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About Linen

BIOLOGY

Linens  
   

Flax is an annual of the family Linaceae. There are over 200 varieties of flax plants that, depending on the regional conditions and climate, range in length (from 25 to 125 cm), shape (sparsely and heavily branched varieties) and maturity periods (from fast-growing varieties spread in the north latitudes and mountainous regions to slower-growing varieties cultivated on irrigated soils in Asia).

Flax blooms in clusters of bluish, navy-blue, and, more seldom, violet, rosy and white flowers that open up at dawn and close and fall at around noon when heat sets in. Each flower blooms for a few hours. Bees collect close to fifteen kg of honey from one hectare of flax field.

Commercially grown flax crops are grouped into two main types - fiber flax and seed flax, the former is generically referred to as long-stalked flax and the latter as crown flax.

Long-stalked flax is grown for fiber and cultivated as a spring crop on primarily silt or clay loams in a moist and warm climate. It is traditionally grown in no more than twenty countries worldwide, mainly in middle Europe and also Egypt, Turkey, China, Argentina and Chile. Long-stalked flax supposedly spread from Russia.

Compared to fiber flax, crown flax tends to require more sunlight and less moisture and is mainly cultivated for linseed oil (yielding up to 52% of linseed oil by weight).


HISTORY

Linens  
   

Flax is believed to be one of the most ancient agricultural crops. An archeological dig carried out at the site of Neolithic lake dwellings in Switzerland turned up charred remains of food prepared from flaxseed, and remnants of linen threads, ropes, cloth and fishing nets. So man had already been growing flax as far back as Neolithic times. Traces of flax cultivation relating to the Bronze Age were found in archeological excavations in Spain. However, most of the finds of early flax cultivation relate to the Iron Age. They show that perennial narrow-leafed flax was cultivated all across Europe as far as Scandinavia. Archeological excavations at the site of Iron Age settlements in Germany discovered remains of bread prepared from wheat, millet and flax seeds. Many archeological finds, literary records and linguistic studies also point to India, Khoresm, Turkmenistan, Asia Minor, Transcaucasia, Abyssinia, Algeria, and Tunisia as ancient flax cultivation areas.

Domestication of fiber flax to say nothing of seed flax occurred in India and China before that of cotton - more than 5,000 years ago. There is evidence that as far back as 3,000 - 4,000 years B.C. flax was grown for fiber in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Egypt where the finest linen cloths were spun. The ancient historian Herodotus mentions linen cloths where each thread consisted of 360 finest strands presented as a gift to Athena of Rhodos. Flax was extensively raised in Colchis that used linen to pay tribute to the Turks. According to one account, the voyage of Argonauts from Hellas to Colchis for the Golden Fleece was in fact prompted by a desire to obtain the secret of making fine flax yarn that was treasured as much as gold and was as good as that produced in Egypt.

Some scholars believe that flax originally came from western Persia and spread over to other countries regarded to be the regions of early flax cultivation - India, China and Central Asia and westwards and southwestwards, primarily, to Babylon and Egypt. Mummies wrapped in linen shrouds were found in the Pyramids dating from more than 5,000 B.C. (now exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Egyptian priests wore clothes made of linen that symbolized purity of light and fidelity. Flax crop failure was thought to be equal to "seven Egyptian punishments".

There are grounds to believe that both ancient Romans and Greeks first brought flax from Egypt. The earliest mention of flax cultivation in ancient Greek and Roman literary records goes back to the 6th century B.C. The words lion (Greek) and linum (Latin) are encountered in the texts by Homer, Herodotus, Theophrastus and Pliny. Linen was used to make clothes, combat outfits, bed wrappers, sailcloth and cordage. It was also used as canvas in painting.

Gauls and Celts, the earliest flax growers in western Europe, learned about flax from Romans while Slavs, who were the first to start cultivating flax in eastern Europe, brought it from Greece. In the regions of early flax cultivation in Central Asia (Afghanistan, mountainous areas of Bukhara, Khoresm and Turkmenistan) flax cultivation had remained primitive until the turn of the 20th century.

Flax has been known in Russia since 2000 B.C. Ancient manuscripts of the 9th-10th century B.C. contain evidence of linen made by Slavs. Oriental writers of the time described Slavs attired in linen clothes. Prior to the formation of Kievan Rus, all Slavic tribes that inhabited the eastern European plain raised flax. Flax was used to make sailcloth, fishing nets, ropes and linseed oil. In the 10th-11th centuries A.D. flax was extensively grown for fiber and seed. It was regarded to be an important crop both for crafts and commerce. Peasants used it to pay feudal dues and make payments to the czar's treasury. Russian princes collected tribute in linen. In the late 19th-early 20th century Russia emerged as the leading producer and exporter of flax and linen among European nations.

On several occasions the advent of new, less labor-consuming fibers (cotton, viscose and other synthetic fibers) seemed to have put flax cultivation on the brink of economic ruin. But each time flax fiber production managed to survive and advance offering textile fabrics of high consumer properties owing to combining linen with new fiber materials.

Here are a few more interesting facts about flax fiber:

• The famous Turin Shroud that bears the image of Jesus Christ and was used to wrap his body is spun from flax fibers. There is also evidence that the towel bearing Christ's image - Redeemer not painted by human hands - was also made of linen.
• Prior to the invention of paper, manuscripts used to be written on linen. One of the most renowned manuscripts - the Linen Book by ancient Etruscans - was written on linen in the 7th century B.C.
• In ancient Greece linen clothes were the privilege of high priests.
• The great army leader Alexander of Macedon wore an armor made of … linen cloth to protect him in battle. It was said to be impenetrable to the foe's sword.
• In ancient Rus linen clothes used to be worn on festive occasions. The first ever standard in Russia approved by Peter the Great was the one about linen.


Linen is the most ancient fabric known to man. For centuries people have been growing flax to make fiber and weave linen. But despite its venerable age flax remains to be as young as ever.


MAKING THE FIBER

   
   

After harvesting and rippling flaxseed, the flax straw is subjected to a biological treatment (retting) to break down the binding between the fibrous and woody portions of the plant. For this purpose flax is unbundled and spread on the ground (dew retting) or wetted in special tanks. A bacterial fermentation decomposes the pectins that cement together the bast fiber and the woody portion. Depending on the mode of treatment (there are also chemical and physical-chemical modes of treatment), it takes from two to three weeks to complete the process of separating fibers from the wood.

The resultant straw called stock is dried in special machines and then mechanically treated to separate long and short fibers. This process consists of three stages.

Firstly, the straw stems are spread into a continuous uniform layer and turned at a certain angle to achieve their parallel alignment.

Secondly, they undergo a scutching process when the straw stems are first crushed and broken in breaking machines to fragment and separate the woody central portion of the flax stem. The wood breaks up while the fiber bends and remains intact. The stem wood so separated is called shives. The resultant straw coming from the breaking machine is called crude fiber.

The final and most important operation of obtaining the long fiber is carried out by scutching machines where the crude fiber is held tightly near one end while the free end is subjected to a beating and scraping action. This completes the scutching process whereby the long fiber is separated from the woody portion. The long fiber is then quality-graded and pressed into bales.

The shorter fiber, called tow flax, and shives are used for making boards and panels.


SPINNING AND WEAVING

   
   

Spinning and weaving are extremely intricate operations.

Prior to spinning the long fiber is combed with the help of hackling machines to produce fine and slightly curled plaits, called rove.

The rove after being kiered, bleached and dyed is ready for spinning.

Currently there are two spinning methods applied - wet and dry spinning. In wet spinning the rove is treated with warm and hot water to dissolve pectin substances and drawn by means of special devices to split thick fibers into elementary strands and produce uniform, fine and durable yarn. The yarn so produced is then spooled and dried and used for making threads or linen cloth.

   

In dry weaving no pectin dissolution occurs and thick fibers only become realigned against each other on drawing. As a result, the yarn appears to be coarser and less durable and primarily finds application in the manufacture of technical cloths.

Weaving is the process of making cloth. The cloth is made on a loom by using two sets of threads running perpendicular to each other and getting interwoven as the loom works.
The threads running lengthwise are called warp threads, those running crosswise are
called weft threads. The edge of the cloth is made of twist yarn.

Where cotton yarn is added, the linen cloth is referred to as semi-linen.

Linen cloth is differentiated by its application and texture as:

• Table damask (tablecloths and napkins);
• Towel damask and terry-loop cloth;
• Garment cloth (hopsack, tricot fabric, etc.);
• Bed spread cloths, fine, terraced and ticking;
• Coarse cloths, crinoline, tarpaulin, packaging and bag cloths as well as fire-hose cloths, etc.

Linen cloth is manufactured in unbleached, semi-bleached, bleached and dyed varieties. Used in combination with Dacron, it greatly enhances its properties.


FLAX APPLICATION

Natural properties of flax-based products make a perfect choice for use as household textiles, interior furnishings, textile wallpaper and wall coverings - they do not get deformed, retain their color and luster and do not fade, and have a long-life cycle.

Technical linen has found application in automotive, rubber, shoe and even aircraft industry. Flax fiber is used for the production of tarpaulin, sailcloth, driving belts, hoses and fishing nets.

Owing to its waterproofing properties, flax fiber is used as a base in the manufacture of roofing materials.

Being hygroscopic, air-permeable and aseptic, linen textiles are widely used in medicine as absorbent wool that prevents the development of infection and micro-flora, atraumatic dressings, woven and combined bandages, surgical thread that readily dissolves in the human organism.

Flax tow finds application in the building industry as a heat-insulating material. Used in the construction materials it appears to be a great energy and fuel saver.

Flax tow has also proved to be very promising in the production of an effective filtering material applied in waste-cleaning processes.

Besides fiber, flax is grown for oil that finds application in the manufacture of foodstuffs, soaps, paints and varnishes, rubber, etc. Linseed oil is an important component in the production of oilcloth, linoleum, waterproof cloths and top-quality leathers.

Linseed oil is also widely used in medicine and cosmetology.

The flax woody portion, shives, is used for the production of boards and blocks that successfully compete with more common wood chip and fiber boards. It is also used as fuel in water boiler-houses.

Linseed meal is a  valuable feed for livestock.