The natural color of linen fabric is known as “linen gray”, but it’s not a standardized tone. Woven linen colors range from ivory to beige to oatmeal and vary based on how each year’s flax crop is grown and processed, which is highly dependent on weather patterns.
For example, the process to separate flax fiber from the plant is called retting, where the plant is left lying on the field for up to 6 weeks while the green stem dries out and turns woody and brown. The exact color of the resulting fibers depends on the amount of sun and rain during the retting process.
The flax plant’s interaction with the sun, rain, and earth create the essence of linen’s natural beauty, an advantage prized by those in the textile industry.
Linen’s made by spinning the long flax fibers into strong, durable yarns. As you can see in the cross-section of flax fiber below, it’s made up of irregular polygonal shapes – these nodes add to linen’s flexibility and texture. Therefore, linen yarns have a unique, irregular structure that’s more difficult to spin than a smooth yarn like cotton, creating a looser weave and the highly textured look that gives linen its charm.
These characteristics, especially “slubs” (varied swollen fibers occuring randomly along the fabric’s length) are not flaws or deficiencies; those in the decorative furnishing industry value them as part of linen’s natural aesthetic appeal.
For more about the process of creating linen from flax fiber and how recent extreme weather events affect crops, read our blog post on linen.