The Story of Linen

For ten thousand year, man has known that the flax grass was the source of textiles with special properties: soft hand (feel), rich color absorption, lasting durability, and superior comfort.

In these days when we are concerned about the impact of production ecologically, the production of linen from flax is a truly ecologically-correct process. It requires considerably fewer pesticides and fertilizers than other crops. The fibers are recyclable and biodegradable. And every part of the flax plant is used. The seeds provide oil for dyes, paint, cosmetics and floor coverings. When ground, they are used as a flour in poultices. The by-products of linen production are processed into a pulp used for banknotes or fiberboard. However, flax is most renowned as the raw material for linen fabrics.

Flax is one of the few crops still produced largely in Western Europe, with nearly 130,000 acres of flax grown each year. Climatic conditions in this region are perfect for the flax plant. The flax for our linens is grown in Belgium.

The growing cycle is short and sweet, with only 100 days between sowing in March and harvesting in July. The plant ripens by the end of June into a golden yellow. It then it flowers, and is recognisable from it's flowers of blue and lilac - but it is a short lived beauty as the flax plant only blooms for one day.

Because every part of the plant is used, it can't be harvested in the usual way but must be uprooted. Until World War II this process was done by hand. Today, mechanical grubbers do this tiring work. After harvesting, the flax is stacked in hedges to dry. And then, once it is dried, the seeds are removed.

Then flax is exposed to moisture to break down the pectin that binds the fibres together in a process known as retting. In the past, flax was retted in rivers which gave a lovely golden glow to the fibres. Today, for ecological reasons, retting is no longer performed in rivers. Now the flax is spread out in the fields and exposed to rain, dew and sunshine for several weeks.  

As the process continues, the flax is 'stripped' and 'combed'. The fibres are separated from the straw and then sorted into the shorter fibres, known as tow, and longer fibres, known as line. Essentially, the longer the fibre used for yarn, the finer the linen will be.

Spinning follow with the process of 'carding' in which the fibres are drawn out into 'ribbons' which are then spun together on looms.  Finer ribbons are wet spun which gives a smoother appearance. The tow ribbons are dry spun giving a more rustic yarn.

Before any weaving occurs, the linen yarns are examined for strength, evenness and pliancy. It is important to know exactly what you are working with because of the great speed of today’s power looms. A broken yarn on a loom can waste enormous amounts of time and money.

After weaving, the new fabric is described as 'loomstate'. At this stage the fabric can be quite rough - and although at Inchyra we aim to achieve a slightly aged, rustic handle to our linens, loomstate is too rough. From here our linens are 'finished' to achieve a smoothness. The main base linen that we print on goes on to be bleached to our specific Old White colour - this is a highly skilled process as the dyers need to remove any pectin or straw residue, but not so much as to affect the structure of the fibres.

The joys of linen are of course it's characteristic softness which being strong and durable. The more it is used, the softer and stronger it becomes. It can absorb up to 20% of its weight in moisture before it feels damp, and easily releases moisture to the air to remain cool and dry to the touch. Linen launders beautifully. It has the additional advantage of being non-allergenic.

It seems that we can never tire of linen - from curtains with a unique drape, to beautiful table linens, to clothing that looks better the more you wear it. Here at Inchyra we are committed to bringing the highest quality linens to our customers to use in their homes from curtains and cushions to beautiful homewares and accessories.