FROM FLAX TO FABRIC

How Linen Is Made From Flax Plant: 8-Step Process Of Creating Premium Fabric

Uncover the secrets behind linen, the timeless fabric made from flax. From harvesting to weaving, see how this sustainable fiber becomes part of your daily luxury.

How linen is made from flax

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Ever wondered about the origins of linen, the elegantly woven fabric known for its durability and comfort? Or perhaps you're curious about how flax, a seemingly simple plant, is transformed into a textile or linen flax cord prized for its exceptional properties. You've landed in the perfect spot to quench your curiosity!

Join us as we unravel the journey of linen, a fabric celebrated not only for its aesthetic and tactile appeal but also for its sustainability. Discover the process behind cultivating flax and its evolution into high-quality linen through traditional techniques and a commitment to eco-friendly practices.

Our comprehensive guide covers every step of the linen-making journey, from the initial harvesting of the flax plant to the final creation of its lustrous, gorgeous fabric. We detail the intricate processes of fiber separation, combing, spinning, and weaving, which culminate in the production of linen known for its unique sheen and texture.

Beyond the manufacturing process, we explore the various types of linen available, offering practical advice on selecting the perfect variant for your fashion designs, interior decorating projects, or everyday fabric needs.

Finally, we provide exclusive insights into sourcing the highest quality flax fabric globally. Whether you're a designer, hobbyist, or linen enthusiast, this guide illuminates the path to understanding and choosing the best linen, ensuring your projects look stunning and stand the test of time.

What Is Flax Linen?

Flax linen is a fabric made from the flax plant's bast fibers. Flax is an annual five-petal plant whose fibers are turned into thread and then woven into linen fabric.

Humans have been using linen cloth for more than 30 thousand years for all kinds of purposes – clothes, shoes, towels, bags, art canvasses, sails, household textiles, and so much more. This is how it got its Latin name Linum usitatissimum which means “most useful flax”.

Where Does Linen Come From

Flax has the capability of growing in various climates. Planting schedule depends on the climate of each specific region. Typically, in warmer climates, it is sown during winter in order to avoid the heat.

Some of the world's largest flax linen manufacturers are in northern Europe, Canada, and China, and top-quality linen is also made in Egypt, in soils near the Nile River, which is the ancient cradle of flax fabric.

Incredible Characteristics Of Linen Fabric

Flax linen is popular for its remarkable attributes such as longevity, strength, moisture-wicking, water absorption, and environmentally friendly features. These are just some of the reasons why flax linen has been heavily used all over the world from centuries ago until the present day.

It is an ideal textile for bed sheets, kitchen textile, and clothes, especially in warmer climates. When it comes to sustainability, it is a great ‘green’ choice for eco-conscious buyers since it does not require huge amounts of resources for cultivation. If produced according to sustainable manufacturing processes, this eco-friendly and biodegradable textile will leave a low carbon footprint.

The Origins Of Flax: The Fiber That Withstood The Test Of time

The flax plant has a long history, dating to 34,000 years ago. This fascinating plant was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East region.

Since it was one of the first domesticated plants ever, it represents a foundation crop of modern society. In the beginning, the plant was cultivated for seeds to make food and later for fiber to make linen for clothing, sails, burial gowns, and household items. It was used mainly by the wealthy class. You can even see how fabric is made from flax on the walls of the temples.

Today, this amazing fabric remains to be utilized for countless purposes, while its ecological features correlate with present-day sustainable concepts.

Flax Plant Harvesting

When the stem starts to change color to yellow, it is time to harvest it for fibers. In general, the stems are pulled up with roots instead of cutting, because this method saves the length of the fiber.

The reason why the fiber should be harvested at its maximum length is because the longer the fiber, the better the quality of the final product. Furthermore, harvesting the plant with the root system prevents leaking sap and drying out, which results in poorer-quality fiber.

Despite technological advancements in agricultural practices, manual harvesting is still the best method of reaping because it preserves the root system during crop gathering. Manually picked fiber is stronger, softer, finer, and overall superior in quality to machine harvested crop. In fact, the highest-grade linen is produced from hand-harvested flax.

How Is Linen Fabric Made From Flax?

Perfected over the course of thousands of years, the process of turning flax into fabric is very complex and long. Nevertheless, this procedure is worth waiting for since it creates a luxurious fabric that has remained popular across generations.

Below, you can find out how this all-natural, gorgeous fabric is made from flax fiber.

Step 1: Fiber Separation & Retting

Retting is the process of decomposing the gum (pectin) that binds the fibers to the woody stem. It is essential to perform the retting properly and avoid over-retting or under-retting, otherwise the fiber extracted will be of poor quality.

Retting can be done in several ways:
  • Water Retting – This method involves submerging the stalks in water, usually for up to several weeks. During this time, the water penetrates the stems allowing microorganisms to break down pectin and lignin and separate the fibers from the stem. Natural waters used for retting are usually stagnant (ponds). Tank retting involves the use of a large cement tank filled with water where the stalks are soaked for several days. The water is changed after several hours to remove dirt.
  • Dew Retting (Field retting) - This is the oldest method of separating the fiber from the plant. It is an eco-friendlier option because it relies on natural dew and moisture from the atmosphere. Flax stems are spread directly in the fields and left for several weeks to absorb moisture and micro-organisms from the air, which dissolve the plant material surrounding bast fiber. This technique heavily depends on weather conditions and generally takes longer to complete than water retting.
  • Chemical retting – Some growers treat the stalks chemically in order to speed up the process. However, this technique results in the poorest quality fiber and it also negatively impacts our environment.

Step 2: Scutching

The next step involves further refining and cleaning the extracted fibers by separating the remainder of the woody material and debris.

Scutching has two phases:
  • Breaking – This step involves breaking and crushing dried flax stems into smaller pieces by using a machine with serrated rollers or blades. This helps break the woody part of the stalk and prepare the material for the next stage. 
  • Scutching - This process includes beating or striking crushed stems to isolate long, quality fibers.

Step 3: Heckling

Heckling is a process of straightening and separating long and short fibers. Heckling produces only high-quality flax fibers that are of a required standard of quality for later spinning into thread and weaving into fabric.

The machine used for heckling has many combs with pins of varied density that pass through the fibers and serve to accomplish the following:
  • The fibers are completely free from impurities
  • Long fibers are separated from inadequate, short fibers
  • The fibers are straightened

Step 4: Carding & Drafting

This stage involves combining well-combed fibers into a single, unbroken strand of fiber.

During drafting, long fibers are straightened by guiding the strand from cylinders to combs.

Carding machine converts short fibers into a uniform, continuous long strand. The rotating drums of the carding machine serve to align the fibers as they pass through.

The strand is then deposited into a cylindric shaped large container. The length of the strand depends on the capacity of the container.

Step 5: Drawing

Drawing improves the consistency of yarn by minimizing unevenness and irregularities. This is achieved by mixing different strands from both drafting and carding stages. The drawing machine then blends and stretches these strands into an output strand of improved consistency and quality. Drawing can be performed more than once to accomplish better consistency of the final yarn. Determining how many times to conduct the drawing depends on several factors, such as fiber type, uniformity, and the desired thickness of yarn.
how is linen obtained

Step 6: Spinning

Spinning is a process of transforming fiber sliver strands into threads. Spinning machines commonly have numerous heads, each processing a single strand and generating one cone of thread. Following the spinning stage, these cones are then treated as needed (coloring, polishing, winding into spools, etc.).
There are three methods of spinning:
  • Dry – No liquid involved.
  • Semi-wet – Water is introduced into certain stages of the procedure.
  • Wet – The thread is submerged in the liquid bath while being twisted into thread.

Step 7: Weaving

Weaving involves interlacing multiple threads to create linen fabric. On a loom or frame, linen yarn is generally woven both horizontally and vertically into sheets. Sometimes it is knit, or turned into fabric by making rows of loops intertwining with one another.
The preferred method is still weaving because knotting with low elasticity supplies can be a challenge.

Step 8: Finishing

The last step involves washing to create a softer texture and applying finishes if required. Premium, eco-friendly finishes can include soy wax or cornstarch wax.

Where Does Linen Come From (Diagram)

To enrich your understanding of how linen is made, we've prepared an exclusive flax to yarn diagram. This visually engaging document offers a unique glimpse into the process of transforming flax into linen. By downloading it, you'll gain knowledge and a visual appreciation for the craftsmanship and sustainability that define linen production.

Where Does Linen Come From

What Are Different Types Of Linen

There are 4 main types of linen and various subcategories, such as handkerchief linen, toweling linen, linen and cotton blends, and so on.

The four main varieties for use in apparel and at home are:
  • Damask linen – This is a standard type of strong and beautiful fabric typically used for ornate tablecloths.
  • Plain weave linen – This type has a checkered pattern with highly absorbing properties. It is typically used for napkins.
  • Loose weave linen – The least durable of all types, it is mostly used to make reusable diapers and sanitary napkins or blended with cotton to make clothes.
  • Closely-woven linen (sheeting linen) - Close-weaved linen is used to make bedding and clothing because it is soft, breathable, and very comfortable.

Common Uses Of Linen Fabric

The most common uses for linen are:
  • Bedding – sheets, pillowcases, duvets
  • Table-linens – napkins, table cloths, placemats, table runners
  • Apparel –shirts, pants, skirts, suits, dresses, accessories
  • Crafting – sewing, scrapbooking, gift wrapping, painting
  • Kitchen textile – tea towels, napkins, aprons, bags
  • Bathroom towels – towels, facecloths
  • Upholstery – couches, chairs, lampshades, wall coverings, rope, rugs
  • Curtains & draperies

The Supremacy of Egyptian Linen: Luxury Fabric Made Of Premium-Quality Egyptian Flax Linen

When choosing fabrics for your home textiles or apparel, naturally sourced materials are always the best option, and flax linen is superior to other fabrics due to its exceptional features. But where do you find the best linen?

Today, flax is mainly cultivated and manufactured in Canada, Russia, China, Northern Europe (Belgium, Holland, France) and the original cradle of linen - Egypt.

Egyptian linen stands out in the global textile industry, primarily due to Egypt's ancient and unparalleled expertise in flax cultivation and linen production. This region's flax is highly prized for its long, fine fibers, which contribute to the fabric's exceptional quality. The meticulous, hand-selected process ensures that only the best fibers are used, leading to linen that is renowned for its softness, strength, and durability. The climatic conditions of Egypt, along with its rich soil, provide an ideal environment for growing flax, further enhancing the quality of the fibers. The tradition of linen making in Egypt, deeply rooted in history, combines with modern techniques to produce linen that is both luxurious and enduring, making it sought after for high-end fashion and premium home textiles.

Commonly Asked Questions

What variety of flax is best for linen?
The best variety of flax for linen is specifically cultivated for its long, strong fibers, ideal for weaving into high-quality linen fabric. These varieties are selected for their superior length and strength, ensuring the linen produced is both durable and fine.
What is the difference between flax grown for food and flax grown for fiber?
Flax can lead a double life; some varieties are grown for their seeds, rich in oils and beneficial for health, while others are cultivated for their bast fibers, destined to become linen. The key difference lies in their cultivation and harvest methods, optimized for either seed production or fiber quality.
What is bast fiber?
Bast fibers are the natural, long strands extracted from the stems of certain plants, like flax. Renowned for their strength and versatility, these fibers form the backbone of linen fabric.