This is a short guide about linen and flax.
We outline how flax is grown, how linen is processed and made from flax fibre, and more.
What Is Linen, & What Is Flax?
- Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant.
- Flax (also known as common flax or linseed) is a plant. The fibres of flax are used to make linen.
- Flax seeds from the flax plant are also used for flaxseed or linseed oil
- There are two distinct flax plants – the linseed variety (grown for oil) which is shorter, and the flax variety (grown for fiber) which is taller with less branches
Flax Plant Fiber Traits
- Linen is a bast fiber. Flax fibers vary in length from about 25 to 150 mm (1 to 6 in) and average 12–16 micrometers in diameter. There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics and longer line fibers used for finer fabrics. Flax fibers can usually be identified by their “nodes” which add to the flexibility and texture of the fabric.
- The cross-section of the linen fiber is made up of irregular polygonal shapes which contribute to the coarse texture of the fabric.
What Is Linen Used For?
- Many products are made of linen: aprons, bags, towels (swimming, bath, beach, body and wash towels), napkins, bed linens, tablecloths, runners, chair covers, and men’s and women’s wear.
- Linen uses range across bed and bath fabrics (tablecloths, bath towels, dish towels, bed sheets); home and commercial furnishing items (wallpaper/wall coverings, upholstery, window treatments); apparel items (suits, dresses, skirts, shirts); and industrial products (luggage, canvases, sewing thread). It was once the preferred yarn for handsewing the uppers of moccasin-style shoes (loafers), but has been replaced by synthetics.
How Is Flax Grown, & Linen Made/Manufactured From Flax Fibres?
Generally, the flax plants are grown and harvested.
At that point, the fiber is separated from the plant with retting, the flax is then dressed, spun and the linen yarn is weaved – and linen is made.
Machines manufacture a lot of linen these days, but the finest linens are still hand manufactured.
You can read more about growing flax, and the manufacturing process of linen from flax fibres at:
Which Countries Grow & Produce The Most Flax & Linen?
- Canada is the largest producer of flaxseed in the world, representing about 40 percent of world production. It is grown on the Canadian prairies for linseed oil, which is used as a drying oil in paints and varnish and in products such as linoleum and printing inks.
- When combined, China, the United States and India account for another 40 percent of world production.
- Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is primarily grown in Western European countries and Ukraine.
- In recent years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China, but high quality fabrics are still confined to niche producers in Ireland, Italy and Belgium, and also in countries including Poland, Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Britain and Kochi in India.
- High quality linen fabrics are now produced in the United States for the upholstery market and in Belgium.
- Russia is currently the major flax cultivating nation.
- Canada, Russia, Ukraine, France, Argentina, Italy, Germany, UK, Holland and Belgium are the top producing countries of flax
A study in 2014 indicated that the total flax production all over the world is almost 2.65 million tonnes annually
The top flax producing countries in the world by production in tonnes are:
- Canada – 872,000 (production in tonnes)
- Kazakhstan – 419,957
- China – 387,088
- Russia – 365,088
- USA – 161,750
- India – 141, 000
- France – 64,000
- Ukraine – 25,000
- Argentina – 16,000
- Italy – 15,300
- 80% of the world’s production of scutched flax fibers are originated from Europe, and France is the world leader. Flax is a rare product which represents less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide.
Where Is The Finest & Best Quality Linen Made?
- The best quality linen is retted in slow-moving natural water sources such as streams and rivers. In fact, the highest quality linen in the world is retted in Belgium in the River Lys
- Irish linen is the best known and most valuable, though most of the flax used for manufacturing is grown elsewhere and imported into the country for processing
- European linens are the next finest, with the French producing the whitest and most delicate of textiles. Scotch linen is generally considered of medium quality, and German linen quality ranges from good to poor.
- Flax is perhaps most widely cultivated in Russia and China, though the fibers tend to be of poorer quality than their European counterparts.
- Smaller flax production centers exist in Egypt, Northern Italy, parts of Canada and the northern United States.
Value Of The Linen & Flax Industry
- In value terms, global flax fiber imports stood at $682M in 2017.