Linen is spun from large fibers that are found behind the bark in the multi-layer stem of the flax plant Linum usitatissimum. To retrieve the fibers from the plant, the woody stem and inner part called pectin. This part is responsible for holding the fibers together in a clump, which must be rotted away. Cellulose fiber that comes from the stem that can be spun, and hence, used in the production of linen thread, cordage, and twine. Fine toweling and fancy fabrics can be created from linen thread or yarn. One of the most popular choices for warm-weather clothing is, in fact, linen. This is because it feels cool in the summer but is crisp and fresh in the hottest weather. Household linens that have been made become more supple and soft to touch with use and thus, linen was once the bed sheet of choice.
Flax plants are easy to grow and flourishes best in cool, humid climates with well-plowed soil. The separation process for flax fibers from the plant’s woody stock is hard work and must be completed in an area where labor is plentiful and relatively inexpensive. What is amazing is that there are some parts of the fiber preparation that can still be competed by hand. In fact, this has been done so for centuries. This holds true because of the care that must be taken with the gentle fibers inside woody stalk, which can be affected negatively by mechanized processing.
Flax continues to be cultivated in a number of countries such as Poland, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, etc. This is just to name a few. The grade of fibers varies in different countries across the world. It is widely believed that Belgium grows the finest-quality flax fibers in the world. The Scottish and Irish linen are not far behind. However, next to hand spinners and weavers, no country has commercial production of linen fabric like the United States. Linen fabrics in America are generally imported to other flax-growing and weaving countries.
Flax has been cultivated for its amazing fiber and linen for at least 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptian art depicts spinning and weaving of linen. Even as early as 3,000 B.C. this fiber was processed into fine white fabric and wrapped around the mummies of ancient Egyptian pharos. The Bible mentions using it as a cool, comfortable fiber in the Middle East on several accounts. It was viewed as a commodity to Ancient Greeks and Romans. It is believed that Finnish traders introduced flax to Northern Europe where it has been cultivated for centuries. Wood and linen were extremely important fibers in the New World because they were easy to grow. American settlers were encouraged to plant small pots of flax as early as the seventeenth century. However, as easy as flax is to grow, it was also a tedious chore to process the woody stalks for its supple linen.
Before the industrial revolution, homemade clothing was woven from linen that had been cultivated, processed, spun, dyed, woven, and sewn by hand. Some may argue that, until the eighteenth century, linen was the most important textile in the world. Late into the eighteenth century, cotton became the fiber that was made both easily and inexpensively. By the 1850s, production of linen had become abandoned in the United States because factory-made cotton was less expensive. Some New Englanders from Scotland or Ireland continued to cultivate flax for processing linen into domestic linens such as bed sheets, toweling, and decorative tablecloths. They are in the minority as most Americans had abandoned the cultivation of the plant in America and cheap cotton has taken its place. Until recently a different variety of flax plan was raised in this country not for its linen fibers but for its seeds, which exude a useful vegetable oil known as linseed oil when pressed.
Cellulose flax fiber is the only item needed in order to turn flax fibers into linen. The process for separating the fibers from the woody stalk can use either water or chemicals but they are ultimately washed away and are not included in the finished material.
Manufacturing linen yarn requires no special design processes. All that has to be determined prior to manufacturing is the thickness of yarn to be spun. This will ultimately depend on the grade of linen in production and the demands of the customer.
A European “flax wheel” is used to spin flax into linen thread in the home. Folklore teaches us that Henry Ford’s grandmother brought it to the New World. It was a family keepsake that Ford had from his ancestors.
It was not unusual for the Scots or Irish to bring wheels to the country. The British Isles have a long history of tradition of linen even decades after others abandoned the cotton in the New World. Ford’s grandmother was responsible for placing unspun flax on the tall, vertical, turned distaff and pushing the treadle with her foot to power the wheel. The bobbin and flyer mounted horizontally in the center of the wheel spun the flax and wound it on the bobbin simultaneously. The small wheel below the bobbin is required in order for the spinner to treadle fast to keep it moving. It is because of the small wheel that makes spinning wheel was not a popular style. Although it is lovely to look at, as the flax wheel is fancy, it can be time consuming to produce. Some people refer to this type of European spinning wheel as a “castle” or “parlor” because of its lovely inlays and turnings.
The Manufacturing Process
It takes about 100 days for the flax plants to be able to be harvested. Flax does not endure hot weather so many countries are not able to produce it. The time seeds are planted is determined by the date or time of the year the seeds must be harvested. A day for planting can be determined by counting back 100 days. In some parts of the world flax is planted in the winter because of the spring heat. In commercial production, the land is plowed during the spring months and worked into a seedbed by dicing, harrowing, and rolling. Flax seeds must be planted in shallow land. Seeds that are broadcast by hand must be covered with soil. Machines are helpful in planting seeds in a row. Flax plants do not fare well against weeds because the reduction in fiber by weeds yields and increases the difficulty in harvesting the plant. The tillage of soil reduces weeds, as do herbicides. When the plants are a few inches high, their area must be carefully weeded as to not disturb the delicate sprouts. The blue flowered plants yield the finest linen fibers.
Within 90 days the leaves will wither and the stem will turn yellow as the seed turns brown. This is an indication that it is time to harvest the plant. The plant should be pulled as soon as it turns brown. Delaying the process could do damage to the plant and result in the loss of prized luster. It is important that the stalk is not cut down during the harvesting process but removed from the ground in one piece. Cutting the stalk causes it to lose sap, which affects the quality of the linen. The plants are commonly pulled out of the ground by hand and grasped just under the seed heads. The tapered ends of the stalk should be preserved in order to spin a smooth yarn. The stalks are tied in bundles called beets and are ready for extraction of the flax fiber in the stalk. However, fairly efficient machines can pull plans from the ground.
Releasing the Fiber from the stalk
The plan passes through coarse combs that remove the seeds and leaves from the plant. This process is called ripping and is mechanized in flax-producing countries.
Water or chemical retting then decomposes woody bark. This loosens the pectin, or gum, that attaches the fiber to the stem. When flex is not fully retted, the stalk of the plant can’t be separated from the fiber without injuring the delicate fiber. From here the retting has to be carefully executed. Not enough retting will permit the fiber to be separated from the stalk with ease. Too much retting or rotting will weaken the fibers. There are a few ways retting can be accomplished in different ways. There are some parts of the world in which linen is still retted by hand using moisture to rot away the bark.
The stalks spread out on dewy slopes and submerge in stagnant pools or water or are placed in running streams. Workers are encouraged to wait for the water to begin rotting or fermenting the stem for a week or two. Most manufacturers use chemicals for retting. The plants are put in a solution of alkali or oxalic acid and pressurized and boiled. This method makes it easier to monitor and also quickly. However, there are some that believe that chemical retting can have negative impact on the color and strength of the fiber. Vat retting requires the stalks to be submerged in vats of warm water, which hastens the decomposition of the stem. From here the flax is removed from the vats and goes through the rollers to crush the bark as clean water flushes away the pectin.
After the retting process, the flax plants are squeezed and allowed to dry out before they undergo the process called breaking. In order to crush the decomposed stalks, they are sent through fluted rollers which break up the stem and separate the exterior fibers from the bast that will be used to make linen. This process breaks the stalk into small pieces of bark called shives. Then, the shives are scutched. The scutching machine removes the broken shives with rotating paddles, finally releasing the flax fiber from stalk.
The fibers are now combed and straightened in preparation for spinning. This separates the short fibers (called tow and used for making more coarse, sturdy goods) from the longer and more luxurious linen fibers.
Linen fibers (long linen fibers) are put through machines called spreaders, which combine fibers of the same length, laying the fibers parallel so that the ends overlap, creating a sliver. The sliver passes through a set of rollers, making a roving which is ready to spin.
The linen rovings, resembling tresses of blonde hair, are put on a spinning frame and drawn out into thread and ultimately wound on bobbins or spools. Many such spools are filled on a spinning frame at the same time. The fibers are formed into a continuous ribbon by being pressed between rollers and combed over fine pins. This operation constantly pulls and elongates the ribbon-like linen until it is given its final twist for strength and wound on the bobbin. While linen is a strong fiber, it is rather inelastic. Thus, the atmosphere within the spinning factory must be both humid and warm in order to render the fiber easier to work into yarn. In this hot, humid factory the linen is wet spun in which the roving is run through a hot water bath in order to bind the fibers together thus creating a fine yarn. Dry spinning does not use moisture for spinning. This produces rough, uneven yarn that are used for making inexpensive twines or coarse yarns.
These moist yarns are transferred from bobbins on the spinning frame to large take-up reels. These linen reels are taken to dryers, and when the yarn is dry, it is wound onto bobbins for weaving or wound into yarn spools of varying weight. The higher the cut, the finer the yarn becomes. The yarn now awaits transport to the loom for weaving into fabrics, toweling, or for use as twine or rope.
Of greatest concern are the chemicals used in retting. These chemicals must be neutralized before being released into water supplies. The stalks, leaves, seed pods, etc. are natural organic materials and are not hazardous unless impregnated with much of the chemicals left behind in the retting process. The only other concern with the processing of linen is the smell—it is said that hand-retted linen produces quite a stench and is most unpleasant to experience.
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|inches||27 - 30||30 - 33||33 - 36||36 - 39||39 - 42|
|cm||68.5 - 76||76 - 84||84 - 91.5||91.5 - 99||99 - 107|
These are USA sizes. Size down for European.
HOW TO MEASURE
Wrap a measuring tape around your hip bone line, making sure the tape is parallel to the ground. This measurement determines your waist size. IMPORTANT: Do not rely on your jean size measurements. Just because your jean size is 34 does not mean your waist is 34 inches. Usually, your waist measurements are greater than your jean size.
|US Men's||US Woman's||Euro||UK|
|S||4 - 6||34 - 37||2 - 4.5|
|M||6 - 8||7 - 9||38 - 41||5.5 - 7.5|
|L||9 - 11||10 - 12||42 - 45||8.5 - 10.5|
|XL||12 - 16||46 - 49||11.5 - 15.5|