May 23, 2016 2 min read
Linen – One of Nature’s Wonders
With a soft and silky texture which is supple and stylish in appearance, it’s amazing that the genesis of fine linen is a straw like plant grown in the upper Normandy Region of France.
The climatic conditions in the region are perfect for growing this versatile plant. Increasing worldwide demand for high quality linen has made flax an important cash crop for the region, with nearly 75,000 acres under cultivation annually.
Linen - A journey from the fields of Normandy to your home
Taking just 100 days between sowing and harvesting, creating the finest French linen starts with the flax plant growing cycle. As the earth warms and March is upon us, seeds are sowed and the plants quickly grow to one metre in height. Gentle spring rains and the temperate climate ensure steady growth of the fibres and a healthy crop.
For a week in mid-June, the flax is in bloom, a wonderful sight that turns the fields blue in the morning. The flowers fade in the afternoon, a magical but short-lived period. Heavy summer showers may knock down the flax - fortunately, this is a robust plant and recovers well.
Flax has a complex harvesting process
The harvesting process starts in mid-July. As the fibres run from the roots to the top of the stem, the flax plant is pulled down (not cut). This step needs good weather conditions as the flax needs to dry before the retting process can start. A week after pulling, the farmers will harvest the seeds by separating them from the straw with a deseeding machine.
Retting is an age-old process where rain soaks the plants, allowing microorganisms to dissolve or rot away much of the cellular tissues surrounding fibres, helping to separate the fibre from the stem.
When retting is at an advanced stage, the crop is taken to the Scutching Mill to separate the straw from fibre. Deciding the optimal drying point is vital as the moisture content of the straw determines the final quality of the fibre.
Preparing for spinning
Stripping and combing the flax is a mechanical process where the fibres are separated from the straw and then graded into the short fibres called tow, or longer fibres which are used to create the finest linen yarn.
Spinning draws out the fibres into threads. The finest yarn is "wet spun" to give a smoother, shiny appearance. The tow fibres are usually "dry spun" yielding a coarser yarn.
Weaving and processing
After spinning the linen yarns are examined and graded for quality before weaving. Once woven, the fabric is closely examined and quality tested with only the finest fabrics moving to the finishing department. Here the fabric is lightly treated to remove any residues and either left natural or is dyed. Premier quality linens are then pre-washed with stones to soften the linen and then pre-shrunk to ensure a perfect fit.
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