flax flower fields
copyright Alliance S. Randé

Everything you need to know about European flax

Flax, the plant source of the fibre, is grown on a wide swath of coastal land in Western Europe stretching from Normandy (France) to Amsterdam. Its high-quality results from a naturally humid climate and producers’ know-how over thousands of years. Its production is deeply rooted in the area.

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Flax, a bio-based material

Bio-based products come from the living world and flax is an example. This plant fibre allows for the extraction of molecules and materials for the manufacture of a variety of products.

flax stalks in fields
copyright Alliance S. Randé

Flax and flax fibre classification

A distinction between the two important flax families was made at the end of the 19th century. Fibre flax, promoted by the Alliance, is distinct from oilseed flax.

flax fibre

scutched flax fibre
copyright Alliance P. Sagnes
flax fiber bales
copyright Alliance P. Sagnes

Fibre flax

The properties of flax fibre

Flax fibres are known as bast fibres, indicating they are taken from the stems of plants and not their flowers. After the harvest, flax farmers bale the flax and transport it to the scutching mill. On site, workers operate machines to extract the scutched flax fibre.

The precise movements of the workers go hand in hand with the precision of their machines. While the textile industry prefers long fibres, it also uses short fibres for certain products.

Both types of fibres (long and short) can be found in flax composites. Short fibres are notably used in insulation materials, paper products and even banknotes.

Shives can be used for mulch, fuel and animal bedding. As for flax seeds, they can be reused for planting the next crop or processed to produce nonedible products such as solvents and oils.

longest flax fibres
copyright Alliance P. Sagnes
variety of linen fabrics
copyright Alliance P. Sagnes

The uses of flax fibre

The textile sector prefers to use the longest flax fibres. They have a myriad of properties: they are soft, strong, moisture absorbent and thermoregulating. Through their work and commitment to research and innovation, European spinners and weavers can obtain a wide variety of yarn textures. This lends itself to use in all hybridisations and finishes.

Jersey, knitted on circular knitting machines and then cut and sewn, is typically used to make T-shirts. Oiled linen cloth can be used to produce clothing and equipment for outdoor use which helps to enhance its water repellent properties.

flaxseed to make oil
copyright Alliance P. Sagnes
spoon with flowing oil

Oilseed flax

The properties of flaxseed

The seeds of the plant can be crushed to extract their oil which can then be used in nonedible industrial applications and as an energy source. The meal co-product is used as animal fodder.

The uses of flaxseed

Linseeds are used mainly in animal feed. Rich in lipids, they are also used in the production of edible oils and cosmetics.

Flax, a responsible fibre

Flax fibre is characterised by circularity: 100% of the plant is valued.

  • Mechanical extraction of flax fibre

    100% mechanical extraction

    100% mechanical and zero waste fibre extraction: all parts of the plant are used (fibre, shives, seeds, dust).

  • GMO-free flax fiber seeds

    An eco-friendly fibre

    Plant-based fibre from agriculture that respects the environment, fibre flax seeds are certified GMO free.

  • flax grown without irrigation

    Zero irrigation*

    *barring exceptional circumstances

  • flax culture proximity and traceability

    Local and traceable

    Flax is a local fibre. Three-quarters of global production take place in Europe. Flax grows along a coastal strip of land that stretches from Caen to Amsterdam, and France is the number one producer in Europe. European traceability is guaranteed by two certifications: European Flax™; and Masters of Linen™ - which confirms that linen textiles are processed in Europe by European businesses.

Flax production areas

Linen-Flax is grown in Western Europe, on a wide coastal strip stretching from southern Normandy to northern France, from Belgium to the Netherlands. The naturally humid oceanic climate, the generous soils and the historic flax growers’ know-how contribute to the European flax quality. Today, 3/4 of the scutched flax fibre world's production comes from Western Europe, and France is the world leader in its production. A sector of excellence, the flax industry creates skilled local agricultural and industrial jobs in Europe, in compliance with international labour standards.


of global production take place in Western Europe

Access to the Flax-linen economic observatory

Flax-Linen: a historical perspective

  • Fragments flax fibres cave Caucasus

    36,000 BCE

    Flax-linen is the oldest textile material. Fragments of flax fibres were discovered in a cave in the Caucasus.

  • Alexander Great’s linen armour

    356-323 BCE: Alexander the Great’s linen armour

    Worn by the Greek soldiers of Antiquity, this armour was known as the linothorax. It was made up of between 15 and 20 layers of linen, which was already prized in the Mediterranean for its lightness, ability to absorb sweat, and thermoregulating properties.

  • Baptiste Cambray - the cloth of kings

    13th century: the cloth of kings

    Although it was likely woven even before the Roman period in the Cambresis region of France, local weaver Baptiste Cambray is remembered as the inventor of a weaving process used to produce a fine fabric known as batiste, lawn or toilette. Exported to Italy, Spain and Flanders, and popular among monarchs, it became known as the cloth of kings.

  • Philippe de Girard invents the linen spinning machine

    1810: Industrial Revolution

    Philippe de Girard, a French inventor and engineer, participated in a challenge set by Napoleon to devise a more efficient method for spinning flax while ensuring higher quality than pulling machines. This is how, in 1810, he invented the flax spinning machine. Bankrupted by his research, he began to accept orders from abroad and opened a flax spinning mill in Austria before moving to Poland.

  • ready-to-wear linen knit
    copyright Alliance B. Millot

    2010: Linen knits

    The innovation that led to the creation of linen knits opened up new avenues for use in ready-to-wear. Linen jersey is fine, supple, light, and breathable. It is often used in T-shirts, sweatshirts, or, more recently, undergarments. It is included in most ready-to-wear collections.

  • flax fiber composite materials
    copyright Bcomp Inc.

    Today and tomorrow: flax in composite materials

    Some composite materials are made of flax fibre and resin. Flax ensures low density and high specific stiffness. It also absorbs vibrations by serving as an effective thermal and acoustic insulator. Because of these properties, European flax fibre is an essential constituent in a variety of spheres such as sports, transportation, sailing, construction, and leisure. Boosted by the rise of human-powered mobility, flax is used to make bikes, helmets and longboards.

Linen, Fibre of Civilisation(s)

Collective work under the direction of Alain Camilleri

September 2023

Co-publishing Actes Sud / Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp

Linen, Fibre of Civilisation(s) is a ground-breaking collective work that brings together the expertise of archaeo-botanists, archaeologists, historians, scientific laboratories, designers, and industrialists, with European farmers, scutchers, spinners and weavers. The book highlights the multiple identities of flax-linen and its millennia-long history. It's a richly illustrated saga, with an editorial approach that illustrates the original dialogue between past and present. The book also highlights another topicality, a reputation inversely proportional to its weight in the world's textile fibre supply - less than 0.5% - whose international craze bears witness to consumers expectations in search of ethics and traceability, sustainable development, and a renewable resource.