THAT BECOMES beautiful, hand woven CLOTHING!

Gandhi had all India growing their own cotton and spinning it to avoid buying textiles from England. Imagine our having a societal breakdown and no longer finding it feasible to pay 8$ a yard for cotton. Wanting a better fabric, pure LINEN has appeal and one can GROW IT AND WEAVE IT.

Imagine growing a pretty field of flowers, letting the mature plants dry. They're about three feet tall, you harvest the stiff stems, beat them to soften, soak them, dry it, turn it into skeins of 'thread' or fiber, then weave the stuff and make a few yards of linen for trousers or blouse or vest. OR make a living.

'LINEN' the finished fabric is called as in IRISH LINEN. You can stretch the fabric on four bars in a square, paint on some rabbit glue and it becomes 'primed' canvas for a painter. Van Gogh and others stretched their own linen. Weave it into dress material, shirts,  http://www.flaxland.co.uk/  They do it in ENGLAND, IRELAND. They used to do it in FLANDERS in FRANCE.
See http://www.hometextiletoolmuseum.org/

http://www.classactfabrics.com/newsletters/Stray%20Fabric%20Writing%201.htm writes of her grandmother making clothing out of flax. Some good photographs.

The page on EUROPEAN flax is here:
"There are many good historical accounts of the importance of flax to the
rural people of West Flanders Belgium..

One of these histories that covers the Roeselare-Tielt district of
West Flanders describes the flax industry prior to the
industrial revolution and during the subsequent changeover
to mechanization that started between 1820 and 1840. For centuries the
working of flax and linen here and elsewhere in Flanders had been mostly
in the hands of small farmers. They and their families planted, weeded,
harvested, retted, rippled, scutched, hackled, (?) spun, wove the product
into linen cloth and sold it. The farming of various crops, including
flax and its processing, melded into one another as a way of life. These
one family working units were based in the countryside where most people
in the 'flax trade' lived. For example, the census of 1846 counted
11,810 inhabitants in Tielt, of whom 4,143 lived in the countryside.
Within the town of Tielt itself there were 816 spinning wheels and 88
looms. However in its surrounding countryside there were another 2,886
spinning wheels and 941 looms. The census findings were similar in
Roeselare, Izegem and other close by municipalities. (Note the major
tools of the flax trade were considered important enough to be counted
separately from the people in censuses.)

The method of weaving had not changed for centuries: even by 1846 fewer
than half the looms had been updated to using the new faster 'flying
shuttles'. The daily wage of the weavers ranged from 0.50 to 0.70
Francs; their product sold at between 0.75 and 1.75 Francs per 'el' (0.7
meters), depending on its quality. Assuming an average daily wage of
0.60 Francs, a weaver could buy roughly 3.5 kg ( 7.7 lbs.) wheat. After
grinding it would yield flour for 2-4 loaves of bread. This high price
may explain why most people, except for the rich, ate 'roggebrood' or
'masteluinbrood' rather than wheat bread.

The 'new ways' came in slowly. But by 1838 farmer-weavers had begun
selling their linen cloth to outside 'dealers', thus starting the
dissolution of the traditional bond between farming and the linen
industry. In 1840 a commission investigated the decline of the
flax-linen trade and described, with examples, the way various people
were involve in it:

(1) The farmer who with his family, a hired 'landknechten' and 'meiden'
worked up mostly flax grown on his farm but also bought 'green' flax if
his crop was too small. Spinning and weaving began about October 1st and
continued during the winter in his home. Their linen ('linnengoed')
therefore still came mostly from one farm and one group working
together. For example, F. Werrebrouck in Izegem rented a plot of 5
hectares (about 12.5 acres). Of this he seeded 1 hectare (about 2.5
acres) with flax. He had 8 children , the oldest 14 years. He also hired
a couple as helpers ('knechten') who together with the family members
spun and work on the loom in the winters. He sold any excess flax he
grew that was beyond the ability of his 'family' to process and weave.

(2) Pius Vercruysse of Kachtem near Izegem, who seemed not to be doing
well since he lived on a property owned by the 'Benevolent Society" of
Roeselare, requested permission to instal 2 looms in his home,
suggesting that he wanted to try becoming a weaver-manufacturer. Such
people bought 'green' flax still in the field and at first processed and
woven at home. With time they would buy already threshed ('zwingled')
and sometimes spun flax. If they prospered they might end with a many as
60 looms, all worked by family members, knechten and dagloners. P.A.
Martens of Lichtervelde was such a weaver-manufacturer. He had two looms
and paid his weavers as customary 1/4 of the selling price of the cloth
they produced. He also employed spinners and bought his flax in his
village's market. He sold his cloth to dealers ('ketsers'} who canvassed
villages and countryside looking for bargains. P. De Jonckheere was a
linen manufacturer in Moorslede. He had 6 looms, bought his spun flax
from spinners who lived in the village and paid his weavers the 'going
wage' of 1/4 the price he obtained selling their product.

(3) Charles Desnoeck of Ardooie was a weaver who worked for one linen
dealer. He could weave 4 ellen (about 4 yards) per day and received
1/6th the selling price obtained by the dealer, thus earning 0.70 to
0.80 Francs per day. But in 1840 the Commission investigating the
flax-linen industry found Desnoeck was working only half-time.

(4) The largest group of weavers in the Roeselare-Tielt district were
transients ('kortwooners'). They rented a cottage on small plot of land
and owned a loom, often inherited from father to son. Made of oak, these
looms could withstand the wear-and-tear of centuries of use. These
weavers bought threshed ('geswingled') flax on credit from a farmer.
Around Easter they sold their linen cloth to repay the farmer for his
flax so that he could get more from him in the new year. But by 1840
most of them could no longer pay cash according to burgemeester Beeckman
of Ardooie. In the summer they and their families cultivated their
rented plot for a few months until harvest. Then they would work for
farmers as 'dagloners' to pay off the debts incurred for food and fuel
purchased in the winter months when their wives spun and they weaved.

During these 'bad times' employers continued to try to lower the wages
to maintain their profit margin. One way was not to pay spinners for a
day's work but per length of flax spun to a specified diameter to be
used for either the warf and or the woof in weaving. However, there was
no standard wage for either spinners or weavers. As times became worse
the expected weaver's wage of 0.75 to 1.20 Francs per day was rarely
paid and slid to 0.5 Francs per day and then, as more and more weavers
were paid by the piece, the price sank to 0.2 Francs per 'el' (about 1
yard). In Moorslede weavers no longer could earn enough to buy, even if
they had wished, their own product!

The investigating Commission reported that by 1840 in some districts the
daily income of spinners had dropped to 0.16 Francs/day. Thirty years
earlier it had been 0.75 Francs/day!

The world of the dealers was quite different. They lived in the cities;
there were 50 in Gent alone. Biggest dealer in Tielt was J.Byck who
bought threshed flax from smaller dealers, of whom there were 7 to 8 in
Tielt. In earlier good times Byck employed 100 weavers. By 1840 he had
only 40 weavers in his service. There were peculiar, somewhat unsavory,
characters in the flax-linen industry who were storekeepers and
'manufacturers': the ('winkler-fabrikanten'). They provided spun flax on
Mondays to weavers who delivered the finished cloth on Saturdays and was
paid. If the weaver happened to have a drink 'while in town' on a
Saturday and was short of money to buy food and other necessities the
'winkler-fabrikanten' often would 'allow' the weaver to buy exorbitantly
priced goods in his store on credit, promising to pay with future
deliveries of cloth! On Mondays the weaver would come back to pick up
another batch of yarn. Again, if short of money, he could buy on credit
what he needed at the store of the winkler-fabrikanten. But how did all
the above conditions actually affect the people ?

To find out on March 30th, 1840 an Investigating Commission began
touring the countryside around Tielt visiting the poverty-struck
weavers. The first place they came to was that of a Mr. Derock:

Derock with his brother and sister owned their house although it was
mortgaged. The 25 year-old Derock was their spokesperson during the
hearing and was obviously the oldest of the three. He said he had been
weaving for 6 years; during that time conditions had been consistently
bad. He did piecework and received 0.2 Francs per 'el' (about 1 yard).
He could weave 4 to 5 'ellen' per day, working from 5:30 in the morning
to 10:30 at night; but he did not always have work. When he had no
weaving to do he spun or worked on their plot of land. In the summers he
also worked for farmers as a 'dagloner' for 0.40 Francs per day plus
food. With this variety of jobs, three years ago he was still earning
0.50 to 0.6 Francs a day. But weaving was not going very well and
spinning was worse. He and his siblings never ate meat nor they did they
drink coffee in the mornings but rather tea with goat milk, without
sugar. Their midday meal consisted only of rye bread ('roggebrood'),
potatoes ('aardapplen') and buttermilk ('karnemelk'). But now the price
of the bread had gone up by a quarter. Still, sometimes they bought a
bit of 'smout' to smear on their bread. Otherwise they lived very
soberly. Their neighbour was worse off and recently Derock had given him
a shirt. In the house there was just one bed: a sack of straw with no
blankets but a thin coverlet. There were two rooms: in one stood the
loom and the bedstead. In the other room was a table, their spinning
wheel and the hearth on which they burnt whatever dry wood they could

The next weaver the Commission visited was Clement Dekeyser:

He worked from 5:30 in the morning to 9:30 in the evening, without a
break at midday and wove 5 ellen a day for 0.1 Francs per 'el'. He could
not afford to buy enough flax to be able to work the year round. Of his
6 children, two helped their mother spin but the smaller ones were too
young to even help by putting the spun flax on bobbins, ready for
weaving. Flax was now so expensive he reckoned they earned practically
nothing for their hard work! They too lived on roggebrood, potatoes
(aardapplen) and buttermilk (karnemelk). Meat and beer never came into
the house. There was only one small bed and the Commission members dared
not ask where the children stayed at night. But looking around they
found a dark nook near the loom and kitchen. There was no furniture in
it, not even a sack of straw for a mattress. Now they knew where the
children slept!

In considering the budget of another poverty-struck weaver and his
family in Wingene the Commission reported:They never ate wheat bread nor
even 'masteluinbrood'. Nor did they eat meat, eggs or drank beer (the
common beverage). They kept a goat ('geit') for milk but their basic
food was rye bread (roggebrood') and they were 'potato eaters'. The
prices of salt and vinegar were high. Heating with purchased fuel
averaged 0.3 Francs a week, but when the fuel's price doubled they
started burning only whatever dried leaves they could find. The upkeep
of their house was just the cost of lime for coat of whitewash yearly.
They could not afford the the church's tithes or the cost of educating
their children. Fortunately the latter was provided free and instruction
in lacemaking at Sunday school also was covered by the municipality. The
weaver never visited the local inn for a drink but he smoked
occasionally, this requiring about 0.18 Francs per week. There were many
variations of this story of misery in Wingene. André Deblaere expands on
his shorter story of his great-grandfather Karel Deblaere as follows:
Karel was born in 1803 but was already in his 50s when he married.
People were nearly all poor at the time; most could not afford to marry
because they had no farmstead or money to start a family. Also, around
1850 there was a famine in Flanders, so people emigrated, starved or
died of typhus. But Karel Deblaere was by that time a relatively old
affluent man with a lot of money in the bank. So it occurred to much
younger Barbara Lebrez in 1855 to marry him, not for love, but to assure
herself a good living. They had seven children: Felix who died of
typhus, August, Peter, Louise, Julie, Romanie and Ivo. But alas! During
the economic depression the Belgian Franc suddenly lost its value and
the 'Reiffeisenbank' in Brugge failed so Karel managed to salvage only
about half of his savings. He also never saw anything back of the money
he had deposited in a community-bank. So, at a relatively advanced age
for that time, Karel became a woodcutter in the forests around Wingene
and they lived in a hamlet called Bluehouse hidden in the woods. By law
they were part of the Wingene municipality, but people in Bluehouse were
baptized and buried in the hamlet as if they were cut off from the
world. According to the Deblaere family tradition the first
wattle-and-daub hut was built in one night. Karel's youngest son Ivo
said it was just a little hovel, built so low that it was difficult to
stand up in it. Nevertheless nine people: Karel, Barbara, seven
children, their goat and chickens lived and all slept there in one room
under the most unbelievable conditions. Karel himself died of cancer at
age seventy, a miserable pain-wracked old man. His first hut was only
replaced by a new home after his death in 1870.

A sample budget for a weaver and his family of six in Tielt:

The mother spun and did other home-based crafts. The two oldest children
made lace and worked for a farmer. They also work on a rented plot of 27
'aren' (about 0.67 acres or 1.65 hectares) and kept rabbits ('konijnen')
and a goat ('geit'). Yearly income in Francs: father 143, mother 64,
oldest daughter 76, 12 year-old son 2, crops 109, sale of rabbits 26,
sale of goat milk 13, sale of scraps of linen 1, for a total income of
434 Francs. Expenses: 497 Francs. Deficit: 63 Francs.

The Commission ereported the budget of an average weaver's family with 5
members. Assuming 3 of them worked, namely 1 weaver and 2 spinners, the
household's average daily income would be about 0.92 Francs. But the
price of food continued rise. By 1846 the cost (in Francs) of a loaf of
wheat bread was 0.26, rye bread 0.21, potatoes 9.13 for 100 kg and 1 kg
of pork cost 1.00. The Commission found that none of the weavers they
visited were members of Benevolent Societies that might have providing
them with a way of saving money or receiving sickness benefits or, in
later life, pensions. Nevertheless better-off people continued to defend
the traditional home-based industry of the processing and weaving flax
saying it "protected morals, religion and peace of mind". Nevertheless
things grew progressively worse throughout Flanders and this was
aggravated by the loss of a greater part of the potato harvest in
successive years from 1845 through 1848. Many people became
undernourished and more susceptible to twin plagues, typhus and cholera,
which had high mortality rates. As a result the population dropped and
those in need of assistance rose to a record 43% of the population in
1847! Some relief came from the appearance "the right person at the
right time". Constant Vanden Berghe was installed as the municipal
secretary of Tielt in 1835. One of his early acts was to help start up
"De Thieltenaer", a newspaper in Tielt in which he proclaimed his ideals
of obtaining better recognition of Flemish as a language and of
improving social conditions. When he was appointed Commissioner for the
whole district in 1847 it became possible for him to translate some of
his ideals into reality. Under his direction Tielt survived with
difficulty but the crisis worsened in the next decade. Encouraging lace
making as a cottage industry to replace the flax and linen processing
was not a great success and Tielt remained a provincial town populated
for the most part by spinners, weavers, lace makers, daylabourers,
servants, maids and small farmers. During the last half of the 19th
century it became less important than it had been before France
conquered the country in the late 1700s. Things in fact did not improve
much there until after the second World War. Karl Marx who spent a few
years in Brussels around 1850 recognized that the above conditions were
creating a rural proletariat!

However, signs of a new way of doing things first showed itself by the
increasing use of flying shuttles to speed weaving. This and other
improved ways of working flax and linen were introduced in what is
nowadays called trade schools which were promoted by the Commission in
various towns. The reporter of "De Thieltenaer" wrote that he had seen:

In the home of Window Arteel there were two daughters, one 20 and the
other 14 years-old, and their two brothers. All were adept at weaving
with flying shuttle. The mother and the oldest daughter spooled the
bobbins in preparation for the weaving. They told the reporter that the
family could weave 360 'ellen' of cloth in only 9 days!

In 1853 there were still 2,080 homes processing flax and only 335 people
working in the factories like those of Byck described above. However the
industrial revolution was well on its way: There had been 300,000
home-based spinners and weavers in Flanders at the beginning of the 19th
century but there were only 152 spinners and 721 weavers still working,
mostly in their homes, in 1896.

1 By Josef Devogelaere "De Slechte Jaaren 1840-1850 in het
arrondissement Roeselare-Tielt" ("The bad years in the district of
Roeselare-Tielt 1840-1850"). Photocopies of selected sections were
provided by Paul Callens.