.

The blade removes the shorter fibres leaving only the long fibres behind.

Illustrating scutching machine to explain the process of scutching.
Scutching. Picture source – Journalwsd.org.uk

3. Hackling – This tool looks mighty painful – and I reckon the fibers are also subjected to this painful process, wherein the long, pointy and sharp pins separate the short fibres from the long fibres even more.

In this process, one gets the long ‘line’ fibres and the short ‘tow’ fibres. At the end of this process, what emerges is a shiny lustrous fibre, both in tow (that’s short fibres) and line (long fibres).

It is the line fibres that are finally used for spinning the linen yarn.

The short fibres are also retained for the spinning process.

the hackling PINs. Source – Journalwsd.org.uk
The stages of making linen. Source – Flaxtofibre.com

Spinning of Linen Yards

The spinning wheel used for linen is quite different from the Charkhas we are familiar with.

The spinning wheel for making linen yarn is different. Source – Waltin.se

There is an additional contraption on the left of the wheel which is called the distaff – in the above picture it’s the fork like pole on the left of the wheel.

Spinners have to moisten their fingers before pulling the fibers and twisting it to make the yarn.

There is a gummy resin which is present on the fiber and the water helps the deft hands of the spinner to twist the fiber gently.

The pulling of the fiber from the distaff and gently rolling it needs a certain technique.

Only with practice does the rhythm of the drawing the yarn and twisting it set in, using both hands in a set pattern.

A deft spinner knows the exact pressure he/she needs to apply to draw the fiber and how finely she needs to twist it.

The Drawing of the yarn from the distaff and the twisting.

The line fibres are used in long yardages.

The tow fibres make for thicker cloth which are mainly used for kitchen towels and table linens.

A Bit of History

Flax was the most cultivated crop in 16th and 17th centuries and linen was most widely used fabrics in the entire northern hemisphere of the planet. It used to be an intrinsic part of human life having its usages in everyday life.  

However, when industrial revolution kicked in, it lost its popularity to cotton, which was marketed as ‘White Gold’ amongst traders and businessmen. The British colonization also made its captive colonies switch to growing cotton instead of growing flax.

This impacted the flax growth and linen production considerably.

Linen, evidently lost its place in people’s life as it shrunk to less than 1% of the total textile consumption.

The last few decades saw a revival of linen in Europe and consequently India too.

It has grown to be a designer’s favourite fabric so much so that popular Designer Anavila Mishra only specializes in Linen sarees. She in fact was one of the pioneers of reviving Linen in India.

Elite, contemporary, stylish and comfortable, I quite believe that Linen sarees are able to convert western-fashion enthusiasts into the saree-wearing universe.

Here is a picture of one such convert.

A newbie saree wearer chose a linen saree as her first saree experience

India is seeing a growing demand in Linen sarees and other apparel. States like Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar grow flax extensively.

And India is fast becoming one of the largest consumers to linen after USA and Europe.

Large conglomerates like the Aditya Birla group has invested in it heavily and they claim to be one of the largest producers on Linen in the country.  

Maintenance of Linen

Linen fibers are strong making it an extremely durable fabric. Any linen product can last easily for 20-30 years.

I have always found that they are quite low maintenance.

It goes soft with every wash making it supple to wear.

It’s dirt and stain resistant.

I have heard some women complain that linens wrinkle fast and does not look crisp and fresh the whole day.

In fact, this is exactly the charm of linen (to me, at least).

Fashion should be functional, and I have always found linen to be functional – from curtains to sarees, from blazers to kitchen towels.

As I am reaching the end of this blog post, sharing every bit of information I had with me, I am increasingly feeling that the title of this blog could not have been more apt.

Linen is planet-friendly, skin-friendly and drape friendly.

Sixyardsoffinery.com

The fabric is friendly at so many levels, isn’t it?

What did you think of the blog? Did it get too detailed? Or did you feel you wanted to know more.

Either way, drop me your comment.

Source of Information:

  • Fibre2fashion.com
  • Fashionunited.in
  • Moderndane.com
  • Journslwsd.co.uk