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Discovering Flax Fields in Courtrai, Belgium

After discovering the “I Love Linen” campaign and exploring the various usages of linen in Fashion; Team Twenty6 was curious about the origins and how the Flax plant is processed. Together with CELC we got the chance to explore vast flax fields in Courtrai, Belgium and learned that the plants only bloom on one day throughout the year. We were very lucky to witness that exact one day and could see how the fresh flowers gradually decayed as the hours were passing. 

A blooming field welcomed the team and the students of Chelsea Arts College, who all took a very original spin on the usage of flax and linen for their final year projects. The endless fields embellished with the purple blossom made it hard to believe that so many products can come out of such a delicate looking plant. We learned that there is a special way of harvesting flax in order to maintain the strength of the plant  and to become useful for processing. The flax plants are usually pulled in July, after being planted in March and April, one to two centimetres deep into the soil. To persevere the stalks strength the plant is specifically pulled rather reaped. The plants are then gathered in bundles, called windrows. After that the retting process starts which is part of the transformation from plant to fibre. The second part of this operation is scutching, which extracts the flax fibres from the inner core. Throughout that process nothing goes to waste all fibres long and short and all by-products are put to use, showing how sustainable flax really is and how many usages a simple plant can have. By-Products from scutching are called shives and are mostly used for animal bedding. The succeeding actions until the fibre can be turned into fabric are combing and spinning of the flax, which now looks very much like strong grey hair. After this it depends on the flax usage, it will either be woven or knitted and then receive a finishing touch. Some might think that all these actions and processes take a matter of weeks, however at the factories we learned that it can take up to 7 months until the plant is turned into fabric.

Belgium and France host the biggest flax fields and ship all across the globe. We even found out that this particular flax is used to make dollars, showing the high endurance flax has and how once could wash a dollar note and not do any harm to it. All this information really opened our eyes about a fabric that has been around for centuries, however drawn out by the softness of cotton. Not only our team but also the students of Chelsea College of Arts were inspired to make greater usage of linen and created the most amazing projects together with CELC, presenting all the various ways linen could be used as. Two particularly interesting projects sparked our minds, building a whole interior based on linen and making fashionable garments for eager city cyclists. 

Lily Falkingham amazed us with her witty cycle wear, using linen and blending reflective yarn into the pieces, creating shimmery patterns that reflect any light. This is perfect for fashionable safety on the road, especially during the darker winter months. Not only are Lily’s garments safe in the dark but are also using linen’s power of thermoregulation, guaranteeing that the wearer will never be too hot or too cold. 

Faye Milburn told us all about her homeware that is not only bedding but involves the whole home including the heating system. She has it all planned out and told us very convincingly why our homes should be completely made of linen. Her blankets are filled with seeds to make them heavier, which reportedly helps with anxiety as the weight comforts the same way as a tight hug does. She even created pellets out of by products from flax that can be burned and would essentially heat the home. 

Team twenty6 was incredibly impressed by the process from plant to fabric and then its numerous usages. The creativity of the students gave us hope for the future, highlighting that our youth is thinking sustainably, respecting the gift of nature. 

Words by Constanze-Sophie Pilger

Photography by Curtis Gibson

VIEW our Trip to the Flax Fields

Read our INTERVIEW with Marie Emmanuella Belzung, Director of the European Conferation of Flax and Henlp (CELC)