The Fonty spinning mill: a living heritage treasure

In Rougnat, on the borders of the Creuse, Puy-de-Dôme, and Allier departments, in the hollow of a valley, there is a 100-year-old wool mill: the Fonty mill. It is one of the last spinning mills operating in France. To survive, it combines ancestral knowledge with high quality and environmental standards. Constantly at work, it was awarded the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company) label in 2017.

A local story

The spinning mill in Rougnat was established in 1880, in a mill on the River Cher. The river's hydraulic power was used to run the machines in the spinning mill until the 1950s. Water was also essential for cleaning and degreasing the wool, as well as dying it. Additionally, its geographical placement was not a coincidence. Like most spinning mills in France, it is located close to low mountains where sheep are raised. Thus, first wool spun there was local.

Filature de laine Fonty à RougnatFondation du patrimoine

The spinning mill remained in the Fonty family until Jacques, the last member, died prematurely. His wife sold the business four years later in 1997.

It lost many customers and changed hands twice before being taken over by Benoît de Larouzière in 2017, who was committed to restoring its prestige.

Mélange des lainesFondation du patrimoine

Ancestral techniques :

First, the wool wads arrive in compressed bales and must be cleaned of any waste, mixed, and aerated, to return to their original volume. They are passed through five different machines that shred and fly the wool, to prepare it for the next steps. The wool wads are then coated in fat, called lanolin, to facilitate spinning.

Cardage de la laineFondation du patrimoine

After these first preparations, the wool is carded.
It passes through many rollers equipped with steel teeth that turn in opposite directions. The wool is gradually aligned using this process.

Once it is perfectly aligned, the wool is turned into a very fine web of fibers.
This web is then converted into thin rovings called pre-drafted fibers.

Réparation d'un fil de laine sur le continue à filerFondation du patrimoine

The rolls that come off the carding machine are called fromages (cheeses) in French. Some 120 of them are mounted simultaneously on the spinning machine.
The pre-draft yarn is then drawn, wound, and twisted into a single strand at high speed.

The spinning mill's employees monitor each step of the process. If a piece of yarn breaks, it can be reattached using a very technical, fast maneuver.

Fusées de laine issues du continue à filerFondation du patrimoine

On the spinning machine, the wool goes from the fromage to the spindle, which is another support on which the single strand is wound.

Assemblage et retordage de la laineFondation du patrimoine

Several single strands are joined together to create wool yarn of the desired diameter and strength. This is called twisting.
Depending on the wool, two, three, five, or more strands can be joined and wound onto cones.

Échevaux de laine à teindreFondation du patrimoine

The yarn is put on a winder, which arranges the wool into skeins to prepare it for the next step: dyeing.

Laboratoire de teintures de laineFondation du patrimoine

Wool dying

The Fonty factory has a laboratory that develops specific dyes for every kind of wool. Depending on where the wool comes from—France, Europe, or Latin America—and depending on the animal it came from—merino or mohair sheep, alpacas, yaks, camels, angora rabbits, or even plant fibers—the colors will not take in the same way. Similarly, wool can also be dyed before spinning to give it a deeper, more durable color.

Essais de teintures pour la laineFondation du patrimoine

Dye formulas are first tested in small quantities. Owing to environmental concerns, only the exact amount of pigment required is used for each dyeing cycle, so that none is left over in the water at the end of this step.
It takes three to five tests on average to get the desired color.

Laboratoire de teintures de laineFondation du patrimoine

The test skeins are kept to compare the colors at the end of dyeing, as well as to have a reference for the next dyeings of the same product.

Bacs de teinture de la laineFondation du patrimoine

Once the dye formula is ready and the wool is degreased, the skeins are immersed in 208°F water, which is the ideal temperature to fix the colors.
A control skein is taken out of the bath beforehand, to compare it with the test color before drying. The bath can then be adjusted if necessary.

Laines teintéesFondation du patrimoine

Once out of the dye bath, the wool is put in a softening bath. It is then wrung out, dried, and sprayed before being sent to the finishing workshops.

Gateaux de fils de laineFondation du patrimoine

The yarn is then stored in cakes (on the left of the picture) before being put into their final packaging: for the textile industry, this is most often cones, or in balls to be sold to the general public.

Pelotes fonty achevéesFondation du patrimoine

Each ball is eventually weighed, labeled, and manually bagged.

Station écologique d'épuration des eauxFondation du patrimoine

In an effort to protect the environment, the Fonty spinning mill has had an ecological treatment plant since 2015.
Wastewater flows from tank to tank and pollutants are filtered out by sand and reed roots, encouraging growth of bacteria that will carry out the treatment.
The water that is then released into the Cher is cleaner than the water that was drawn out of it.

Métier à tapisserie à la Cité de la tapisserie d'AubussonFondation du patrimoine

From wool yarn to tapestry

Another industry emblematic of the Creuse evolved in the context of this traditional wool yarn production: tapestry-making. Aubusson, located about thirty kilometers from Rougnat, preserves the memory of this historical craft. The city, formerly a Royal Manufactory, is now recognized by UNESCO as a repository of this intangible cultural heritage.

Tapisserie Tolkien à la Cité de la tapisserie d'AubussonFondation du patrimoine

The Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie d'Aubusson (International Tapestry Community of Aubusson), aims to promote this art as well as its unique history. But it also participates in bringing contemporary tapestry creation to life.

In this context, a tapestry dedicated to Tolkien's works was commissioned and its creation was supported by the Fondation du Patrimoine (French Heritage Foundation).

Rencontre avec Benoît de Larouzière - Dirigeant de la Filature Fonty à RougnatFondation du patrimoine

Video interview with Benoît de Larouzière, director of the Fonty spinning mill.

Credits: Story

Our thanks to Benoît de Larouzière, Béatrice Faury from Creuse Tourism, Carine Pauliac from the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Tourism Committee, and the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie à Aubusson, for their help in creating this content.

To support the Fondation du Patrimoine's projects, click this link

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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