Linen yarn is spun from long fibers found in the spongy pith located just behind the bark of the flax plant. To retrieve these fibers, the pith and woody stem must be removed. The resulting cellulose fiber is easily spun and is used in the production of linen thread and yarns.
The delicate nature of the stalks prevents typical forms of mechanized processing in order to retrieve the fibers. The process for separating the fibers from the plant's woody stalk is labor intensive and requires considerable time. Because of this, it is produced in areas where manual labor is inexpensive.
Flax remains under cultivation in a number of countries with Belgium growing the finest flax fibers and Scotland and Ireland not far behind. Early American settlers were urged to plant a small plot of flax. Before the industrial revolution, most homemade clothing was woven from linen that was cultivated, processed, spun, dyed, woven, and sewn by hand.
By the late eighteenth century, cotton became the fiber that was most easily and inexpensively processed in the mechanized textile mills. After the 1850s, linen production was abandoned in the United States, since cotton was much cheaper and easier to produce.
An wonderful property of linen is its strength and abrasion resistance. It is a durable fiber, two to three times as strong as cotton, yet just as comfortable. An important thing to consider when knitting with linen yarns is that, like cotton, linen is inelastic.
Linen fiber absorbs moisture and dries quickly. It is often used for towels and handkerchiefs and is a popular natural choice for hot weather clothing because it feels cool in the summer.
There are no known allergic reactions to linen, making it an ideal fiber for those with severe allergies.