Flax plants have been used to produce linen fabric for a very long time. The oldest textile fibres in the world are samples of flax from Georgia in Asia dated to 30,000 years ago. Early samples of linen and flax fibres have been found in the Alps and dated to about 5000 years ago. Some of the tools used in the process are still used to make linen from flax.
Kazakhstan produces the most flax plants in the world, but huge amounts are grown in Canada, Russia and China. Flax is harvested about a month after it flowers, when the stalks and seeds have dried. Flax harvested by hand is pulled up by the roots giving higher quality fibre as the length of the strands is longer. Both mechanically harvested and hand harvested flax is left to ret (dry out) in the field. Seeds are removed after the plant has dried. Processing and spinning then turn the fibres from the plant stalks into yarn which is woven into linen. Linen is durable, absorbent and dries faster than cotton, making it ideal for bedsheets, tea towels and clothing for wearing in hot weather.
The north of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are world renowned for producing high quality linens in very traditional ways.