How Irish Linen is Made

Fibre is removed from the flax plant, these flax fibres are then used to produce the yarn and fabric of linen.

There are several complicated processes, each requiring great skill in the manufacture of linen. These are

Cultivating Flax

The fibres from the stalk of the flax plant (linum usitatissimum) are used in the production of linen. Rich earth without too much clay have been found to be the most productive for flax growth. The flax plant has a thin stem and its only branches are those bearing flowers. It is planted in April and by June produces it trademark delicate blue flowers. It is then harvested in August. The finest fibres are derived form the violet flax flower and it is these that are used in the production of Tomary House Irish Linen.

Yellow flax is the most suitable flax for fibre production – its fibres are long and supple and ideal for further processing. If the flax is pulled too early (at the green stage), very fine but weak fibres result. However if the flax is overripe (brown) the stems are strong but prone to breakage resulting in too high a percentage of short fibres.

In order to preserve the long length of the fibres, the flax is pulled from the ground rather than cut. Fibres that run the entire length of the plant can be between 80 and 120 cm in length. After pulling the the flax is allowed to dry, the seeds are removed in a process called Rippling, which involves combing the seeds off with a coarse comb and it is then retted.


Retting is the process used to make separation of the fibre bundles from the woody part of the stem easier. There are three different retting processes that can be used. Water-retting, dew-retting or chemical retting. Water-retting is normally carried out in controlled conditions in water tanks. Dew-retting is where the flax straw is spread on the ground after pulling and left for 2-8 weeks (weather dependent). Dew-retting is the least expensive method and so is the most common in Western Europe.

Scutching & Hackling

No part of the flax plant is wasted in the manufacture of linen. Scutching is the mechanical operation which separates the textile fibres from the woody matter found in the stem of the plant. This woody matter is then used to produce chipboard. Hacking is the combing of fibres to separate the long line and short tow fibres. Line fibres are then drafted and doubled, resulting in a rove being formed. They are then wet spun and produce fine, strong yarn. The short tow fibres are dry spun and produce a heave, coarse yarn more suited for use in furniture fabrics, heavier apparel and knitwear.


Wet spinning is where the rove is spun into a yarn whilst being soaked in warm water. The result is a very fine, regular yarn. The warm water softens the gummy substances found in the yarn, and allows the individual fibrils within each fibre to slide in relation to each other.

Fabric Manufacture

This involves the design, weaving , cutting, bleaching, dyeing and finishing into Irish Linen Cloth.

Tomary House Limited, Registration No: NI070558
Address: 43 Mill St, Gilford, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, BT63 6HQ, Tel: 020 3286 2095 E-mail: