The word linen refers to both the thread made from the flax plant, as well as a particular type of weave. To add to the ambiguity, people also refer to linens loosely, when discussing bedding, tablecloths and napkins that were historically made almost exclusively of linen, but are now made from a variety of fabrics. Fine linens are still considered the preferred fabric by many, with a reputation for being a high-quality fabric. Linen dates back more than 10,000 years. When people discuss linen, they refer to certain weaves of fabric and often to the weight of the material, but may also be talking about other fabrics in bedding in particular.
The name Damask originated from the city, Damascus, which was once considered the pulse of the cloth trade, where the East and West met geographically. Marco Polo discovered this fabric in the 13th century. A defining characteristic of Damask fabric is that the finished product shows patterns visible from certain angles when the light hits the fabric a certain way. Damask linen grew rapidly in popularity in wealthy European circles.
This plain weave fabric is used most often for aprons and tablecloths. This type of linen got its name originally as the fabric used in French butcher's aprons. It is durable and stiff and was used for interfacing at one time. Although Butcher's linen was once made from linen, it is now made from other materials.
This type of linen is considered high quality and has some snob appeal. Irish linen must carry the Irish Linen Guild logo to be considered authentic. This linen is produced using Jacquard Weaving. To qualify as Irish linen, the actual weaving must be done in Ireland from yarns considered to be 100 per cent linen. As a well-established industry in Ireland, a great deal of national pride is associated with Irish linen.
Venise Linen was inspired by the Italian 16th century painter, Veronese, incorporating floral patterns into the fabric. A type of Damask linen, Venise linen is considered a fine linen and is often used for bedding, table linen, and upholstery. Upholstery made of Venise linen is considered quite exquisite and a mark of luxury.
Linen is produced for a variety of purposes, with the weight of the fabric considered as a major determinant of the best application. Heavy weight sailcloth is used for canvas and carpet. Medium-weight linen is used for upholstery, tent-making, outerwear apparel and linings. Another category of linens includes the plain bleached linens for bed sheets, shirts and collars. Yet another category is the linens made primarily for household use: twilled linens. Diapers, tablecloths, napkins and dimity are considered twilled linens.