Linen is perhaps the most virtuous of all fabrics. It’s produced from the flax plant, every part of which has a use: The seeds are ground to make oil for paint and linoleum flooring, the pulp goes into banknotes, and the fibers inside the wood stalks are woven into linen fabric. Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but it’s best known and said to be finest in the Flanders region of Belgium, where, thanks to an abundance of small rivers and a rainy climate, it thrives without irrigation.
Before the spinning and weaving take place, flax is transformed into linen using a medieval vocabulary of retting (washing and drying), scotching (removing the woody stems), and hackling (splitting and straightening the fibers). Linen has been prized for 10,000 years for its absorbency, thermal insulation, comfort, and durability. Belgian linen is also appreciated for its softness, which increases with each wash, and its elegance when draped from a rail. It’s hypoallergenic too, and in the home it has practical uses in every room; here are some examples.
Five to Buy
Above: The Libeco Flea Market Tea Towel, 23.6 by 31.5 inches, is available in three colors (from left: Grigio, Sughero, and Crimson) from Libeco, Belgium’s best-known purveyor of linen; $28.
Above: Restoration Hardware’s Vintage-Washed Belgian Linen Shower Curtain, 72 square inches, is $49.99 marked down from $89; extra-long size also available.
Above: The bedding selected for Philip Johnson’s Glass House, Rough Linen’s Pure Belgian Linen Sheeting and Orkney Linen Duvet Covers and Bedskirts come in natural or white. Prices range from $140 to $220 for sheets, and they start at $250 for duvet covers and $200 for bedskirts. (Read Editors’ Picks: 10 Favorite Luxury Bed Linens for testimonials about Rough Linen.)
Above: Libeco recently added a line of Linen Cambridge Rugs to their collection. They’re available in five sizes; prices start at $173 (23.5 by 33.5 inches) and go up to $1,034 (94.5 by 118 inches) at Gracious Style.
Above: Belgian Textured Linen Drapery from Barn & Willow starts at $184 for a 50-by-84-inch curtain panel (three other lengths available).
Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and the curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Thursday, and have a look at her past lessons, including posts about Classic Mattress Ticking and the Classic Canvas Tote. Her most popular lesson to date is on The Pastel Enamel Pot.
N.B.: This post is an update. The original ran in October 2014 as part of our Belgian Masters issue.