How is linen made?
The steps involved in the production of linen fabric are as follows:
Firstly, the soil that is suitable for the growth of flax is alluvial and crumbly loamy soil. The process of planting begins with the sowing of seeds and after 90-120 days the plant achieves the height of 2 to 4 feet, the lower two-third of the stem defoliated and the stalk attains yellow colour. The fiber obtained from a stalk that is green is underdeveloped and those obtained from brown stalk are overdeveloped or on the verge of degradation.
This process can be carried either manually or using a machine. In this step, the plant is pulled completely with roots from the ground and not cut in order to obtain the maximum length of the fiber.
• Drying and Thrashing:
This step involves removal of flax seeds that are present at the top part of the stem (also called as rippling) which can be performed using hand or machines. The flax seeds are utilised for various purposes such as linseed oil, cattle feed and sowing for next season.
Retting or rotting is a process of removal of flax fibers from the outer woody stalk. There is a presence of a gummy substance called pectin that bonds the fibers together. There are various methods for retting flax stalks. The flax stalks are tied in bundles for carrying out retting.
• Dew or field retting: This process utilises dew, sunlight and rain that leads to rotting of wood. Although this method has various drawbacks such as a long-time duration of about 4-6 weeks and thus time-consuming and the results obtained are not uniform. However, the fibers produced are strong and durable. This method is quite primitive and time-consuming.
• Steam retting: This method is quite simple wherein the bundles of flax stalk are suspended in the running steam water for rotting of wood.
• Pool or pond retting: In this process, the flax bundles are immersed in the clean still or stagnant water and kept submerged by weighing them down for about 2-4 weeks and thus the bacteria in the water hydrolyses the pectin which results in loosening of the outer woody stalk.
• However, this method has certain drawbacks such as sometimes over retting might occur which can damage the fiber, the stagnant water starts to produce a strong odour and lastly, the fibers can become dirty.
• Vat retting: This process involves placing the stalk in containers made of wood, plastic, concrete or mud. In addition, the water used should be warm at about 25-30. Metal containers can not be used because the process of retting produces a chemical that can corrode the metal.
• Chemical retting: The stalk of flax is boiled in a solution of sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide or sodium carbonate and then steamed. This process is least time consuming however the strength of the fiber is affected due to the use of chemicals.
• Dressing of Flax:
This stage involves three different processes that are breaking, scutching and hackling.
• Breaking: This process involves breaking of retted wood in short pieces bypassing the flax stalk between the rollers that crush them. Wooden blades can also be employed sometimes.
• Scutching: In this step, the short wooden pieces are removed or cleaned from the fibers by a machine having iron rollers in such a way that crushes the wooden stalk.
• Hackling: The cleaned fibers are then pulled through a series of iron combs that straightens the fiber strands. The short fibers are called tow which is separated from long fibers called line.
The fibers are then packed into bales and send for spinning.