Since starting a business focused on 100% linen home goods, our team has learned a lot about linen and how it is produced. In August Anna, one of our Co-Founders, was able to visit our manufacturers in Portugal to get an up-close look at their facilities and to better understand their production processes. Given the information that Anna accumulated over her recent trip, our previous visit to linen manufacturers in Shenzhen, and our extensive research over the last three years, we thought it was time to share a bit more about all things linen production with you.
Before we dive in, the first thing to note about linen is that it is made from the fibres inside the Flax plant. Because of its origin, linen is often considered one of the most natural and sustainable textiles in the world. Flax has minimal environmental impacts in the growth and cultivation stages because it requires little watering or chemical use. Although only the internal fibres are used in the production of linen, the entire plant can be utilized for other materials, such as linseed oil, eliminating the likelihood of wasted materials in the early stages of processing. The end of the lifecycle is also of note with regard to environmental impacts, as linen will break down unlike synthetic fabrics, such as nylon or polyester, which contain plastic. This means that, while other fabrics may exist for hundreds or thousands of years in our landfills, linen will not. These are just a handful of reasons why linen is one of the most sustainable fabrics available.
Now, let’s start at the beginning of the production process - with harvesting. Flax is grown almost exclusively in Western Europe, where the climate and soil conditions are optimal. Harvesting Flax requires uprooting the plant, and this is typically done using machinery, rather than manual labour. Retting takes place after harvesting, which is the process whereby fibres are degraded from the plant using either natural bacteria or chemicals. Afterwards, the woody portion of the stalk will be removed from the plant and the fibres will be combed and transformed into very fine strands. These steps are known as Scutching and Hatching, and they prepare the fibres so that they can be spun into yarn of varying thicknesses. One thing to note about linen is that extraction from the stalk is time-intensive, and this contributes to the higher overall price point when compared to other natural materials, such as cotton.
While some linen producers spin their yarn in-house, our manufacturers most often receive skeins of spun yarn. Before the yarn is used in the weaving process, however, each skein is loaded onto bobbins and examined for strength and evenness, to guarantee quality in the final product. You can see the bobbins before inspection from Anna’s recent Portugal visit below.
Once the yarns have been approved for use, bobbins will be loaded onto a rack so that they can be wound onto a fully automatic and computerized warp beam in preparation for weaving. Each string has to be individually strung through a number of parts in this machine— which explains the complex web-like formation seen below.
Weaving involves the automated loom crossing yarns of various thicknesses at high speeds, and it results in sheets of linen fabric. When weaving is complete the fabric is examined for irregularities and any identified errors are removed, to ensure that finished products are of superior quality.
Once the fabric has been examined, it is ready for its finishing treatments, which vary depending on the desired final product, and the manufacturers’ practices. In our Portuguese Partner’s facility, most fabrics are bleached, dyed and washed, but these finishing treatments can take place at a few points in the production process. For example, dyed yarn may be combined on the loom to create a pattern. This is how our Pebble Stripes fabric is created, by crossing our Pebble grey thread with white thread on the loom itself, making the production of this fabric a bit more involved and costly. For our solid-coloured products, the size of the order determines when the final dye will occur. Our linen used in bedding, for example, is dyed after weaving. In comparison, our smaller batch products such as the pieces in our Cuisine line are dyed once assembled. Below you can see rolls of linen fabric, which have been bleached, dyed and approved for use.
A wonderful characteristic of our manufacturing partners is their focus on vertical integration. In Portugal, our manufacturers are vertically integrated such that they receive raw Flax fibres and before these materials leave Portugal, they are converted to the linen products you purchase from Flax Home. In other words, they execute all steps following the spinning of yarn. While this increases production costs, it reduces emissions by cutting out the extensive global shipping that would be required to involve manufacturers in other countries. Universally, our manufacturers prioritize quality, ethical manufacturing and sustainable development. On Anna’s recent visit she saw firsthand how our Portuguese partners are committed to improving the sustainability of their operations, including reducing water, energy and chemical product consumption. This factory also uses solar panels and other low-carbon energy production sources to power its operations. You can read more about our manufacturers’ practices and certifications here.
As you can see, a multitude of steps and many people are involved in the creation of the linen products that we are so proud to have the opportunity to share with you. Not only is linen a sustainable material given the nature of the Flax plant, but the manufacturers we work with are taking additional steps to continually improve product quality and reduce their environmental impacts. While this journal post is only a quick peek into the linen production process, we hope that you can rest easier knowing more about the origins of Flax Home Linen.
If you would like to learn more about global linen production, we recommend watching this video and reviewing the resources linked throughout this journal.