What is linen made of?

Linen (one of the oldest textile in the world!) is made from fibers of the flax plant. The earliest evidence of humans using wild flax as a textile comes from the Southeastern Europe. Dyed flax fibers found in Dzudzuana Cave (present day Republic of Georgia) reveal that the usage of linen textile from wild flax may date circa 36,000 BC. According historical sources, flax plant was first domesticated in Asia and the Mediterranean circa 9,000 years ago. Flax (Linum usitatissimum L. – the most useful, its etymology and actual meaning) is a cultivated plant grown by the humans since ancient times, even mentioned in the Bible. Flax was cultivated extensively in ancient Egypt. In the 4-5th millennium BC Egyptians sewed clothing, sails, and ropes from linen. Egyptian priests wore only linen clothing as flax was considered a symbol of purity. Also, mummies were embalmed using linen. Use of the crop steadily spread, reaching Western Europe. Flax cultivation in Lithuania started circa 4,000 years ago.

Where flax plants are grown nowadays? Flax is grown in many parts of the world, including such countries as Canada, Russia, Ukraine, France, Argentina, Italy, Germany, UK, Holland, Belgium, etc. However, top quality flax is primarily grown in European countries.

What is the most suitable weather for the flax to grow? The plant prefers cool cloudy weather (it grows taller when lacks light, therefore it is sown as early as possible) and it needs sufficient moisture when blooming. The incidence of weeds is one of the biggest problems in flax and linseed growing.

How does a flax plant look like? It has approx. one meter-tall stem, 80-100 leaves and beautiful blue flowers (less common are white, purple or pink flowers). The plant is called ‘most useful’ as all of its parts are used by humans: seeds for food; long fibers for thin high quality fabrics; shorter flax fibers for low quality fabrics, bags, and ropes; whereas, shoves for house insulation and animal bedding.

Flax plants grow very fast. They are sown in March – April; and after about 100 days are harvested for fiber production already. By the end of July flax plants are pulled up with the roots but not cut. It is done this way in order to keep the stem as long as possible. The longer and thicker stem, the better flax fiber.

After pulling, flax is laid down in the fields. Outer part of the stem dries and breaks; microorganisms and enzymes penetrate deeper breaking down the natural pectin between fibers and stem wood. This process is called retting. As opposed to pulling, retting needs moist. In ancient Lithuania, flax was soaked for 2-3 weeks to make it easier for the fiber to separate from the parts unsuitable for spinning.

The retted plants are ready for further processing: scutching and hackling. The stem has about 20-30% fiber which is separated from the stem. The fiber is extracted by breaking the woody stalk of the plant into pieces called shoves. Additionally shorter linen fibers are sorted out – removed. Long flax fiber is spun into the yarn.

Linen yarn can be used in their natural (grey) color, bleached or dyed in a range of different colors. Linen threads (yarn) are tied as warps and wefts in the looms for weaving linen fabrics in our factory. Our customers use our linen yarn for crochet, knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, etc. That’s how a flax plant becomes high quality linen textile products.

Summary
Linen is made of a flax plant
Nowadays flax is grown in many parts of the world; but top quality fibers come from European countries.
Grown flax are pulled, retted, scotched and hackled before the spinning.