01458 252551

The history of flax and how linen is made

The characteristics of flax give linen its special quality. The fibres are long, strong, lustrous, readily absorb water and they are also a good heat conductor.

Flax is a very adaptable plant, which grows in rich loamy soil. For this reason, it can tolerate growing in many areas of the world. Belgium and Holland have been renown for fine quality flax. Many countries across Europe also grow flax and, closer to home, Irish linen has always been special.

Dune Collection Of Linens From Helen Izzard

In the UK today, flax is commercially grown for linseed, a short variety with much less fibre. Its seeds are harvested with a combine harvester like wheat and barley, and sadly there is little use for the rest of the plant.

The taller variety of flax, cellulosic plant fibre, which forms the fibrous bundles in the inner bark of the flax plant stems. The plant grows to a height of around one metre and the fibres run the entire length of the stem, to help support the plant and hold it upright. Across the UK, it is sometimes grown by small independent producers, but sadly there are no longer any commercial companies who can process and spin the long fibres.

The flax for our linens is grown in Belgium and woven in Belgium and Northern Ireland. Climatic conditions are perfect for the flax plant in these regions. The growing cycle is short at only 100 days from seed to harvest. The plant ripens a golden yellow before it flowers briefly into the smallest blue flower, fondly known as ‘the wee blue blossom’ in Ireland. The flowers are short lived, as they only bloom for a day.

Flax is exposed to various processes before it becomes flax yarn. The Retting process requires moisture to break down the pectin that binds the fibres together, and the flax is spread out in fields and exposed to rain, dew and sunshine for several weeks. 

The flax is stripped and combed, and the fibres are separated from the straw and sorted into the shorter fibres, known as tow, and longer fibres, known as line. ‘Carding is the spinning process where 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 ribbons are dry spun giving a more rustic yarn.

Helen Izzard Dune Collection Linens

Once woven, the linen fabric is described as ‘loom state’, which can be quite rough in feel and appearance. The loom state linen can now be finished and dyed.

Due to the nature of the fibres, you may see small slubs, knots or slight imperfections, which can occur. These are not imperfections in the fabric, they are an inherent part of the natural characteristics and charm of pure linen, its sense of nature’s texture.  

The colours may vary slightly, due to the nature of natural fibres, the crop and its harvest, growing conditions and its environment and of course, the weather.

Linen is characteristically soft, while also 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 releases moisture into the air to remain cool and dry to the touch and is non-allergenic.

Sadly, during the 1950’s, many areas of the linen industry declined, mainly due to the increase in man made and synthetic fibres. In recent years however, linen has become sought after once again, due to its properties, its sustainable growing cycle and the nature of the cloth once woven and finished.

Flax requires considerably fewer pesticides and fertilizers than many other crops, and the fibres are by nature, recyclable and biodegradable.

The linen industry is once more in demand as we fall back in love with this resilient. My ethos is to source the best, finest quality linens which will last for many years, and hopefully, they will become family heirlooms to pass down through the generations.