=Flax.= Flax or linen occupies the first position in the group of stem
fibers, 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 impo
tance 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
=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
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
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
=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
Sources of Flax
U. S. (for seed only).
Sources of Manufactured Linens
Damasks and Napkins
Handkerchief Lawns, Cambrics, and Laces
U. S. (union).
Blouse or Dress Linens
Bleached Waist Linens
Fancy Linens, Doylies, etc.
Island of Teneriffe.