Flax





=Flax.= Flax or linen occupies the first position in the group of stem

fibers,[18] being not only the oldest, but next to cotton the most

important vegetable spinning material known. Its value is increased by

the fact that the flax plant readily adapts itself to various

conditions of soil and climate, and in consequence has gained access

to northerly districts and cool highlands. Although flax has lost some

of its importance from the successful competition of cotton,

nevertheless it still forms one of the chief articles of an industry

which merits all the care bestowed on its cultivation and proves

highly profitable.



=The Physical Structure of Flax.= Flax, when seen under the

microscope, looks like a long, cylindrical tube of uniform thickness,

with lumina so small as to be visible only as straight black lines

lengthwise of the fiber, and frequently exhibits small transverse

cracks. It is never twisted like cotton fiber. Its color varies from

pale yellow to steel gray or greenish tints. The difference in color

is due chiefly to the process of "retting." Its average length is

about twenty inches, and its tensile strength is superior to that of

cotton. It will absorb moisture, 12 per cent being the standard

allowance made.



Flax is used for making linen thread and cloth, yarn, twist, string

fabric, and lace. In its composition it is almost purely an

unlignified cellulose, and its specific gravity is 1.5.



Flax is a better conductor of heat than cotton, hence linen goods

always feel colder than cotton goods.



Russia produces more than one-half the world's supply of flax, but

that from Belgium and Ireland is of the best quality. Italy, France,

Holland, and Egypt are other important producers. The plant is an

annual, of delicate structure, and is gathered just before it is ripe,

the proper time being indicated by the changing of the color from

green to brown. At the time of gathering the whole plant is uprooted,

dried on the ground, and finally rippled with iron combs, to separate

the stalks from the leaves, lateral shoots, and seeds.



The best fiber amounts to about 75 per cent of the stalk. To separate

this valuable commercial product from the woody matter the stalks are

first subjected to a process termed retting, which is steeping them in

water until they are quite soft. Then follow the mechanical processes

to further the production of the fiber and free it from all useless

matter.



These are as follows:



1. Crushing or Beating. This consists of breaking the woody matter

with the aid of mallets or in stamping mills.



2. Breaking. This is passing the stalks through a series of horizontal

rollers to break further the woody matter and at the same time

separate the greater part of it from the fiber.



3. Scutching. The object of this process is to remove completely the

woody matter, and it is done by means of rapidly revolving wooden arms

or blades, which beat the firmly held flax until it is sufficiently

cleaned and separated.



4. Hackling. The scutched flax is drawn through iron combs which still

further open the fiber. Fineness of fiber depends upon the number of

times it is hackled, each time with a finer and finer instrument,

which secures the different degrees of subdivision. Then the fibers

are sorted and classified as to length and quality and laid in

parallel forms ready for spinning and manufacture into linen.



=Bleaching.= Linen is bleached in the form of yarn, thread, and

cloth. This is a difficult and long process owing to the large amount

of natural impurities present in flax fiber, and the difficulty of

removing or dissolving them. Bleaching is now done as a rule by

chemical processes, and when chemicals are used great care must be

taken about their strength and about the time the cloth is allowed to

remain in them. In olden times sour buttermilk was applied to linen

and rubbed in, and then bleaching was finished out of doors by sun and

rain. "Unbleached" linen is treated in the same way as bleached, only

the process is not carried to such an extent. In Ireland, famous for

its bleaching, chemicals are used in the earlier stages of this

process, and then fine linens are spread out on the grass to improve

their color, and to purge them completely of any chemicals used. After

bleaching, linen is washed, dried, starched, and put through heavy

machines to give it a glossy finish, and it is then made up in pieces

for sale.



=Characteristics of Good Linen.= Linen is noted for its smoothness of

texture, its brilliancy--which laundering increases--its wearing

qualities, and its exquisite freshness. The celebrated Irish linen is

the most valuable staple in the market, and on account of its fineness

and strength, and particularly its bright color, it attains an

unapproachable excellence because the best processes are used

throughout the entire manufacture. Linen is less elastic and pliable

than cotton and bleaches and dyes readily.



Flax from all countries is woven into table linen, though very fine

linen must have carefully prepared fiber. Linen should be soft,

yielding, and elastic, with almost a leathery feel. Fineness of linen

does not always determine good wearing qualities.



Good linen ranges in price from 75 cents to $3.00. Irish linen has a

good bleach. French and Belgian linens, while fine in thread, are not

as serviceable as Irish linen. Germany makes a good wearing linen, but

not a large variety of patterns. Scotch linens are now used more than

other kinds.



Sources of Flax



Russia,

Holland,

Belgium,

Germany,

Ireland,

Canada,

U. S. (for seed only).





Sources of Manufactured Linens



Scotland,

Ireland,

Germany,

Austria,

Belgium,

France,

Russia,

United States.





MANUFACTURED LINENS



Damasks and Napkins

Scotland,

Ireland,

Germany,

Belgium.



Towelings

Scotland,

Ireland,

Germany,

United States,

Russia.



Glass Checks

Ireland.



Canvas

Scotland,

Ireland.



Handkerchief Lawns, Cambrics, and Laces

Ireland,

Germany,

France.



Towels

Germany,

Scotland,

Ireland,

Austria,

U. S. (union).



Linen Sheetings

Ireland,

Belgium,

France,

Scotland.



Blouse or Dress Linens

Ireland,

Scotland.



Bleached Waist Linens

Ireland,

France,

Belgium.



Fancy Linens, Doylies, etc.

Germany,

France,

Japan,

Madeira Islands,

Island of Teneriffe.





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