Mechanical properties of standard decorticated and hand isolated flax bast fibres were determined in tension as well as in compression. The tensile strength of technical fibre bundles was found to depend strongly on the clamping length. The tensile strength of elementary flax fibres was found to range between 1500 MPa and 1800 MPa, depending on the isolation procedure. The compressive strength of elementary flax fibres as measured with a loop test lies around 1200 MPa. However, the compressive strength can be lowered severely by the decortication process. The standard decortication process induces kink bands in the fibres. These kink bands are found to contain cracks bridged by microfibrils. The failure behaviour of elementary flax fibres under compression can be described as similar to the failure behaviour of a stranded wire.