FLAX - Fibre

Dating back more than 5000 years, it is one of the oldest textile fibres known to man and weaving cloth is man's oldest manufactur­ing activity. Illustrations on tombs and temple walls at Thebes show flowering flax plants. The use of flax fibre in the manufacturing of cloth in northern Europe dates back to pre-Roman times, and Flax fibre cloths were found in Switzerland , left there 10,000 years ago by the Neolithic Lake Dwellers - it even pre-dates the invention of the wheel! The failure of a flax crop is mentioned in the Bible as be­ing one of the ten plagues, and the Bible also talks of "those that work in fine flax . . ."

Flax plant
It is an erect annual plant, with slender stems, growing to a height of about 120 cm.The leaves are glaucous green, slender lanceolate, 2-4 cm long and 3 mm broad. The flowers are pure pale blue, 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, with five petals. The fruit is a round, dry capsule 5-9 mm diameter, containing several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip, 4-7 mm long.



Flax is one of the dicotyledonous (those that form two seed-leaves) plants of the Linaceae family, genus linum, species linum usitatissimum; which produce bast fibres. The flax fibre is located in the stalk, beneath the outer surface between the outer bark and the woody, pithy inner core of the stem and run from the root of the plant to the tip. Flax is an adaptable plant and, given the rich loamy soil that it needs, can tolerate very different climates in many parts of the world. It is a three-month crop, is sown in spring and grows best in temperate climates. Northern France , Belgium and Holland have, for centuries, been famous for fine quality flax and still continue to grow it, but by far the greatest output today is from the USSR
For many thousands of years flax has been a valuable cultivated crop used for two purposes, the seed and the fibre. Various parts of the plant have been used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets and soap. Gardeners grow it, as flax is one of the few truly blue flowers (most "blue" flowers are really shades of purple).

Flax seed
The seeds produce a vegetable oil known as linseed oil. It is one of the oldest commercial oils and has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing. The seeds are edible, and cold pressed linseed oil is suitable for human consumption.

Flax fibre
Flax fibres vary in length from about 5 to 39 cms and average 12-16 micrometers in diameter. There are two varieties extracted from the stem of flax plant: (a) shorter tow fibres used for coarser fabrics and (b) the longer line fibres used for finer fabrics.

Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fibre but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such as damasks, lace and sheeting. Coarser grades are used for the manufacturing of twine and rope. Flax fibre is also a raw material for the high-quality paper industry for the use of printed banknotes

These Northern Ireland postage stamps, featuring the Flax plant, were issued between 1963 & 1972, reflecting the importance of the Irish Linen industry to the country. More recently, in 2001, the stamp feauring a Linen slip case was issued.
The flax plant is also shown on the £1 coins minted in 1986 and 1991