Flax Vs. Linen: What Is the Difference?

Learn How Flax Plant Is Turned Into Linen And Why It’s One Of The Most Sustainable Fibers Available

Flax vs. Linen

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What is linen and what is flax? Let’s untangle the threads of uncertainty and discover the difference between the two.

While flax denotes the actual flax plant and its fiber, linen refers to the thread made of flax fiber. Although today the term linen has been adopted to describe bed sheets, this is incorrect. Linen can include flax thread, cord, or twine, which is later used either for various arts and crafts, or to weave or knit and create fabrics, draperies, home décor items, and so on.

Over the period of thousands of years, flax linen cordage has proven its unique qualities over and over again. It has made our lives better in various ways, from helping our ancestors survive the last ice age to making household items, shoes, clothing and anything else you could possibly think of.

In the following text, we will reveal how linen is made, its remarkable properties, how it’s used, and how to care for the handmade pieces made of this material.

Shop Carefully-Sourced Flax Fiber & Linen Craft Supplies At Hemptique

Hemptique is an eco-conscious manufacturer and an online web shop offering premium-quality flax fiber products for various industries. With ardent dedication to sustainability, originality, and creativeness, we have established a nationwide and worldwide reputation for being a reliable provider of first-class supplies for crafts and arts. Our line of products comprises of meticulously derived cord and twine made of top-quality linen and similar eco-friendly materials. Visit our online store to find linen cords made from 100% flax fiber, offered in various colors. Our linen merchandise is known for its exceptional features, such as strength, durability, moisture absorbance, earth-friendliness, and biodegradability. For all retail and wholesale inquiries about our linen products, please contact us via phone at (760) 602-4864 or send us a quick message via our contact page. For bulk ordering discounts, apply for a wholesale account.

Flax Origins And History

Flax is one of the oldest fibers used by humans. In fact, people have been using it for thousands of years. According to an archaeological discovery from 2009, flax fibers found in the caves of the Republic of Georgia originate from more than 34,000 years ago. This makes flax the oldest fiber known to have been used by humans.

Researchers say that some of these fibers were twisted, which means that they were most likely used to make ropes, threads, and linens. This was a pivotal invention, as the items made from these fibers helped improve early humans’ mobility and their chances of survival in tough conditions of the last ice age. This fiber might have been used to create clothing pieces, shoes, ropes, baskets, packs, and other household items. At the time, flax was growing wild, and it was intensively exploited by humans.

In ancient Egypt, it was used for clothing, bedding, and other textile purposes. In medieval times flax linen became an integral part of daily lives. Today, linen yarn emerges as one of the esteemed textiles known for its impressive purposes and versatile applications.

Flax Vs. Linen: What is the Difference?

Although the terms ‘flax’ and ‘linen’ are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference. Flax refers to a plant (Linum usitatissimum), while linen refers to the thread (yarn) made of flax fiber.

Flax fiber can also be blended with other materials to make yarn for fabrics such as damask or lace. It is regarded as a rare and premium quality fiber.

Linen is made from flax fiber, even though at times the word “linen” is incorrectly used for other fabrics with similar characteristics. Often times when people hear the word linen, they immediately think of luxurious 1,000-thread count bed sheets. However, this is a common misconception.

An Overview Of Flax Plant Characteristics

Flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) is also known under the names of common flax or linseed. This annual plant has been cultivated since prehistoric times and it is native to cooler geographical regions, like northern Europe or Canada. When it is grown in its natural habitat its fiber’s quality is enhanced.

The plant grows to just above 3 ft tall with blue-green narrow leaves and five-petal flowers. Typically the  flowers are blue, but they can also be white or yellow, depending on the species. Its round fruit is about a quarter of an inch in size, holding a few brown seeds.

Flax plant is grown for two primary purposes: for fiber and for seed.

Fiber is processed to make linen yarn and linen fabrics that can be used to make household bed sheets, drapery, upholstery, and other household accessories.

Seed is sold in the form of food for people and livestock. Examples include whole seeds, edible oils, breads, cereals, and breakfast bars.

Flax Fiber

Flax fiber is extracted from the bast of the stem of the plant. It is soft and slightly glossy, hence the expression "flaxen" hair for individuals with light yellowish hair color.

The fiber can reach a length of almost 3 feet, which is an average between cotton and hemp fiber length. The longer the fiber, the stronger the textile is, which is why longer fibers are always used to manufacture top-quality merchandise. Shorter ones are generally used for manufacturing sails, canvas, or kitchen towels. Their natural color is in the light grey and beige color spectrum.

This is a very durable and strong fiber with some exceptional attributes, such as fast dye absorption, pilling resistance, sunlight resistance, and faster drying time.

What Is Linen?

Linen is a thread (yarn) that is made by processing cellulose-based fibers of the flax plant. Linen yarn is then harnessed to make a classic and timeless fabric that will last for a long time. Fabrics made of linen thread are considered to be one of the most esteemed textiles in the world, due to their unparalleled characteristics.

Linen has very little or no elasticity, which gives it a very nice drape, without bounce. Use linen string for your DIY arts & crafts projects. Linen can be used for knitting (shawls, wraps, scarves), weaving (kitchen towels, placemats), or to crochet (handbags, fashion accessories).

From Flax To Yarn: How Linen Is Made

Below, you can find a step-by-step process of how linen yarn is made:
  • Growing, harvesting & ripping – The plant is typically grown in cool and humid climates. The ideal time for harvesting is when the plant reaches perfect ripeness, which is when the stalks begin to change their color. After flax stalks are removed from the ground by pulling, leaves and seeds are removed. 
  • Retting – This is a process of decomposition of the woody bark that encloses the fibers. When the woody bark rots away, it releases the gum that holds the fiber.
  • Breaking & scutching – After the woody sections are removed, the fibers are separated by scutching. Scutching is a process of crushing the plant between the rollers.
  • Coarse fibers – At this stage, coarse fibers are extracted from the plant.
  • Heckling – Heckling is a process of preparing the material for spinning. It involves combing, straightening, and removal of weak or short fibers to produce smooth, quality string.
  • Smooth fibers – Heckling combs make the fibers clean, straight and smooth, ready to spin.
  • Mixing – Mixing further smooths out and elongates the strands.
  • Sliver – After heckling, fibers are arranged in a ribbon-like form called a sliver. Sliver can be additionally processed in preparation for spinning.
  • Drawing & spinning – This is a procedure of combining and twisting the drawn-out strands of fiber to make thread (or yarn). ur custom text goes here

  • Thread – Finally, a thread is made and winded on a spool or into a yarn ball. Thread can either be used as is, waxed, or dyed.
from Flax to Yarn

A Summary Of Linen’s Remarkable Properties

Linen is a terrific alternative to artificial threads and has some incredible features. Let's take a closer look at why linen is considered one of the highest-quality yarns on the market today.
  • Strong & durable - With amazing strength and durability features, linen will last for a long time. 
  • Breathable - This natural material is lightweight and highly breathable.
  • Moisture absorbent - Linen absorbs moisture quickly and it can absorb up to 20% of its weight in water.
  • Insulating - Due to its permeability and hollow core of the fiber, linen has excellent thermoregulating properties. It keeps you cool in hot weather or warm in cool weather.
  • Hypo-allergenic - Linen is less probably to attract allergens like dust mites, dirt, or pet hair, thus causing fewer allergic reactions. 
  • Antibacterial - Antibacterial features make linen a perfect choice for individuals with sensitive skin.
  • Biodegradable - Flax which is untreated is entirely biodegradable. However, be mindful of dyed, chemically treated, or blended fibers, as they can inhibit biodegradability.
  • Anti-static - Anti-static by nature, linen doesn't stick to the body. Plus, it remains clean longer because it repels dirt.
  • Pill resistant - Since it is naturally resistant to pilling, you will not have to deal with unpleasant surface textile defects in the form of tiny fiber balls.
  • Mildew resistant - Another great feature is resistance to mildew, which helps prolong its longevity.
  • Softens with washing - Fibers are bound by pectin, which dissolves when in water. This means that linen gets softer with every wash, without losing its strength.
Main Uses of Linen

Main Uses of Linen

Crafting aficionados and hobbyists globally opt for linen thread and yarn, not just for their aesthetic appeal but also for their exceptional performance. Linen, renowned for its durability and elegant finish, transcends beyond just apparel and household staples into a versatile medium for various creative endeavors:
  • Knitting,
  • Weaving,
  • Sewing,
  • Upholstery,
  • Coiling,
  • Lashing,
  • Insulation,
  • Arts
Furthermore, linen's unique texture and quality elevate arts and crafts, allowing creators to bring depth and sophistication to their work.

Main Uses of Flax

The flax plant boasts a multitude of significant applications that extend across various sectors.

In the industrial realm, it serves as a critical ingredient in the production of linseed oil treatments, contributing to the creation of paper products, paints, and an array of other goods, showcasing its versatility beyond the textile industry.

As for agriculture and animal husbandry, the by-product of linseed oil extraction, known as linseed oil meal, is highly valued as nutritious livestock feed, enriching the diet of farm animals with essential nutrients.

On the culinary front, flax seeds are increasingly recognized for their health benefits and are incorporated into human diets in various forms—whole seeds enrich dishes, while ground flax finds its way into bread, cereals, and a multitude of recipes, offering a nutritional boost with its rich fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acid content.
  • Industrial - linseed oil treatment, paper products, paints, etc.
  • livestock feed - linseed oil meal
  • human food – whole seeds, bread, cereal, etc.

How Sustainable Is Linen Thread?

Organically-sourced and certified fair-trade linen stands at the forefront of eco-conscious materials, offering a greener alternative to conventional fabrics.

Unlike materials cultivated and processed with aggressive chemicals, organic linen underscores a commitment to environmental stewardship and ethical manufacturing practices. This fabric's journey from seed to textile avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, minimizing soil and water pollution and ensuring the health and safety of workers involved in its production.

Moreover, linen, as a natural twine, boasts a significant ecological advantage over synthetic counterparts due to its biodegradable nature. When disposed of, linen fibers break down and are reabsorbed by the earth within a few years, contributing to a cyclic, sustainable model of consumption. This process contrasts sharply with synthetic materials, which can linger in landfills for centuries, polluting ecosystems.

By choosing organic and fair-trade linen, consumers not only embrace a fabric that's kind to the planet but also support a system that values human rights and the environment, making an informed choice that transcends mere aesthetics.