Transformation

Growing

Nearly 8 million hectares of flax are sown each year, but this includes different varieties that are cultivated both for the production of textile fibres and linseed oil . Western Europe ranks second among the producing countries of the primary vegetable textile material, the USSR being number one. A fiber from fields of the European Community, flax is grown mainly in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Ideal conditions for its growth include a homogeneous soil, adequate daylight, cool and short nights, and weather that is both damp and warm. The seeds are sown, fairly densely at around 2,000 seeds sq.meter, as this encourages the young plands to grow straight and tall towards the light and air, and also encourages the development of long fibres. Normally flax is sown at the end of March or the beginning of April and is ready for harvesting in a comparatively short period of around 100 days.

Harvesting

Flax is harvested from the beginning of July to mid-August. Unlike cereals, textile flax is not cut, but pulled in order to preserve the full length of the fibres which run the entire length of the plant. In times gone by this was done by hands, one bundle of flax plants after another - painful and tiring work requiring a lot of manpower. Today mechanical pulling machines are used ; these ensure a speedier harvest with less exposure to weather conditionsa and consequently is less costly. Once pulled, the flax "straw" is dried b y spreading it out on the fields to form swaithes.

There are three degrees in the ripening of the textile flax: green, yellow and brown. The second of these - yellow - has proved to be the most suitable for fibre production. Flax that is pulled too early - green - produces very fine but weak fibres. On the other hand , in over-ripe flax - brown - the stems are strong but brittle and produce too high a proportion ot tow. However, when the flax is yellow, the fibres are long and supple, and therefore ideal for further processing.


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