From flax to linen - Cultivation

Linen is a natural product with a production process that is as interesting as it is elaborate. Let’s take a closer look at this process with our blog series "From Flax to Linen".

Flax (Linum usitatissimum), also known as linseed, is an annual crop with blue or white five-petalled flowers.
Flax is considered the oldest textile fibre, with findings dating back to 36,000 BC.
Europe is the cradle of flax cultivation and the roots of its uses can be found here.
Two-thirds of all flax production still takes place in European countries on around 100,000 hectares (approx. 247,000 acres) of land.

The best flax requires the best conditions


Flax may be an undemanding plant, but it does require certain climatic conditions. It thrives best in a maritime climate with its steady alternation of sun and rain paired with plenty of wind.
The flax plant also prefers deep, loamy soil.
The optimal conditions for growing flax can be found in the coastal areas of northern France and Belgium, home to fibres with the best quality.
At Leitner Leinen, we use raw materials exclusively from European production. Because we use only the highest quality linen threads, without exception, we procure our flax exclusively from the best growing areas in northern France and Belgium.

The best flax requires the best conditions
Sowing - the foundation of successful flax cultivation

Sowing - the foundation of successful flax cultivation


European flax cultivation is the most productive in the world: on just one hectare of ground, enough flax can be produced to create around 20,000 km of yarn or 4,000 m2 of fabric. Expertise honed over the course of centuries results in the production of perfectly long flax fibres with excellent quality.
Seeds are sown between mid-March and mid-April. The distance between seeds plays an important role in this stage – the closer the plants are to one another, the finer the fibres. Flax plants can grow up to one metre tall and bloom in June.

Harvest time: pulling and dew retting


Once the plants have fully developed, it’s time to harvest.
One special thing about flax is that it is not cut when harvested; instead, the plants are pulled from the ground, roots and all. The flax is then laid out flat on the fields.
Now it is time for dew retting: the transition between sun, dew and rain along with the help of bacteria and fungi from the soil dissolve stem material surrounding the fibres. The fibres are connected to the solid wood and stem components by pectins, similar to glue. This process dissolves these pectins, and the individual components can then be separated from each other.
This process is completely natural and requires no chemicals or other additives. In fact, the nutrients that are released from the plants during dew retting are actually reabsorbed by the soil. Once retting is complete, the harvest can be brought in.

Harvest time: pulling and dew retting

Undemanding and easy-going

Flax is an undemanding plant and therefore requires little in terms of fertilisation and care. Using only small quantities of fertilisers and pesticides also helps avoid soil and water contamination.
In addition, flax does not require artificial irrigation, making it very different from cotton production which consumes around 7,100 litres of water per kilogram of cotton. If European flax fields were planted with cotton, it would require 650 billion cubic metres of water.
Another wonderful thing about flax is that it creates no waste – every part of the plant can be used. In addition to textiles, flax is also used to make paper and mats. Its seeds are edible and are used for the production of oil. Other products that are made with flax are linoleum, insulation and animal bedding. Flax fibres are also biodegradable and recyclable, giving them a clear advantage over cotton or synthetic fibres.
The ecological footprint of flax is quite impressive: one hectare of flax absorbs 3.7 tonnes of CO2 each year. European flax production helps prevent 342,000 tonnes of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions each year. Plus, 300 tonnes of fuel and 300 tonnes of pesticides are saved each year.
Flax is very environmentally friendly and can justifiably be described as a truly remarkable plant.

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