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flax

flax, common name for members of the Linaceae, a family of annual herbs, especially members of the genus Linum, and for the fiber obtained from such plants. The flax of commerce (several varieties of L. usitatissimum) has been cultivated since prehistoric times (see linen). It was the major source of cloth fiber until the growth of the cotton industry (c.1800) and the competitive use of other fibers, such as jute. Flax has been transplanted from its native locales in Eurasia to all temperate zones of the world that provide a suitable habitat (a cool, damp climate) for its cultivation as a fiber plant; it is also grown in many tropical countries for its oil-bearing seeds. Flax plants grow to 4 ft (120 cm) in height and bear blue or white flowers that mature into bolls containing 10 seeds each. When grown for fiber, flax is sown densely to prevent branching and is gathered before maturity; for seed, it is sown sparsely and allowed to branch and fruit. To obtain the fiber, the stems, stripped of leaves, may be tied in bunches and immersed in warm water for a few days or in cool water for one or two weeks, or they may be spread out on grass and exposed to the dew and sun for several weeks. This process, called retting, permits bacteria to break down the woody tissues by fermentation and to dissolve by enzyme action the substances binding the fiber cells. After retting, the stems are washed and allowed to dry and then are scutched (beaten) to separate the fibers from other material and to crush the pith. A combing process (called hackling) removes any remaining nonfibrous matter. The fiber cells range in length from 1/2 to 2 in. (1.3–5.1 cm); the cell bundles (fibers) range from 12 to 36 in. (30–90 cm). Short, broken fibers are called tow and are used to make coarse fabrics and cordage; the long fibers are used for strong threads and fine linens. Flax fiber has also been used for such products as insulating material and writing and cigarette paper. The seeds are crushed to make linseed oil, and the remaining linseed cake is used for fodder; dried flaxseed has been used in various medicinal preparations. Flax is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Linales.

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flax

flax / flaks/ • n. a blue-flowered herbaceous plant (Linum usitatissimum, family Linaceae) that is cultivated for its seed (linseed) and for textile fiber made from its stalks. ∎  textile fiber obtained from this plant. ∎  used in names of other plants of the flax family or plants that yield similar fiber. ORIGIN: Old English flæx, related to German Flachs, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin plectere and Greek plekein ‘to plait, twist.’

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flax

flax blue-flowered plant producing textile fibre and linseed. OE. flæx (fleax) = (M)Du. vlas, OHG. flahs (G. flachs) :- WGmc. *flaχsa, prob. to be referred to Gmc. *flaχ- *fleχ- :- IE. *plok- *plek- in Gr. plékein, L. plectere, G. flechten plait.
Hence flaxen XVI. See -EN3.

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flax

flax Slender, erect, flowering plant cultivated for its fibres and seeds. After harvesting, the stems are retted (soaked in water) to soften the fibres and wash away other tissues. The fibres are spun into yarn to make linen. The seeds yield linseed oil. Family Linaceae; species Linum usitatissium.

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flax

flax See LINUM and FIBRE.

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flax

flax See linseed.

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flax

flaxaxe (US ax), Backs, Bax, fax, flax, lax, max, pax, Sachs, sax, saxe, tax, wax •co-ax • addax • Fairfax • Ceefax •Halifax • Telefax • Filofax • banjax •Ajax •pickaxe (US pickax) • gravlax •gravadlax • poleaxe • toadflax •parallax •battleaxe (US battleax) •minimax • climax • Betamax • anthrax •hyrax •borax, storax, thorax •syntax • surtax • beeswax • earwax •Berks, Lourenço Marques, Marks, Marx, Parks, Sparks •annex, convex, ex, flex, hex, perplex, Rex, sex, specs, Tex, Tex-Mex, vex •ibex • index • codex • tubifex •spinifex • pontifex • Telex • triplex •simplex • multiplex •ilex, silex •complex • duplex • circumflex • Amex •annexe • Kleenex • apex • Tipp-Ex •haruspex • perspex • Pyrex •Durex, Lurex, murex •Middlesex • unisex • Semtex • latex •cortex, Gore-tex, vortex •vertex • Jacques •breeks, idée fixe, maxixe, Weeks

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Flax

FLAX

FLAX (Heb. פִּשְׁתָּה, pishtah, in the Bible; פִּשְׁתָּן, pishtan, in talmudic literature), plant cultivated in Ereẓ Israel. It is mentioned only once in the Bible. The "stalks of flax" mentioned in Joshua 2:6 are undressed flax fibers. Evidence of the cultivation of flax in Ereẓ Israel at the beginning of the period of the kingdom is to be found in the *Gezer Calendar, which mentions ירח עצד פשת, that is, "the month of the uprooting of flax," which is followed by "the month of the barley harvest." In the Bible there is frequent reference to flax products.

The cultivation of flax played an important role in ancient Egypt. The Bible states that during the plague of hail in Egypt, flax (which ripens early) was damaged (Ex. 9:31). Isaiah (19:5–9) describes the havoc caused to the Egyptian economy by the drying up of the Nile, the consequent withering of the flax, and the resulting ruin of the industries associated with it. Flax was, together with wool, one of the necessities of life (Hos. 2:7, 11), The Torah prohibited the wearing of a garment spun of both materials (Deut, 22:11; see *Shaatnez), a prohibition which the Midrash (pdre 21) connects with the episode of Cain and Abel, the former having brought an offering of flax seeds, the latter of wool. Some contend that the prohibition reflects the antagonism between the farmer and the shepherd.

The Akkadian for flax is kitannu, from which are derived the biblical ketonet and the talmudic kitna. The sages differed on the interpretation of the phrase "garments (kotnot) of skins," with which Adam and Eve were clothed, one view being that it referred to flax "from which the [human] skin derives pleasure," another that it referred to wool, that "grows from skin" (Sot. 14a). Linen from c. 135 c.e. was discovered in Nahal Ḥever.

There are many references in talmudic literature to the growth and cultivation of flax. The quantity of flax produced was apparently subject to considerable fluctuations, there having been times when it was necessary to import hempen garments (Kil. 9:2), These, however, were no longer in demand in the amoraic period when flax was extensively grown (tj, Kil. 9:5, 32d), Flax was attacked by plant diseases, and public prayers were offered up for their riddance (tj, Ta'an 3:6, 66d), but after Hiyya and his sons came from Babylonia (to Ereẓ Israel), flax was free from disease (tj, Ma'as. Sh. 5:8, 56d). Flax was regarded as a crop that impoverishes the soil and so was planted in the same field only once every three or seven years (bm 9:9; Tosef., bm 9:31). It bears beautiful blue flowers, which are followed after a few days by pods (Num. R. 7:4). Although grown mainly for its fiber, it was also cultivated for its seed, which was used as food and for medicinal purposes (bb 93a–b).

The Mishnah and the Talmud give many details about flaxen products and different kinds of cloth. A garment made of flax was usually a popular, strong, and very cheap form of clothing. When R. Judah ha-Nasi ii, wearing a flaxen garment, came out to meet R. Johanan, he was told that it was more proper for a patriarch to wear clothes made of wool (tj, Sanh. 2:8, 20c). There were, however, also fine, excellent clothes made of flax, a wealthy high priest having worn a flaxen garment which cost 20,000 zuzim (tj, Yoma 3:6,40d). Although expensive flax material was imported (bm 29b), a high quality flaxen cloth was produced in Ereẓ Israel at Beth-Shean (Gen. R. 20:12); that made at Arbela was of a cheaper quality (ibid. 19:1 beginning). The flax in the Bible and in talmudic literature was the cultivated variety, Linum usitatissimum, of which there are many strains, some used in the manufacture of fiber, others for the extraction of oil from their seeds. Flax is hardly grown in Israel, but the wild flax of the species Linum angustifolium, which some regard as the original of the cultivated flax, grows extensively.

bibliography:

Herschberg, in: Ha-Kedem, 3 (1909), 7–29 (Hebr. section); Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 208–16; Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 138–40; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (1957), 279–84. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 130.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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Flax

Flax

Fiber flax

Seed flax

Resources

The flax plant, genus Linum, family Linaceae, is the source of two important commodities. Linen is an historic, economically important cloth made from flax fiber. Linseed oil is obtained from the pressed seeds of the plant. There are about 200 species of Linum. The species that is cultivated most extensively is L.

usitatissimum, an annual plant grown for its fiber and seed. Varieties of L. usitatissimum grown as a fiber crop have been selected to have stems that are tall, which ensures long fibers. Varieties grown for seed are shorter, with extensive branching, and thus bearing more flowers and yielding more seed. Today, Russia is the largest producer of flax. Flax grown in the United States (mainly for seed) is raised in the northern plains states.

Flax plants have gray-green, lanceolate (long and tapered), alternate leaves. Their height ranges from 1-4 feet (0.3-1.2 m). Many cultivated varieties of flax have blue flowers, although some have white, yellow, pink, or red flowers. The flowers are self-pollinating and symmetrical, with five sepals, five petals, five stamens, and a pistil with five styles. The fruit is a capsule with five carpels, each containing two brown, yellow, or mottled, shiny seeds. Flax crops are grown in rotation with other crops to avoid fungal pathogens that cause diseases in flax plants.

Linum angustifolium is a wild perennial flax, thought to be a parent of cultivated flax. There is evidence that this species was used by prehistoric peoples in Switzerland about 10,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians wrapped their mummies in linen.

Fiber flax

Flax plants grown for fiber require well-weeded well-drained soil, and a cool, humid environment. The plant is harvested when the stems begin to turn brown. Any delay in harvesting results in deterioration of the fiber, causing it to lose its luster and softness. The plants are often harvested by hand, uprooting the plant to preserve the length of the fiber. Flax is also harvested mechanically, but fiber length is sacrificed to some degree. Good fiber is 12-20 inches (20-30 cm) long. The seed pods (bolls) are separated from the uprooted plants, either mechanically or by hand, a process called rippling.

The uprooted plants, now called straw, are then retted. This is a process by which bacteria and fungi are allowed to rot the semi-woody stalk tissues, and break down the gummy substance (pectin) that binds the fibers together. If the straw is not retted enough, removal of the semi-woody stalk is difficult, but if the straw is over-retted, the fiber is weakened. In pool or dam retting, the straw is placed in a tank of warm water, while in dew retting it is spread out in a field, allowing the straw to become dampened by dew or rain. Stream retting is a method where the flax bundles are put into flowing streams, and this produces the best linen fiber. Straw can also be retted chemically. The various retting processes are used to create various shades and strengths of fiber.

After retting, the straw is dried and put through a machine called a flax brake, which crushes the stems into small, broken pieces called shives. The shives are removed from the fiber by a process called scutching, done either mechanically or by hand. The fibers are then straightened out by hackling or combings, sorted according to length, and baled. The long fibers, called line fiber, are used to make fine fabrics, threads used for bookbinding and shoe making, and twine. The short, damaged or tangled fibers, called tow, are used for products such as rope, and rougher linen yarns.

The finest, strongest linen is made from flax immersed in hot water, and spun while wet; dry spinning produces a rougher, uneven yarn. Linen yarn is very strong, but inflexible. Flax fiber is basically pure cellulose, and is not very porous, making it difficult to dye unless the cloth is bleached first. The

KEY TERMS

Hackling A combing procedure to straighten flax fibers.

Linen Thread or cloth made from the long fibers of the flax plant.

Linseed oil Oil obtained from the seeds of the flax plant.

Retting A process whereby flax plants are moistened, allowing the stem covering to rot, and to break down the substances that hold the fiber together.

Rippling A manual method of removing seed pods from the flax stalks, by drawing the stalks through combs.

Scutching A process in which the flax fiber is beaten, separating it from the stem.

Shives Small pieces of flax stem obtained after putting the retted straw through a machine called a flax brake, which crushes the woody part of the stem without damaging the fiber.

manufacturing of linen is very labor intensive and its price reflects this fact. France and Belgium have the reputation of producing the highest quality linens.

Seed flax

Seed flax grows best in a warm climate, but hot temperatures and drought can reduce the crop yield and oil content. The soil should be fertile and well weeded. To obtain the seed, the flax plants are allowed to over-ripen, which destroys the plants value for its fiber as linen. Flax seed contains about 40% oil, and the seeds are crushed and pressed to remove this product. Linseed oil, which hardens by oxidation, is used to manufacture paints, varnishes, patent leather, linoleum, and oilcloth.

The remaining seed and hull wastes after pressing are used for livestock feed. Fiber can also be obtained from seed flax plants. This fiber is made into special papers.

See also Natural fibers.

Resources

BOOKS

Lewington, Anna. Plants for People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

PERIODICALS

Akin, D.E. Enzyme-Retting Of Flax And Characterization Of Processed Fibers. Journal Of Biotechnology 89, no. 2-3 (2001): 193-203.

Nontraditionally Retted Flax For Dry Cotton Blend Spinning. Textiler Research Journal 71, no. 5 (2001):375-380.

OTHER

National Park Service: Colonial National Historical Park Flax Production in the Seventeenth Century: How Its Done <http://www.nps.gov/archive/colo/Jthanout/FlaxProd.html> (accessed November 24, 2006).

Purdue University, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. Alternative Field Crops Manual: Flax <http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/flax.html> (accessed November 24, 2006).

Christine Miner Minderovic

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Flax

Flax

The flax plant , genus Linum, family Linaceae, is the source of two important commodities. Linen is a historic, economically important cloth made from the fiber of flax. Linseed oil is obtained from the pressed seeds of the plant. There are about 200 species of Linum. The species that is cultivated most extensively is L. usitatissimum, an annual plant grown for its fiber and seed. Varieties of L. usitatissimum grown as a fiber crop have been selected to have stems that are tall, which ensures long fibers. Varieties grown for seed are shorter, with extensive branching, and thus bearing more flowers and yielding more seed.

Flax plants have gray-green, lanceolate (long and tapered), alternate leaves. Their height ranges from 1-4 ft (0.3-1.2 m). Many cultivated varieties of flax have blue flowers, although some have white, yellow, pink, or red flowers. The flowers are self-pollinating and symmetrical, with five sepals, five petals, five stamens, and a pistil with five styles. The fruit is a capsule with five carpels, each containing two brown, yellow, or mottled, shiny seeds. Flax crops are grown in rotation with other crops to avoid fungal pathogens that cause diseases in flax plants.

Linum angustifolium is a wild, perennial flax, is thought to be a "parent" of cultivated flax. There is evidence that this species was used by prehistoric peoples in Switzerland about 10,000 years ago. The ancient
Egyptians wrapped their mummies in linen. Today, Russia is the largest producer of flax. Flax grown in the United States (mainly for seed) is raised in the northern plains states.


Fiber flax

Flax plants grown for fiber require well-weeded well-drained soil , and a cool, humid environment. The plant is harvested when the stems begin to turn brown. Any delay in harvesting results in deterioration of the fiber, causing it to lose its luster and softness. The plants are often harvested by hand, uprooting the plant to preserve the length of the fiber. Flax is also harvested mechanically, but fiber length is sacrificed to some degree. Good fiber is 12-20 in (20-30 cm) long. The seed pods (bolls) are separated from the uprooted plants, either mechanically or by hand, a process called rippling.

The uprooted plants, now called straw, are then retted. This is a process by which bacteria and fungi are allowed to rot the semi-woody stalk tissues, and break down the gummy substance (pectin) that binds the fibers together. If the straw is not retted enough, removal of the semi-woody stalk is difficult, but if the straw is over-retted, the fiber is weakened. In pool or dam retting, the straw is placed in a tank of warm water , while in dew retting it is spread out in a field, allowing the straw to become dampened by dew or rain. Stream retting is a method where the flax bundles are put into flowing streams, and this produces the best linen fiber. Straw can also be retted chemically. The various retting processes are used to create various shades and strengths of fiber.

After retting, the straw is dried and put through a machine called a flax brake, which crushes the stems into small, broken pieces called shives. The shives are removed from the fiber by a process called scutching, done either mechanically or by hand. The fibers are then straightened out by hackling or combings, sorted according to length, and baled. The long fibers, called line fiber, are used to make fine fabrics, threads used for bookbinding and shoe making, and twine. The short, damaged or tangled fibers, called tow, are used for products such as rope, and rougher linen yarns.

The finest, strongest linen is made from flax immersed in hot water, and spun while wet; dry spinning produces a rougher, uneven yarn. Linen yarn is very strong, but inflexible. Flax fiber is basically pure cellulose , and is not very porous, making it difficult to dye unless the cloth is bleached first. The manufacturing of linen is very labor intensive and its price reflects this fact. France and Belgium have the reputation of producing the highest quality linens.


Seed flax

Seed flax grows best in a warm climate, but hot temperatures and drought can reduce the crop yield and oil content. The soil should be fertile and well weeded. To obtain the seed, the flax plants are allowed to over-ripen, which destroys the plant's value for its fiber as linen. Flax seed contains about 40% oil, and the seeds are crushed and pressed to remove this product. Linseed oil, which hardens by oxidation, is used to manufacture paints, varnishes, patent leather, linoleum, and oilcloth.

The remaining seed and hull wastes after pressing are used for livestock feed. Fiber can also be obtained from seed flax plants. This fiber is made into special papers.

See also Natural fibers.


Resources

books

Lewington, Anna. Plants for People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

periodicals

Akin, D.E. "Enzyme-Retting of Flax and Characterization of Processed Fibers." Journal Of Biotechnology 89, no. 2-3 (2001): 193-203.

"Nontraditionally Retted Flax for Dry Cotton Blend Spinning." Textiler Research Journal 71, no. 5 (2001): 375-380.


Christine Miner Minderovic

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hackling

—A combing procedure to straighten flax fibers.

Linen

—Thread or cloth made from the long fibers of the flax plant.

Linseed oil

—Oil obtained from the seeds of the flax plant.

Retting

—A process whereby flax plants are moistened, allowing the stem covering to rot, and to break down the substances that hold the fiber together.

Rippling

—A manual method of removing seed pods from the flax stalks, by drawing the stalks through combs.

Scutching

—A process in which the flax fiber is beaten, separating it from the stem.

Shives

—Small pieces of flax stem obtained after putting the retted straw through a machine called a flax brake, which crushes the woody part of the stem without damaging the fiber.

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