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How is Linen Made?

A step by Step guide on how linen is made.

Common Flax, Linseed, or just Flax (Linum usitatissimum), is one of the oldest known cultivated plants. It grows in temperate climates and is used as both a food and a fibre crop. The fibres of this plant are broken down worked into what we know as Linen, which is used for a number of fabric items such as tablecloths, bedsheets, tea towels and more. The oil that comes form this plant is Linseed oil, and strangely – this plant is not related at all to the Flax plant kiwis know, which are from a different plant family altogether.

Details of the Flax Plant. Pic source: wikipedia

The use of flax to make linen dates back over 4,000 years, where linen was worn by Sumerian priests, there is also evidence of a Bronze Age factory dedicated to flax processing in Greece. Although the machinery and technology now used to produce linen has changed – the basic step by step process hasn’t:

1) Growing

Seeds are sown in Spring and are fully mature in roughly 100 days, approximately a month after the plants flower. The visual indicator is that the bases of the plants start to turn yellow, if they are still green the seed is not usable, and the fibre will be underdeveloped.

Brown Flax Seeds. Pic source: wikipedia

2) Harvesting

This is can be manually or mechanically, depending on the volume, farm, and machinery available. Flax grown for linen production uses a special machine that grips and pulls the plant out of the ground, including the roots – to ensure that the full length of the flax fibre is usable. This is in contract to a lot of combine harvesters that cut the plant at the base.

Flax harvest. Pic source: wikipedia

3) Retting

Retting is the next step, and this involves keeping the flax wet for an extended period of time. There are numerous ways this can be done and traditional methods involve ponds, streams or rivers. This causes a process within the flax that separates the fibres from the stem and thus the usable element.

4) Dressing

This is the process of breaking down the fibres of the straw to a workable strand. Traditionally, dressing the flax involves three different stages, breaking, scutching, and heckling. Breaking snaps the straw into smaller segments, scutching removes the straw from the fibre, and heckling is the process of pulling the fibre though a bed of nails that splits and polishes the fibres – all leaving an end result ready for spinning.

5) Spinning

Once the fibres have been separated, they are either spun into yarns, or woven into linen textiles. From here they can be dyed, bleached, printed, and several other dressings and finishes to achieve the end product you see today. Linen is one of a few rare textiles that get better with age, take a read about how to care for your linen once you have it. Linen is now a sought after fabric because of its soft feel and durability, and this makes an ideal product for items such as our New Zealand designed 100% French Flax Linen sheets and interior decor.

Aspen and Fern Linen Sheets.

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