Linen is the most costly and luxurious of all the bast fibres, and has been valued for centuries for its exceptional coolness in hot weather. It has a very specific tactile appeal; it is smooth and lustrous to both the eye and hand, and the fibre is almost silky in texture, yet embodies a springy freshness.
Linen is such a desirable commodity that other textiles in a linen-weave texture, even when made of alternative non-flax fibers are also often loosely referred to as "linen". The slubs along the length of the yarn are sometimes considered an appealing characteristic of linen, and which are often present in other bast fibres, but are in fact technically a defect that denotes a lesser quality of yarn and fabric.
All bast fibres, and particularly linen tend to have good tensile strength which increases when wet. The fibres are hygroscopic, capable of absorbing up to 20% of their weight in moisture or perspiration, which is quickly releases into the atmosphere and is therefore dry to the touch, allowing the wearer to feel cool. This is because the structure of the fibre does not lock in or trap air and does not have any insulative properties. The slight stiffness of linen prevents textiles made from it from clinging to the body, and thus dries more quickly and eliminates perspiration. It is this inherent thermo regulating aspect that encourages the body to acclimatise in hot environments.
Linen, along with the other bast fibres generally have longer staple lengths relative to cotton, which makes them lint free. The quality of the final linen yarn and fabric is dependent upon the growing conditions, harvesting methods and whether it is a short fibre, known as tow or the more desirable long line fibre.
Linen tends to have very high durability and its qualities improve with age and laundering. The fibres become softer, stronger and brighter over time, enhancing its supple ‘polished’ sheen, however it can form breaks if repeatedly creased in the same place. Linen is also believed to have a slight anti bacterial function, as well as a capacity for resisting humidity.