Flax and Linen

Flax is also known as linen. The flax plant yields the fibres for linen cloth; the short fibres not needed for cloth production can be used to make paper. Linen has been used for thousands of years. The earliest traces of its use have been dated as far back as 8,000 BC. Flax is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe, the Swiss Lake Dweller People of the Stone Age apparently produced flax for fibre and seed. Mummies in Egyptian graves dating back 6,000 years have been found wrapped in linen wraps. In the USA the early colonists grew flax for home use. Commercial production of flax fibre began there in 1753.

Currently the major flax fibre producing countries are France (64,000 tons annually), China (31,000 tons), Belgium (15,300 tons), Holland (4,600 tons).

The fibre is obtained from the stalk of the flax plant - Linum Usitatissimum. This plant grows 80 - 120 cms high with few branches and small flowers. The stems are composed of 70 percent cellulose. Prior to fibre harvesting, the flax plants are first de-seeded then retting or separating the straw or bark for the fibre occurs. The flax is then rolled and stored for use. Flax plants are pulled from the ground rather than cut, in order to retain the full length of the fibres, and to prevent fibre discoloration.

Some of the benefits of linen are that it is allergy-free, absorbs humidity and allows the skin to breathe, antistatic, antibacterial and low elasticity (fabrics don't deform). Linen can be washed many times without alteration. It is able to absorb up to 20 times its weight in moisture before it feels damp.

Common uses for linen include:

  • Table wear
  • Suiting
  • Clothing apparel
  • Surgical thread
  • Sewing thread
  • Decorative fabrics
  • Bed linen
  • Kitchen towels
  • High quality papers
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Draperies
  • Upholstery
  • Wall coverings
  • Artists canvases
  • Luggage fabrics
  • Panelling
  • Insulation, filtration
  • Light aviation use (fabrics)
  • Reinforced plastics and composites