Made to last
Posted on March 16 2018
If you are new to linen, we would like to share a few important things about its production process, highlighting the key points that make it so unique, durable and sustainable, and if you are more of a visual person, we have included a short film by European Linen and Hemp community explaining the whole process at the end of this article.
The 100-day journey
Linen is made from flax plant fibres located in the plant’s stalk. The western European region of Normandy in France and stretching to the Netherlands historically has been at the forefront of the linen fibre production and quality due to the unique climate of relatively narrow temperature band between seasons, specific ocean humidity and rich soil. From the seed-planting, the flax plant is ready for harvest in about 100 days, which means that it takes about three months for the seed to develop in a meter high plant ready for harvest.
Building fibre strength
Once harvested flax stalks are left in the open for several weeks as nature does its magic in the combination of sun, rain and morning dew. This process is referred to as retting and is essential to help detach the fibrous skin from the central stem and create the resilience in the fibres.
That smell of the freshly cut grass
To get to the long strong fibres ready for spinning, linen straw is further separated through the process of scutching. This involves removing the small woody bits from the strong long fibres, scraping the linen straw vertically with a wooden knife. If the retting process has been done accurately, scutching produces long strong fibres without a lot of leftover bark. The industrial rooms where this process usually takes place are full of sounds of machinery and the sensual fragrance of fresh cut grass. Lastly, the fibres are combed through a bed of nails. This splits and polishes the linen fibres, removing the short ones from the mix. The short fibres can be used to make coarse yarn.
Traditionally flax fibres are spun by hand using a distaff to help avoid fibres from tangling. Further, the long-separated flax fibres are twisted together to form yarns then winding the yarn on to a bobbin. More commonly, flax is spun finely. However. a thicker yarn can be created by plying multiple fine yarns together.
Due to the lack of elasticity, linen is more generally woven into sheets. This is done on a loom, where multiple threads are interlaced both horizontally and vertically. Although many processes in linen production have been industrialised, it still requires a great deal of handwork, giving it a unique luxury quality.