The special and attractive properties of Irish linen are:
(1) In its purified, bleached form the flax fibre is largely pure cellulose with a smooth, highly lustrous surface. It is hygroscopic, that is, it is sensitive to moisture, and absorbs up to one-fifth of its own oven-dry weight of water without being damp on the surface. The personal importance of this quality is evident when one thinks of clothing worn next to the skin.
(2) Bleached linen absorbs water from a wet surface very rapidly and it is smooth, without loose, protruding hairs. This is why flax is by far and away the ideal fibre for making towels of all kinds, glass cloths and handkerchiefs.
(3) Unlike most textiles, flax yarns and fabrics increase about one-fifth in strength on wetting … a fact which is of considerable importance for cloths that have to undergo repeated launderings, particularly in the washing machine age.
(4) Linen fibres swell when wet. In suitably designed fabrics, such as tents, tarpaulins and hose-pipes, the interspaces can be completely closed up to prevent the passage of water; in other words, to make them practically waterproof.
(5) Linen fabrics have the highest resistance to tearing because flax is the strongest natural fibre.