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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Read the magazine story to find out more.

Samples of raw flax and cotton along with cotton-flax blends of yarns, woven denim and knitted fabrics. Link to photo information
Fabrics made from cotton-flax blends hold promise for a new generation of clothing that's cooler to wear. The flax (brown fibers) and cotton (white fibers) shown are spun into yarns (spools, top) to make woven denim (dark blue) and knitted fabric (beige). Click the image for more information about it.

Flax Adds Performance Features to Cotton Textiles

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
November 17, 2005

Denim, the sturdy cotton fabric used to make blue jeans, has always been cool. But it's about to get a whole lot cooler.

During hot summer weather, classic blue jeans can feel heavy under the weight of absorbed moisture. Now, Agricultural Research Service scientists and engineers have created a cotton-flax denim blend that will make jeans more comfortable to wear even in summer heat.

Denim is one of the largest commodity fabrics produced in the world. Flax is nearly three times stronger than cotton, making it among the strongest natural fibers known. Clothing materials, such as woven denims and knitted fabrics made from these particular cotton-flax blends, could be compared to a new, nonwrinkling form of linen.

At the ARS Cotton Quality Research Station in Clemson, S.C., mechanical engineer Jonn A. Foulk has been working with technicians to blend cotton with flax to create new yarns. The specific ratio of the new blends imparts "moisture management" to woven denim and knitted fabrics. The work is being done at the station's model, state-of-the-art spinning facility.

Adding flax to clothing fabric helps keep skin cool partly because the flax improves moisture wicking, the ability of fabric to pull moisture away from the skin. Another value-added feature is air permeability, the ability of fabric to dry quickly. The researchers are evaluating cotton-flax blends for use in athletic performance and other apparel.

The Clemson station's researchers are also embedding flax fibers into polymers to create composite materials and nonwoven sheets for various industrial uses.

The station is now looking for additional industry partners, including mill and apparel manufacturers, to take the technologies to the next level of development.

Flax has been found to be a good candidate for growing in rotation with cotton in the Southeast. In addition, the byproducts from processing natural flax fibers are fully recyclable, but those generated from processing synthetic fibers generally are not.

Read more about the research in the November 2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Last Modified: 5/15/2017
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