The flax plant has a long straight stem and grows to about a metre in height. The fibres which are used to make cloth are just below the stem's surface and run along its length. They help to support the stem and hold up its leaves and blue flowers.
When the plants are fully grown they are pulled up and the stems are stripped of their leaves and fruit.
The bare stems are soaked and beaten to soften them and the long fibres are removed.
The fibres vary in length from 30 to 90 centimetres. The short fibres are used to make a material called lint which is put over wounds to protect them. The longer fibres are sorted into groups according to their thickness.
The thickest fibres are used to make canvas tents, while the rest are used to make linen. Linen was used widely by the ancient Egyptians and is the material in which mummies were wrapped.
Linen is a hard-wearing fabric and today is used for making some kinds of clothes, sheets, tea towels, handkerchiefs and napkins.