Linen is very strong, absorbent, and dries faster than cotton.

Because of these properties, linen is comfortable to wear in hot weather and is valued for use in garments. Linen continued to be valued for garments in the 16th century and beyond. Specimens of linen garments worn by historical figures have survived. For example, a linen cap worn by Emperor Charles V was carefully preserved after his death in 1558. Linen textiles appear to be some of the oldest in the world.

There is a long history of the production of linen in Ireland. When the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, many of the Huguenots who fled France settled in the British Isles and elsewhere. They brought improved methods for linen production with them, contributing to the growth of the linen industry in Ireland in particular. Among them was Louis Crommelin, a leader who was appointed overseer of the royal linen manufacture of Ireland. He settled in the town of Lisburn near Belfast, which is itself perhaps the most famous linen-producing center throughout history; during the Victorian era, the majority of the world’s linen was produced in the city, which gained it the name Linenopolis.

Although the linen industry was already established in Ulster, Louis Crommelin found scope for improvement in weaving, and his efforts were so successful that he was appointed by the Government to develop the industry over a much wider range than the small confines of Lisburn and its surroundings. The direct result of his good work was the establishment, under the statute, of the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland in the year 1711. Several grades were produced including coarse lockram. The Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 as an oral archive of the knowledge of the Irish linen industry, which was at that time still available within a nucleus of people who formerly worked in the industry in Ulster.

The linen industry was increasingly critical in the economies of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. In England and then in Germany, industrialization and machine production replaced manual work and production moved from the home to new factories. Linen was also an important product in the American colonies, where it was brought over with the first settlers and became the most commonly used fabric and a valuable asset for colonial households. Through the 1830s, most farmers in the northern United States continued to grow flax for linen to be used for the family’s clothing.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, linen was very significant to Russia and its economy. At one time it was the country’s greatest export item and Russia produced about 80% of the world’s fiber flax crop. In December 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Natural Fibres in order to raise people’s awareness of linen and other natural fibers.