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Be careful, this store is likely to clash with fast fashion
Be careful, this store is likely to clash with fast fashion
Be careful, this store is likely to clash with fast fashion

The flax industry in France: from the sown plant to the finished product

This year again, we went to meet the players in organic linen and hemp, and yes, it was the eighth meeting of the organic linen and hemp textile sectors. For...

This year again, we went to meet the players in organic linen and hemp, and yes, it was the eighth meeting of the organic linen and hemp textile sectors. For us, it is always a day of inspiration with actors of change who are revolutionizing agriculture and have a precise vision of what textiles should be tomorrow: reasoned, local and eco-responsible.

Aside - We still have to remember where we come from. For centuries, in France and Europe, the only fiber used was linen and hemp. Cotton is an error in history, an error which allowed slavery to exist and which was the first stone of globalization.
In 2022, wouldn't it be time to go back to basics? -

This year it is in Avelin, a small village 15 kilometers from Lille. Warm welcome on the farm, in the middle of organic flax and hemp fields.

The program addresses the stages of linen with its conference “au fil du lin organic”, the state of play of hemp in France in 2022 and its progress, discovery of the showroom and the brands involved in the association and visit to the new spinning mill Safilin in Béthune.

Come on, let’s give you a little recap of the “organic linen thread” conference and we’ll quickly introduce you to each of the stages of linen!

We will recall 2 figures: 160,000 hectares of flax in France which constitutes almost 80% of world flax production.

It may seem so simple, but each link is essential, each step is essential and requires the best know-how. Getting started with organic linen is a real human challenge and can only be carried out by a few die-hards who show the way to what tomorrow should be.

1/ The organic farmer – Emmanuel Rouyère

Emmanuel has his farm near Beauvais, he is gradually converting his fields from conventional flax to organic flax. To date it has 5 hectares.

The flax is rotated with the alfalfa which naturally cleans the plot.

For him, it is a real technical challenge, the cultivation of flax is done in 90 days, its biggest enemy: weeds. And who says organic says no pesticides. It is therefore mechanically that he plows his land, 2-3 times a year and during the flax cultivation, he spaces the rows well in order to be able to weed without damaging the growing flax fibers.
Flax must be sown at the beginning of May in warm, humid soil, this allows it to grow more quickly than weeds.
From seed to flax emergence, it takes about 10 days.
The flax will then be pulled out at the beginning of July.

Then comes the running stage, that is to say that the long fiber is cut and will remain lying on the ground. It will be turned over once so that it does not burn with the sun.
It will stay like this for between 1 and 2 months.

Good weather is essential for flax, and its yield varies depending on the current climate. You need water but not too much and you need sun but not too much…. The climate decides everything, despite the hard work of the farmer.

As you will have understood, the cleanliness of the plot and the weather are the key to good growth.
Then comes the scutching stage.

2/ The scutcher – Emmanuel Lardier

Emmanuel is the director of Opalin, a company located a stone's throw from Le Touquet. 3,500 hectares of conventional flax and 50 to 60 hectares of organic flax.

The company is certified organic to support farmers who wish to convert to organic.

So, what is scutching?
It is the extraction of the long fiber from the flax plant without damaging it.
The scutcher recovers the long fiber of the flax, but also the short fibers as well as its seeds.
Being an organic linen scutcher brings a new constraint and procedure for storing organic linen without mixing it with conventional linen (that would have a bad effect!)
The process to ensure that the linen is indeed organic is as follows:

  • The farmer must submit an organic flax certificate to the scutcher
  • The scutcher must also have an organic label
  • The scutcher gives a transaction certificate to the buyer of the scutched fibers. This buyer is the spinner.

3/ The comber – Willy Coucke and Cédric Auplat

- Working with long fibers: Willy Coucke is responsible for fiber sales at Terres de Lin. It is a cooperative which sows 1500 to 2000 hectares of flax, 200 hectares of which are dedicated to organic flax.

Everything is GOTs certified

Terre de Lin specifically combs long fibers. Its role is to dissociate the fibers into bundles. It is introduced into the machine, the thread vertically and it is combed and separated from head to foot. Its role is also to eliminate short fibers and weak fibers.
The long fiber is nobler than the short one. It is mainly dedicated to textiles. Conversely, the short fiber is dedicated to furniture and can occasionally also be used in textiles if it is combined with other fibers such as wool, cotton and viscose, etc.)
When the long fiber is ready, it goes to the spinner.

Working with short fiber: Cédric is the president of Peignage Dummortier, based in Tourcoing for 125 years. A workshop has recently reopened to specifically comb short linen fiber.

4/ The spinner – Olivier Guillaume

Olivier Guillaume is the president of Safilin. His company has been a spinner since 1778. Unfortunately in 2005 they had to close their last linen spinning mill in France to set up in the south of Poland (globalization and Chinese competition required). Today, Guillaume is proud that this know-how is returning to France.

Spinning, as its name suggests, spins flax. But before moving on to this step, he carefully selects the fibers:

  • From one year to the next, the fiber may vary
  • From one field to another, the fiber may vary
  • From one region to another, the fiber may vary

So how can we successfully maintain the stability and quality of the fiber?
For the spinner, the thread must be uniform: same fineness, same color, same strength.

So the work consists of combining batches of linen together to ensure that the yarn has the finest quality. So he mixes different years of flax, from different regions from different fields.

Its spinning mill offers 2 spinning processes: dry or wet
Dry spinning is reserved for short fibers, the yarn is thicker, more rustic.
It will be the perfect fiber for furniture.

Wet spinning: reserved for long fibers. The wick is then immersed in water to weld the fibers together and make them as thin as possible.

We had the chance to visit the Béthune spinning mill, so we'll tell you a little more about it and show you some photos! It was complicated to hear all the information from the spinning mill director, the noise of the machines had a lot to do with it. So we will try to invite you into the thread with what we were able to hear and transcribe it for you with as much information as possible!
The Béthune spinning mill opened in February 2022, it was previously a storage building, it had to be transformed into an industrial building. Slowly, the machines are arriving and they will be ready at 100% capacity next September to spin 400 tonnes of linen per year.
Here we train operators on the machine but also on the material.

In the warehouse, state-of-the-art machines coexist with old Dutch machines from the early 1980s.

In the first workshop, we mix and prepare the batches of linen received and previously carefully selected to maintain the same quality standards.

Here we homogenize the fibers with a clever mixture ranging from 24 to 32 different batches of linen (linen from different years, different fields and different regions). The more batches there are, the less the characteristics of the yarn will be modified and impacted.
The goal of this first step is to refine the linen ribbon and mix it but also not to create any defects.

In the second workshop, it's focus on wet spinning!

Here, when the ribbon is prepared, a wick is made from it which will be wet washed to remove the natural glues that existed on the fiber.
The fiber remains in the water between 7 and 12 hours.
In this second workshop the humidity level is very high and around 49%.

In the third and final workshop, the bobbins of linen are dried and a splicer is used to wind the threads together. Each spool of thread will then be 1kg. To date, the cost of this raw material is €25/kg.
When the yarn is ready, we move on to weaving or knitting!

5/ The weaver and the knitter – Emmanuel de Saint-Martin and Loïc Baert

Linen can either be woven or knitted!

- Emmanuel is the sales director at Lemaître Demeestere. This house has been weaving linen since 1835. They have the capacity to weave from 90gr/m2 up to 5.5kg/m2. It is therefore possible for them to offer light materials for clothing as well as heavy and very solid materials for accessories or furnishings.

His job is summed up in one sentence: “Weaving thread is crossing thread” - period -

- Loïc is the general manager at Lemahieu, he is based in Hauts de France. Lemahieu therefore knits linen and not just a little: almost 100 tonnes per year! Knitting is still done to this day on circular machines.

6/ The enhancer - dyeing

Once knitted or woven, the linen is then dyed. No contributors for this step which nevertheless adds color to the linen!

7/ The maker

This step is in the hands of brands made in France which wish to be as virtuous as possible. We can therefore cite Le Gaulois, Splice, La Gentle Factory…

It is important to add value to the entire manufacturing chain. Each link is essential. The goal of the organic flax and hemp association is to recreate a local ecosystem with each player in France and thus be able to master each stage of the profession.

We hope that you have learned a little more about (organic) flax, its stages, its life, its actors and hope that you will look at this fiber with new eyes.

Thank you again to the members of the Organic Lin and Hemp association for always welcoming us so warmly.

Article written by David.

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