Flax – A tough fiber from a delicate flower

from Edoardo Del Lucchese - 6 July 2017

Today we are going to talk about flax, a fiber which has been used for textile production since ancient times. In fact, proof of flax plantations and linen fabrics are widely present even in Egyptian tombs. Indeed, the Egyptians saw the fiber as a symbol of purity.

flax flowers

Flax flowers

Flax from A to Z

Flax can grow as tall as one meter. Its leaves have an oblong spear shape, and its flowers have five petals and a capsule fruit.
It is present all over the world, but it has different features depending on the area where it is grown — for example, cultivation in cold areas yields a thinner fiber.

The fiber is harvested after the flowering, when the fruit is ripening. In order to get very fine fibers, the harvest is done when the stem is still green and the fruit has just formed. From this kind of harvest the precious blue flax is obtained. It is a fine, soft, but not very robust fiber.
To obtain a more robust fiber, instead, the flax is harvested when the capsule has turned light yellowish and the stem is yellow.
For an even tougher, but rather ordinary, fiber, the flax is harvested when the capsule has turned brown and the stem is dark yellow.


The flax is harvested by uprooting the plant, as cutting it would make the fiber shorter. Once harvested, the stems are bundled up and dried. Then, the seeds are removed and then the fibers are put to macerate in order to eliminate the pectin which keeps the wooden part stuck to the fiber.

Raw flax tops

Raw Flax tops

Morphology and characteristics

Depending on where it comes from and the methods used to macerate it, flax can be white, yellowish or grey. The best variety is white-grey, very shiny, very tough and soft to the touch.
Raw flax comes in long threads, between 20 and 100 cm, and formed by fiber bundles. The size of Individual fibers can vary significantly, from 6 to 50 mm.
Flax is the most resistant vegetable fiber. As with cotton and hemp, the fiber is tougher when wet.

Classification

Linen are classified according to thickness of the fibers:

  • fine flax: used to make fine linen yarns, it is suitable for the production of precious canvas, lace, crochet items;
  • medium flax: it is used for common canvas;
  • thick linen: it is used for ordinary canvas.
Dyed flax tops

Dyed flax tops

Flax was one of the first fibers we put into the DHG collection. We love how it looks, it’s simple yet very refined. We like how the fiber absorbs color. Would you like to take a look at our collection? Just click here.

If you wish to learn how to needle felt with linen, follow Ruth Packham’s tutorial which will give you some precious advice on using vegan fibers.

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