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Part I - Historical
Part II - Linen Associations
Part III - Flax

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Irish linen
a lecture by W. H. WEBB, F.T.I.

Part III

FLAX is the raw material of the Linen Trade. It is grown mostly by the smaller or peasant farmer and is to him only a side crop in his rotation. This is important, as it accounts for the fact that during a depression, when prices are falling, a surplus; as in raw cotton and wool is not accumulated. When the price level does not appeal to the farmer he stops growing flax, whereas the wool or cotton farmer has no other crop to turn to.

The Seal Masters
On a falling market the increasing scarcity tends to steady the price of flax, but it has the opposite effect on a rising market. This has been demonstrated by the re-arming of Germany late in 1934 when the available surplus was cleared almost at a stroke and the price of flax flew up to impossible heights.

BY far the largest flax-growing country is Soviet Russia. It produces approximately 90 percent, of the total flax crop of the world, and such a concentration, especially where the control of the crop is a monopoly, is a disturbing factor to the Linen Trade. Russia grows. generally speaking, the low, coarser grades of flax and the acreage is controlled under the five-year plan.

Next to Russia in volume or production are, taken collectively, the Baltic States. They produce more of a medium quality fiber.

Of the exporting countries Belgium would come next and Courtrai flax, as it is called, is without comparison the highest quality fiber produced anywhere. It is used for making handkerchiefs, damask table linen, and in fact for everything requiring the finest texture.

Germany, France and Czechoslovakia are producers of flax but chiefly for home consumption. Holland also produces flax, and Dutch flax-seed has been famous for years.

Irish flax can be very good and is particularly strong, but owing to the uncertain harvesting conditions in August the quality is irregular. For the same reason, the seed from the Irish crop is rarely saved.

THE flax plant is an annual and is grown both for its fiber and for its seed. The stem of the fiber plant is slender and tall, being about 3 ft. 6 ins, to 4 ft. long, and the fibre consists of the skin surrounding the woody core of the stem.

Flax-seed is used for making linseed oil and also linseed meal for feeding purposes, and the name lint" is often applied to flax.

The flaxes grown for fiber, and for seed only, are the same family, but as you will see by the illustrations, they have developed different habits of growth.

For fiber purposes the seed is sown thickly, "a close stand" it is called, in order to prevent it from branching, which would ruin it for fiber.

Where linseed is the objective it is sown thinly so that it may be afforded space to branch out and thus increase the yield of seed. The linseed type of flax has lost its capacity to produce worth-while fiber and the fiber type produces only a limited amount of seed.

No flax is grown for linseed in the British Isles, but large quantities are grown on the American Continent.

The flax flower is either blue or white, and there are few prettier sights than a flax field in bloom.

The seed is small, flat, oily and of a brownish color, and is developed in small round capsules, which are attached to the ends of the branches.

IRISH growers are unable to save their seed because of the dampness of the climate, they have, therefore, to purchase seed from other countries. Prior to the war Riga and Dutch seed were the most in favor, but since the war Canadian seed has the preference. The dry climate of Canada, while not good for producing fiber, seems to impart an added vitality to the seed, and a considerable acreage of fiber- flax is grown in the Province of Ontario. primarily for the seed, which is shipped to Belfast.

The stems with the fiber which is there the by-product, are broken up into what is called green tow which is used for upholstery purposes, as destructive moths, beetles, and bugs have been found to have a rooted distaste to flax. There may be a thought here for upholsterers in other countries.

FIBER flax is a capricious crop and the growing conditions must be suitable if satisfactory results are to be obtained. In a dry climate it produces a husky, brittle type of fiber and apparently a certain degree of humidity is always essential, So far it has not been grown successfully on the North American Continent.

The soil on which it is grown is most important, as, with the same seed on different classes of land entirely different results will be obtained. This has been the subject of considerable scientific research which will be referred to later.

The soil on which it is grown is most important, as, with the same seed on different classes of land entirely different results will be obtained. This has been the subject of considerable scientific research which will be referred to later. Owing to the seed being so small the land has to be carefully prepared in order to obtain as fine a tilth as possible. It is best sown by a drilling machine, but a large proportion of the crop is still sown broadcast either by hand or by what is known as a fiddle broadcaster. The amount of seed used is about 112 lbs. to the acre.

As soon as the crop is a few inches in length. thorough hand weeding is necessary, as there are various weeds, such as redshank and sharlock, which, if allowed to grow up along with the flax, would seriously injure its fibre value. The period of growth is about 90 days and the flax is pulled when the seeds begin to brown. indicating that the sap has turned downwards.

As a result of the success of the Damask Guild in the U.S.A. the Irish Linen Guild was in 1928 organised to operate in the Home Market under the direction of Mr. John Gilli land. This was on a somewhat smaller scale but has carried on successfully up to the present time.

At this stage, in Ireland. where no attempt is made to save the seed, the flax is immediately steeped in the retting ponds.

In countries where the custom is to save the seed, it is dried in the field and subsequently put up in stacks at some place convenient for de-seeding and the subsequent retting operations.

Pulling of Flax
THE flax crop is pulled, not cut, as were it to be cut, not only would it be injured but valuable fibre would also be lost.

There are now satisfactory mechanical pulling machines but these are only applicable where the fields are large and in districts where the harvest is early and not subject to the August rains. Rain will "lodge" portions of the crop so that the machine will not be able to get hold. In Northern Ireland a pulling machine would be useless, as the fields are small, and the harvest is in the latter part of August.

Hand pulling is therefore essential for by far. the larger proportion of the total flax crop, and is a tedious, expensive operation.

About Ulster Linen Co., Inc.

The Ulster Linen Co., Inc. of New York is noted for being the most reliable source of Fine European Linens in the US. Our roots go back to an Irish mill called The Ulster Weaving Co., Ltd. which was started over 150 years ago by John Sloan Larmor from a small weaving division of the Ulster Spinning Co., Ltd. William Hogg Larmor, youngest son of John Sloan Larmor came to the United States and started the present New York importing company in 1933, then also called the Ulster Weaving Co., Ltd. Both the Belfast and New York companies recently changed their names to better reflect their corporate purpose and independence.

Our reputation for quick, courteous service and high quality products is well known. Ulster's longevity (oldest US Linen Company of its kind, still active) is the result of placing the customer's needs first and carrying ample stock of basic linens for swift delivery. Please review our product line and contact us when you need quality linen. You may select from linen by the yard or household linen.

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