Linen thread and cloth are made from the fibres of the flax plant. The coverings in which the Egyptian mummies have been found enveloped, prove that flax has been used from the remotest times in the manufacture of linen cloth. In the British Museum pieces of linen four thousand years old may be seen. The best qualities of flax come from France and The Netherlands.

The plant grows to a height of two or three feet, and bears delicate blue flowers. The stalks of the plant are hollow, and consist of a woody portion called the boon, and a fibrous portion from which the thread is made. The seeds furnish linseed-oil, used for mixing paints. If a fine fibre is desired, the stalks are pulled up by the roots, when the leaves begin to fall off and the bottom of the stalks become yellow. By waiting until the seeds are ripe, a coarser fibre and seeds for oil are obtained.

After being dried in the sun, the seeds are removed, and the stalks soaked or retted in water to loosen the fibres from the boon. The fibres are dried and run through rollers, which break the boon. Then they are combed out or disentangled, and the wood removed by the scutching-machine. The flax, now ready for the mill, is put through the hackling-machine, where the short fibres are separated from the long. The long fibres are called line and go through the spread-board, while the short fibres, called tow, pass through the carding-machine; both varieties entering cans called sliver-cans. The sliver then passes through a number of drawing-frames, and after being doubled and drawn out, it goes to the roving-frame, where it is again drawn out, then twisted and wound on to bobbins. The rovings are spun on the spinning-frames and reduced to yarn, which is either woven into cloth or twisted into thread. The linen is bleached for white goods, or dyed for colored.

During all the operations the fibres must be kept wet with warm water, to render them pliable.

Various kinds of heavy cloth, such as canvas, coarse toweling, tent-cloth and bagging, are made from hemp, which is prepared and wove similar to flax.