2024, Docu-stories

Uncovering the Lineage of Linen on Northern France’s Fields with Terre de Lin

WORDS & IMAGES: Cecilie Nicoline Rasmussen

First published in our Unwoven zine, photographer Cecilie Nicoline Rasmussen travels to the north of France to document the flax pulling process at Terre de Lin, a cooperative specialized in the culture and the conversion of textile flax from seed to fiber.

Every five to seven years in France’s Normandy region, a farmer’s field might turn into a sea of blue flowers. It signals that the flax plants have taken their turn on the land, patiently waiting amid a rotation of crops like peas, wheat, sugar beet, barley, or potatoes.

Cultivating flax for its fiber is an age-old craft in the area, which today has been interwoven with modern practices. Many farmers have learned farming from their fathers or grandfathers, transitioning the know-how between generations, and each growing the crop in their own way.

“It requires a different state of mind than doing things systematically,” explains Anne Nizery from Terre de Lin, a local cooperative of flax farmers, who is showing me around one of the farms. “Of course, farmers are now working a bit differently because there is new technology, but this local knowledge about flax production goes back to their heritage, to the farm where they grew up, and the type of soil that they have.”

“My pictures were taken close to the sea, where the climate is well adapted to growing flax thanks to the loamy soil and intermittency of rain and sunshine. The crop’s success in the area is down to a mixture of nature and know-how.” 

A support system for local farmers, Terre de Lin equips them with the resources, knowledge, and assistance needed to build a flourishing flax industry in the region. Its work begins with supporting farmers in the cultivation of the plants and extends through to the pulling, drying, and extraction of fibers from the stems. Every step demands precision and a profound respect for this temperamental and delicate crop.

My photographs document the journey from the farm to the processing plant. I wanted to show the multifaceted world surrounding flax – its tactile nature, local significance, and sensory richness. For me, the project is about showcasing how the farmers and their machinery are integral to an intricate ecological system that extends beyond the fields, intertwining with the local environment, daily life, and climate context.

Each photograph aims to capture the scent, mood, and sensuality of flax production. I try to seize the immediacy of moments, preserving the experience. Dry flax stems and soft fibers are compared with other textures and forms, as well as people seen and met locally.

The series seeks a deeper understanding of the balance between humans and land through the production of this material.


The Lineage of Linen

Cecilie Nicoline Rasmussen was the runner-up of our 2022 photography competition with Magnum Photos, which called on photographers to explore the visual stories that take place when fibers and materials are cultivated, created, spun, woven, sewn, loved and cherished – gaining cultural and emotional significance through the journey.