"Flax-Linen, fibre of civilisation(s)" book, presented at the Mobilier National during a round-table

06 December 2023

  • Linen

Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp was invited to a round table at the Mobilier National on 23 November 2023. Here's a look back at the event, which provided an opportunity to celebrate linen.

The Flax-Linen, fibre of civilisation(s) - Mobilier National

Organised following the publication of the Flax-Linen, fibre of civilisation(s) book, in October 2023, the aim of this round table at the Mobilier National was to convey the linen creative dimension to the public, with its unique functional properties thanks to experts and users of this singular fibre. It was an opportunity to talk about the material that is flax fibre, which reveals many surprises.

Linen guests at the Mobilier National

Among the guests, was Alain Camilleri, publication director of the collective work, flax-linen consultant, who deciphered the history of flax-linen, its intimacy and its permanence in our cultures, past and present. François Azambourg, a renowned French designer and pioneer in the use of flax in design and furniture, was also invited, as well as Marisol Santana and Emily Chakthakynski, finalists in the Design Parade - Toulon 2023, who spoke about the use of flax-linen in their work. Finally, Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, General Delegate of the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp, have spoken to present the challenges faced by the flax industry, its development and its future.

Marc Bayard, Cultural and Scientific Development Advisor at the Mobilier National points out that flax-linen can be found, for example, on the back of 'de Savonnerie' carpets, in the pure French tapestry-making tradition. According to him, flax-linen is not just a simple material, but a tradition that is deeply rooted in our history and cultural practices. What particularly interested him about linen was the revival of its industry, exemplary in the work of the men and women who take care of it. From his point of view, it is a model in terms of re-industrialisation, expansion of production and know-how.

Opening the discussions, Alain Camilleri talk about the literary category of the book: an anthology, which means a succession of selected pieces. This choice allows to tell the story of flax-linen in the form of a saga rather than simply a chronological narrative. So it was possible to include the testimonies of thirty-seven external contributors, from archaeo-botanist at the CNRS to scientists at Arvalis.

The saga of Flax-Linen by Alain Camilleri

Alain Camilleri explained the construction of the book around two key words: Permanence and Intimacy. These words resonate because flax-linen is one of the oldest fibre used and developed by mankind. Intimacy, because we may not know it, but "linen" gave rise in French to the word "linge" (linen) or "ligne" (line), which refers to the length of the flax-linen fibre in french vocabulary, as confirmed by an etymologist who collaborated on the book. Alain Camilleri also said that the area that certainly characterised flax-linen as a unique fibre was the Sacred. Because over and above its historical richness, flax-linen is also a fibre that can be worn next to the body.
He detailed a photo of the Shroud of Turin, recalling its flax-linen composition and all the symbolism that this archive represents in the Catholic religion.
Flax-linen figures in the sacred texts: the Book of Exodus, the Torah and the Dead Sea Scrolls. More specifically, the Chaatnez in the Torah forbids wearing a fabric that mixes animal and vegetable fibres. Finally, he spoke about the Colobium Sindonis, a kind of white linen chasuble worn by British monarchs during their coronation. This tradition was carried on by Elizabeth II, and more recently by her son King Charles III when he was anointed in Westminster Abbey on 6th May 2023.

Alain Camilleri went into great detail about the history of flax, and mentioned the origins of this plant, whose origin might come from the Middle East, and which ; in agronomy it is a marker of human sedentary lifestyle.

Igor Robinet, moderator of the round table, pointed out that flax-linen thanks to its intrinsic qualities, but also through research and technology, is also a high-performance fibre which has been able to meet the challenges of sustainability. In this sense, European Flax™ is the guarantee of origin and traceability of flax fibres produced and grown in Western Europe (France, Belgium and the Netherlands). This premium-quality plant fibre, a genuine response to consumer expectations and CSR requirements, comes from environmentally friendly production with, in particular: GMO free, no irrigation, dew retting, renewable, excellent break crop, low pesticide or fertiliser use, mechanical extraction, zero waste, ethical production.

Flax-Linen relies on all its talents

Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung outlined the cultural identity of flax-linen, as well as the technical innovation and sustainability. Hence the importance of capitalising on the talents and interest of this fibre with its unique and proven properties through its innovative and creative dimension, besides the human values and the notion of sustainable development. She also explained the need to strengthen the use of this fibre within contemporary industry, highlighting the Alliance's efforts to promote the strengths of flax-linen and transform it into an emblematic fibre for the future.

Designer François Azambourg then talked about his early work with flax, sharing his experience with natural composite materials. He spoke about his research, his views on the creative and innovative dimension of flax-linen, and the technical challenges he has faced in mastering this fibre. He spoke about his work with Frédéric Morand, the manufacturer who originally approached him to produce furniture in composite materials when he owned an automotive equipment factory. A composite is a textile stiffened by a resin that allows it to harden. In this case, the resins used by the manufacturer were polyester and epoxy, which François Azambourg was not happy with. That's why the designer convinced him to turn to plant-based resins, also because Americans began to experiment sunflower-based products. He felt that the time had come for composites from natural origin. In discussion, the two men agreed with going to the choice of flax-linen composite. Moreover, flax-linen proved it was the best-performing natural fibre!

François Azambourg is keen to see the development of sustainable plant-based composites. As a design teacher, he guides his students towards a more virtuous path to explore in design, as well as subjects that motivate him such as more societal issues or gender equality. Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung recalled that ten years ago, François Azambourg was invited by the world's largest material library in New York in connection with his work and research on materials, including flax-linen. Referring to these creative talents, she added: "We're just the passers-by, they're the users and they have the experience, with successes and projects that can be found in museums".

The Flax-Linen new generation

Representing the new generation of designers, Marisol Santana and Emily Chakhtakhtinsky - winners of the Prix du Mobilier National at the 2023 Toulon Design Parade shared their experiences with flax-linen. Marisol Santana spoke of a trigger that came to her during the two designers' visit to the Alliance's Linen Dream Lab in Paris.
Together, they talked about their interest in sustainable fibres, the use of local production in their creations and the idea of sustainable development in design. They explained their creative process for the 'Lou Cabanoun' project, which incorporates flax-linen textiles.
On a more personal note, Marisol Santana also mentioned her history with flax-linen. She recalled the importance of craftsmanship and her introduction this fabric in a family where the home decor was entirely made of flax-linen. Her mother, as a production manager in the textile industry, taught her how to love flax-linen, to work with it and to experiment this material. She said everything was possible with this material.

On a more personal note, Marisol Santana also mentioned her history with flax-linen. She recalled the importance of craftsmanship and her introduction this fabric in a family where the home decor was entirely made of flax-linen. Her mother, as a production manager in the textile industry, taught her how to love flax-linen, to work with it and to experiment this material. She said everything was possible with this material.

The discussions highlighted the versatility of flax-linen, its functional and environmental properties, and its potential for innovation.
Flax-Linen is a fibre used in fashion, design, architecture and aeronautics. As Alain Camilleri pointed out in his speech, it's a fibre we meet repeatedly in different manners in our daily lives, through various objects and even in French vocabulary. Above all, flax-linen has been used throughout history, in some cultures during the past, but also in our contemporary societies.
The experts all expressed their interest in promoting this plant fibre, with the aim of continuing to explore the many ways in which flax-linen can be used in a wide range of creative applications.

Linen, Fiber of Civilisation(s) - a collective work edited by Alain Camilleri and the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp,
Comprising 336 pages.
Published on 4th October 2023, available in French bookshops such as Fnac, Cultura, Decitre, Chapitre, Le Furet du Nord... and online on Amazon.fr, Fnac.com and Rakuten.com.
Retail price: €39

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