I will continue my story about linen.
If you own a pet, you will love to hear this about linen. Linen fibers do not fray or rub, so neither lint nor static is created. That’s a big deal around our house. The processing of flax into fiber is ecologically sound. This is definitely politically correct. No pesticides are used in its cultivation, and every part of the plant is put to use in some way. By-products include cattle feed, rope, paper, ink, paint, and linseed oil. Sown at the end of March or the beginning of April, flax, with its soft blue flowers, is ready to harvest 100 days later, after the plant has reached its full height of 2 feet to 3 feet.
Pulled by the roots rather than cut, flax plants are bundled and left in the field. The seeds are removed and are used either for sowing the next year’s crops or for producing linseed oil. In a process called retting, during which the bundles of flax are left outdoors or soaked inside in warm water, the plants begin to decompose. As natural enzymes break down the flax, the fibers start to separate from the rest of the plant. If the bundles are retted outside, the fibers are bleached by the sun.
Next comes scotching, which separates the fibers in the stem from the woody matter and bark of the plant. The fibers are rubbed and beaten, and the smaller, courser, broken fibers are separated from the longer fibers. The fibers are then combed through a series of progressively finer rollers. The longer, smoother fibers are wound in preparation for spinning. Flax is wet spun, meaning that the fibers pass through a trough of hot water just before they are spun. The water bath softens in the natural gum, yielding a high-quality fiber. Flax fibers are long and smooth, without any crimp, so they must be tightly spun, or they will work apart.
Linen is complicated to weave because the fibers lack elasticity, but a number of technical advances have resulted in yarns that are stronger and better suited to today’s high-speed looms. Linens today are woven into crepes, tweeds, and boucles. They are sanded and pumiced, and they are blended with other fibers to lessen their penchant for wrinkling and to add bounce. Mother-of-pearl and other iridescent finishes are applied to enhance linen’s natural shine and luster, and its inherent fiber strength allows fine open weaves that still maintain a crisp hand.
I know we complain about linen wrinkling, but hopefully you are loving it more by the minute. The next process is dyeing the linen.