Sustainability and manufacturing
The flax used by Svenskt Tenn in its textiles grows along the coast of the North Sea, between northern France and southern Holland. Both the climate and the soil here are ideal for cultivating flax. The company that supplies Svenskt Tenn with linen is also based here and has been in operation since 1864.
Already back in the late 1200s there were flax trading houses in Flanders. In the middle of the 1800s, no less than 71 per cent of the population in the city of Tielt was involved in the linen industry. Linen has been used for more than ten thousand years and is nature’s gift to man, not least because the entire flax plant can be put to use. The seed is turned into oil to colour and treat wood surfaces and the oil is also used in cosmetics. Linen fibres are used as sutures (surgical seams). Additionally, paper and fibre plates can be made from flax by- products. Most well known, however, is the flax that is turned into fabric. In this case, the stems are used and processed in various ways before they can be spun into thread and woven into linen, which is both durable and beautiful with its distinct texture.
Flax grows quickly and naturally. It takes just one hundred days from sowing to harvest and flax doesn’t need to be watered, fertilised or sprayed. Svenskt Tenn’s suppliers work with so-called dew retting of the stems. It is a process whereby the fibres are extracted naturally, without adding water.
Since 2014, Svenskt Tenn’s linen supplier has reached the silver level in accordance with the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy (C2C) for all of the steps in the process right up to the weaving of the linen. C2C is a holistic design approach, which aims to close material cycles of different kinds. Already on the drawing board it is important to think through what and how the product will be manufactured so that it can be reused and recycled in an optimal way. Everything is done to be as gentle as possible when it comes to the impact on humans and the environment.
Industrial spinning and weaving of linen have a minimal impact on the environment. Svenskt Tenn’s supplier, which wants to be at the forefront of these efforts, has been running its mill in a carbon-neutral way since 2014, due to its use of wind power.
Screen printing is a printing technique in which a fill blade is moved across a screen stencil, forcing ink or dye through the mesh openings. But before you reach this stage you have to produce the stencils.
The first step is to scan the original pattern in a computer and separate the colours. In a multistage process the pattern is then transferred onto a stencil. Each colour requires a separate stencil. For example, Josef Frank’s pattern “Hawaii” is printed in seven different colours, and because each core of the pattern has to have two stencils, a total of 14 stencils have to be made.
You can print with two different methods, either by moving the frames or by moving the fabric. Svenskt Tenn's suppliers use both of these techniques.
The printing table upon which Svenskt Tenn’s fabrics are printed is 60 metres long. Here one colour is printed at a time, for each core, so that the dye has time to dry before the rest of the cores are filled in. Nowadays a robot takes care of the hard work of moving the heavy frame, but nevertheless, two people are required, one on each side of the frame, to pour in dye and to control the process.
When the printing is finished, it is time to fixate the dyes under heat. Surplus dye must be rinsed off and the fabric has to be re-stretched. Before the fabric is ready for delivery, it is inspected manually. Stencil printing on textiles has a long history. The printing method was employed thousands of years ago in Egypt, China and Greece, where the “open” sections of the stencil let dye through. Stencils were made by leather, greased paper or metal. In order to fix them during printing, they were fastened with thread of silk or hair, which sometimes appear on old prints like thin lines between the stencils.
The next step of the development was to stretch a weave of silk onto a wooden frame and then fasten the stencils directly on the weave. The technique spread from China and Japan throughout Asia and arrived in Europe in the 18th century. It was frequently used for printing exclusive wallpaper on linen or silk. The first photo-based method was introduced in the early 20th century in the United States and revolutionised the technique. William Morris, who inspired many of Josef Frank’s patterns, is one of many designers and artists who have worked with screen printing. Louise Bourgeois, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol are others.
Sustainability in focus
Read more about Svenskt Tenn's Sustainability Philosophy below.