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Irish Linen and how its made


Irish Linens

Here at Lee Valley Ireland we rely on fabulous fabrics to make our products the best-sellers they are. We carefully select the fabrics we use, having researched the manufacturers and the suppliers. The fabrics we mostly use are cotton flannelette, linen and tweed. Here's a quick blog on Irish linen and how it's made.

Our best-selling product is the collarless grandfather shirt. We stock this shirt in a variety of fabrics. My favourite is the linen/cotton blend, a super soft and breathable fabric made into our traditional collarless grandfather shirt.


The Origin of Linen

Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant, traditionally grown in Ireland. However the agricultural revolution determined that the flax plant was better suited to northern European countries. France, Belgium and the Netherlands are now the main suppliers of flax for linen production in Ireland. The flax fibre yarn has been imported from these three countries for over four decades by the spinners who produce the yarn which is then sold to Irish weavers who then produce fabric.LN8_Lee_Valley_linen_Grandad_Shirt.jpg

Linen: flax to fabric

Plant the seed: Once flax seeds are planted they need little tending, just 100 days to grow in a cool and damp environment, commonly from March to July. The plant grows to a metre or more in height. The flowers are blue, lilac and white.

Harvest: Flax is harvested for a number of reasons; its strong yet fine fibres, the nutritious seeds and flax oil often used as a drying oil by painters. Flax harvesting is a time consuming and labour intensive process. When harvested the flowered plant should include its roots, this gives longer fibres and also prevents the sap leaking onto the fibres and weakening them. These are the reasons why the process is done by hand.

Drying: The freshly harvested stalks are left to dry in the open air for weeks.

Threshing: The seeds are removed from the plant by threshing. Hand threshing is the most popular method. This is done by beating the stalks until the seed pods burst and the seeds are shaken free.

Retting: This is the process of steeping the stalks to enable the flax fibres to separate from them. Traditionally retting would have been done by weighing down bundles of flax in a bog, pond or stream. The bundles would be left to soak for weeks. The more modern method uses a cement tank in which the stalks are soaked for a few hours to clean them, the water is then changed. The stalks are left to soak for up to six days in the fresh water. Chemical retting is an option rarely used because of the ill effects on both the environment and the fibres.        ReadMore

Dry & Cure: After the retting process the stalks need to be dried. Once dried they need time to cure. This can take weeks.

Scutching: The dried and cured stalks are put through rollers to break down the dried, wood-like stalks. The wooden splinters are removed by scraping a wooden knife down the length of the fibres. This process, much like many of the steps in the process, is very labour intensive. On average a person can only produce fifteen pounds of flax fibres in a day.

Heckled: The bast or strong fibres that have been separated from the wood-like stalks are heckled, or combed through a bed of nails. This polished the fibres and removes the shorter fibres known as tow fibres. The tow fibres are spun into yarn used for lesser quality linen, while the longer fibres, often over a metre in length, are ready for spinning.

Spinning: The metre-long fibres are called stricks. They are traditionally spun by hand. The fibres are hung from a distaff or long pole attached to the spinning wheel. This prevents the fibres from tangling. Spinning is when two fibres are twisted together to form a yarn. This yarn is wound onto a spool. During the spinning process, the yarn is often kept damp to ensure it stays smooth and to also prevent fly-away strands. Linen is a very fine yarn.

Weaving: As linen yarn is very fine, it is more often than not woven into sheets of linen fabric using a loom.


Did you know…

Linen yarn is rarely used for knitting as it is very fine and also because it has no natural stretch or elasticity.

Linen fibres were used to make bank notes more hard wearing.

Ancient Egyptians used linens to embalm the dead.

The Shroud of Turin was made of linen.                                                                      


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  • (Denis Hurley)
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