Know Your Fibre, Linen, Kalinka

Know Your Fibre: Linen

For the past three years linen has been experiencing a resurgence within the fashion industry. This ancient fibre however is nothing of a fad. Fragments of linen more than 34 000 years old were excavated in a cave in Georgia making linen the oldest fibre known to have been used to make fabric. The reason why these fragments were able to withstand the test of time is because linen is also one of the strongest fibres in existence. It is therefore not surprising then that the oldest surviving garment in the world was made of linen too.

Unearthed from an Egyptian tomb the Tarkhan dress is estimated to be 5000 years old. It’s in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia that the cultivation of linen truly began. There it developed into a prosperous and busy industry. An expression of class and wealth, Egyptians used linen to wrap their mummies, to make robes for the dominant class and sometimes even used it as a currency. On the other side of the Mediterranean sea Greeks used linen in place of metal to craft a type of armour worn over the breast called linothorax.
Following Roman invasions linen eventually made its way to Northern Europe. With its cool and humid climate Europe happened to be uniquely suited to the cultivation of flax. Slowly linen was adopted all over the continent for the making of undergarments and bed linen. It became so prevalent that in the middle ages the word ‘linen’ became synonymous of underwear. Linen dominated the textile industry all the way to the 19th century until it was overtaken by cotton which was faster and easier to produce on modern machinery. It remained in use all through the 20th century where it was mostly seen on formal summer wear.
With the increasing demand for a sustainable alternative to cotton, linen has now found its way back to the forefront of the fashion scene. Cotton is highly resource-intensive. Its cultivation requires a lot of water and most often a lot of pesticides too. When grown in appropriate conditions flax does not need irrigation, pesticide or fertiliser making it one of the most environmentally friendly fibres available. Its cultivation generates very little waste as all parts of the plant are used. Common by-products are flaxseed and linseed oil, animal fodder and bio-materials. Today the European Union grows 70% of the flax produced in the world – predominantly in Northern France, Belgium and Netherlands.
A bit rough to start with linen is one of those magical fibres that gets better and better the more you wear it and the more you wash it. It becomes softer, more drapey and doesn’t lose its beautiful sheen. Lightweight and highly breathable linen is great to keep yourself cool and comfortable during the hot summer months. It is also very durable and will last you for years if provided with good care.
Kalinka is a 100% linen 4 ply produced in Sweden by Karin Öberg. If you haven’t knitted with a linen yarn before, Kalinka might possibly feel a little rough under your fingers. However as we just explained, it will eventually soften and become very pleasant to wear next to the skin.  In an article dedicated to this topicAndi Satterlund even suggests machine washing your knitted linen several time before you start wearing it – yes linen is that strong! We’d also recommend to wind your skeins by hand so the oil in your fingers start breaking down the fibre. Karin Oberg sources her linen from producers located in Belgium and France. The yarn is then spun in Italy before being sent back to Sweden for dyeing.
Know Your Fibre, Linen, Kalinka
From left to right: © Courtney Spainhower & © Lone Kjeldsen
Linen is such a good summer fibre we would recommend using Kalinka to make yourself some light flowy tops and accessories. Yamka by Courtney Spainhower is a loose textured top knitted from the bottom up. It features lots of lovely details like the lace panel under the neckline and the 3-needles bind-off over the shoulders.

HØR n.11 by Lone Kjeldsen is another perfect summer tee knitted sideways starting from the middle of the body to the edge of the sleeve. It is ribbed all the way through and features visible seams.
Know Your Fibre, Linen, Kalinka
From left to right: © Kabila Sri Ponnusamy & © Nerunga Ruke

For crocheters we have the Twilight Top by Kabila Sri Ponnusamy
, a lovely lacy seamless top worked from the top down. The lace panel around the yoke gives it a nice beezy summer look.

The Crocheted Market Bag by Neringa Ruke is a beautiful crochet bag to go grocery shopping or to spend a day down the beach. Linen is so strong and durable it is the perfect fibre for such project.
To learn more about wool, plant fibres and yarn make sure to have a look at our Know Your Fibre / Know Your Sheep series.

Until Next Time… Happy Knitting!