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Flax and Hemp Ancestral Cultivation

Flax and Hemp Ancestral Cultivation

Since the Neolithic Age,  Man discovered flax and hemp textile properties and virtues. Flax and Hemp Ancestral Cultivation.

antique Egyptian Flax farmers

Traces of Hemp cultivation were even found in Anatolia/Asia  850 BC. Confirmed in Brittany France since early 9th century, and been developing since 13th century.

Flax cultivation as far back as 8 000 BC in Irak. Confirmed in France over 5700 BC along the coast of the Provence region.

beautiful field of Blue Flax flowers Photograph

In a quick manner, Man used to increase and improve their particular textiles fibres of High Quality.

field of blue flax flowers painting

Thanks to a precious Know-How passed down from one generation to the next enable Man to carry out the entire production process in the appropriate manner allowing the most efficient possible use of resources until nowadays.

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Several steps are needed.

  • After seeding, grubbing, ginning, a process called “Retting” that was about another technique consisting of letting natural bundles lying on the fields, since rain and morning dew operated naturally the retting process.
  • After scutching, swinging, combing, the process of “Rippling” ; oakum needs to be hand-spun, this task was considered as a job early 18th in France. Using mainly large spinning wheel.

antique flax farmers etching print       breton women at work with spinning wheel photograph


Then, the weaving process, The art of weaving; Preparing the loom, weaving, placing the warp is not so easy. First task was to remove the thread from the spindle and to warp the loom, which involves placing the warp threads, or vertical threads, in position on the loom with the threads pulled tight like used to practice the Egyptians.

Did you know?:)  the largest number of weavers in Brittany had more than 25000 during 18th century!

tradition breton weaving loom photograph

Then time for Whitening flax and hemp. The most used washing method was to simply add ashes made of Beech; a strong saponifier.

Flax and hemp had ever been daily used in Brittany, Flax for making-up any household items ;  sheets, covers, table cloths, and linen garments.
Hemp as for manufacturing ropes, sails, bags, hardly fabrics…work clothes in general.

A strange habit in France was to leave Rope manufacturing to those affected by leprosy and living outside villages. Then, many forced labourers of the penal colony at Brest were enrolled to rope and sails manufacturing, outfitting the Royal fleet.

From 16th to 18th Centuries, Brittany region was one of the first provinces manufacturing a lot of Hemp Toiles, outfitting many European vessels, Linens were exported to Europe mostly, then exported to Americas. Flax seeds were planted in Brittany, Northern Coast, Hemp was in fact cultivated near the well-known  city of Locronan

In 1685, another manufacture located in Brest needed and did employ “harlots” living around… Later, by 1746-1763, forced labourers of the penal colony in Brest were still enrolled, and seafarers’ wives too.

A progressive Decline…

Hemp and Flax Manufacturing decline started since 17th century. Main causes are due to French “internal” religious wars, conflicts with Importers, strong competition with imported cotton from 19th century, of course due also to gradual phase-out of Sailing Ships late 1850s… Last, the intense competition with new mechanized manufactures based in Northern France was terrible and inexorable.

Nevertheless 🙂 The growing of flax remained active in a Brittany region named “Tregor” until late 1950s providing the spinning sector of the Northern region.

flax and hemp industrial manufacture

Our Built Heritage.

Main architectural elements, natural retting basins, whitening process into stone outbuildings and various basins areas, Hemp ovens, interesting weavers’ cottages, press and paper Mills, and of course manufactures.

As an outstanding architectural heritage, even nowadays, as lovely Old market halls, private dealers and merchants mansions are still testifying of their wealthy life … also thanks to the good wealth of the towns Merchants at this period, many and many Breton villages did benefit Building places of Worship, as churches and chapels…

Did you know?  Typical expressions as “once you have learned the ropes” and “commuting between home and work”  came from the Art of weavers everyday expressions!:)

The last working arm loom is still active with just a handful of people in Brittany nowadays, and manufacturing of flax fibre for fine paper is still used for ancient books’ restoration, and also for artists with a dedicated approach of contemporary creation.

What else? so many applications are on the right path of development:

  • green buildings,
  • agri-food sector,
  • Bio-based materials and natural fiber composites,
  • textile industry
  • health and body care purposes.

In conclusion:

  • We should note that flax and hemp are environmentally-friendly crops.
  • The opportunities offered by flax and hemp in a developing market for natural fibers should not be lost.

May Precious flax and hemp keep used far beyond … the strange synthetic fabrics.

hemp and flax natural fibres bobines

That is all for now!

Thank you for reading and sharing whenever possible. Enjoy a great day All!


4 thoughts on “Flax and Hemp Ancestral Cultivation

  1. Hi Dave:) i’m always pleased to read your Comments too! i would like to take this opportunity to point out that I’m not enable to read all the comments I may receive, since all comments seem considered as Spams with Spam filter installed… ‘better send me a direct email.

  2. Thank you Steve, You are very Welcome! 🙂

  3. Incredible! I only wish more knew/understood the arduous level of work required and how inconceivable the thought that there were 25000 weaving looms being used during the 18th century. Another brilliantly written and informative blog! Keep up the interesting writings!!

  4. Amazing post! thank you for sharing.

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