Flax is a stalky plant which is grown for its fibre and seeds. The fiber is processed into fabric, called linen, and the seeds are processed for their oil (linseed oil).

The largest producers are Russia and the eastern European countries (the former republics of the USSR) with other leading producers being Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Northern Ireland and Belgium are leading exporters of linen cloth.

The flax fibre is composed mainly of cellulose and has a fibre length of between 2 and 36 inches. This gives the fibres excellent strength and makes it the strongest of the vegetable fibers. Flax fibres are 10 percent stronger when wet and more hydrophilic (absorbs water easily) than cotton. It absorbs moisture quickly and dries quickly. It is however, is less resistance to abrasion than cotton and therefore less durable.

When made into linen, it shrinks considerably when wet unless shrink resistant finishes are applied.