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Resources

A list of resources that I have used and that may be useful to anyone else looking to do a similar project. I’ll update this list as I find new resources!

Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth” by Linda Heinrich (2010) ISBN: 9780764334665

“Flax Culture; from flower to fabric” by Mavis Atton of Ontario (1988) ISBN: 9780921773061

“How to Weave Linen” by Edward F. Worst (1926)

“The Book of the Farm, Volume 2” by Henry Stephens (1844)

Linen. Handspinning and Weaving” by Patricia Baines (1989) ISBN: 9780934026529

“Flax and Hemp: Their Culture and Manipulation” by Edmund Saul Dixon (1854)

This link takes you to a website called ‘Interweave’, where you can download a free ebook that contains a series of articles on linen flax – growing, processing, spinning it.

In a previous blog entry, I linked to a series of silent, black-and-white videos on Youtube that depict a peasant family in Northern Italy processing flax in 1963.

Another video, this time depicting the weaving process. Black-and-white and silent, and filmed in 1964 in the same area of Northern Italy as in the previous set of videos.

Ripples upon ripples

We had hoped to do this before now, but with a worldwide pandemic causing a nationwide lockdown, Holly and I had been unable to get together to ripple the crop. She had possible tools, I had the crop, but we had to wait until we were able to get the two things together. Today, on a chilly, rainy autumn day, we managed it!

On my garage floor, I set up an old sheet and put my small cold-frame on it, as a barrier for errant seed bolls wanting to fly under the car. Holly had some bee combs and a couple of miscellaneous pronged items she had gathered up. We tried them all, and found that the red-handled bee combs she got online were the best – the tines were close enough that the bolls were caught and pulled off, but far enough apart that we could actually move them through a handful of flax. The wooden-handled one was too widely-spaced, and the one with the green handle was a) heavy, and b) too finely tined.

Red is the best!
It was interesting to notice how each bundle had dried – some were different colours, possibly related to the size of the bundle.
Me in the dark corner of the garage, hanging the bundles back up again – it’s a very handy bar, though I have to be careful when opening that door!

Holly’s hand.

It took us a couple of hours, but we got seven bundles rippled and re-tied to the bar. We got somewhere between 5 and 10 litres of seedbolls, which we still need to crush and winnow before we can plant them next spring. Holly has spent the past year and a bit adding compost and mulch to her patch to improve the quality of crop she is able to grow. In the meantime, our glorious harvest of seeds has been stored in a dark container downstairs.

Autumn looms

So, I’m now 5 days married!! My husband and I are having a staycation honeymoon – lots of napping, pottering about tidying up loose ends from the wedding, napping, occasionally going out, and yet more napping…and today I finally had the energy to get into the garden for an hour or so – putting the pizza boxes (from a family dinner the night before the wedding) into the compost pile, along with the coffee grounds from our coffee guy and a Bokashi bin that really should’ve been emptied a couple of days ago; plus a bit of weeding and a harvesting a few small potatoes and a strawberry!! Woohoo!

With that done, I also had a look at my remaining flax. Very very lodged, so I’m not sure that it’s going to be much use, fibre-wise. There are some seedbolls forming, so it won’t be far away now.IMG_20200305_165930842

Also, here are the harvested stooks, drying nicely. I should see about catching up with my friend Holly to ripple these…and then sort out more places to grow flax next year, since we’re going to have A LOT of seeds. IMG_20200305_170013025

So, that’s how it all stands (or hangs) for now. Daylight Saving ends this weekend, so soon the days will be getting shorter and I’ll be less keen to be outside. I’m working on my post-wedding plans, with many projects lining up for my attention. I’m not going to be bored!

Harvest, Year 2, part 2

3 weeks before the wedding, and I was taking a chance to sort out a few things in the garden, before it gets craaaaazy busy. I was entertained by a fun conversation with the 4-year-old son of the neighbours, who likes to say hello when he sees me in the garden. He was interested in my tomatoes (finally, some nice red cherry tomatoes came ripe) and my peas, my jasmine, and helping me water the compost heap. He doesn’t like tomatoes, but we did eat a pea each, fresh from the pod.

I also knew that the flax was getting close – and rather than leave it for another month (since I doubt I’ll be having time for the garden!), Wise Wendy and I agreed that it was time to harvest.

Here’s the crop as it was, about 3pm today.08 February 2020 (1)

And here it is afterwards – with a close-up of the remaining, short, sun-deprived crop. I didn’t measure them, but they’re probably no more than 50cm tall, at most. Very few flowers, definitely no seeds. I will keep an eye on them, I suspect I won’t be harvesting anything until late autumn.

08 February 2020 (2)08 February 2020 (3)

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s the crop, hanging up in the garage. Most recent harvest is furthest from the camera. 08 February 2020 (4)

I’ll come back to these in March, to ripple the seed bolls off. I think I will need to wait until next summer before I’m able to try retting (and I will try to make a system so that I can identify each section of crop, to compare how the fibre turns out).

See y’all on the married side!

 

Harvest time, Year 2.

Life is busy, with the wedding now only FOUR WEEKS away (cue mild panic), but today I needed a little garden time. I had some potatoes to pull (most of them turned out green, I haven’t been paying anywhere NEAR enough attention to mounding/mulching this season) and also some peas.

While I was outside, I took a look at my flax crop, and consulted with Wise Wendy, who was still awake on her side of the planet. There was a lot of brown in there, and they hadn’t grown much (most are still around 80cm tall or so), so we agreed it was time to harvest the plants with brown seeds!IMG_20200201_145904087

Here are the two right-hand beds – lots of brown!

 

And another angle – interesting how the plants yellow off at different rates. Also, a close-up of the seed bolls.

So, I pulled it all up. Most were about the same height, but I did try to separate them by stem thickness. Some were much thicker than others – the plants in the centre of each bed were thinner, presumably etiolation was at work because of the density of planting.

I brought them into the garage to hang and dry for a bit – rippling for the seeds can wait until after the wedding. On the left I hung up the harvest from the right-most bed (thinner stems to the left, thicker stems to the right), cos I harvested from the middle…. On the right, I hung the harvest from the second-right bed (thicker stems to the right, thinner stems to the left). IMG_20200201_163357363

And here is the flax crop, as it stands now. A little bit of the second-right bed that wasn’t as brown as the others, and the two left-side beds. I’ll give the taller plants another week to brown off, and I suspect that the left-most bed will be a long time – the plants there don’t even have flowers yet. It will be interesting to see what happens to them when I pull up the plants to the right, that are blocking their sunlight.IMG_20200201_163644809

 

I also pulled up that self-seeded lettuce, as most of the lettuces in the rest of the garden have bolted. And now – back to wedding preparations!!

Growing up!

I got home from a few hours of exam supervision, and my flax bed was basking in the sunshine as I pulled into my driveway. Before I went into the house, I thought it was time to examine the crop – it’s two weeks shy of the date when I pulled up my crop last year. As I looked closer, I can see that things are definitely getting close to ready. There’s a bit of lodging happening, alas, but it means I can see the yellowing starting to happen in the base of each stalk.25 January 2020 (1)

The seed bolls are starting to brown up.25 January 2020 (3)

You can really see the yellowing starting to happen.25 January 2020 (4)

There’s definitely some browning in there! 25 January 2020 (5)

So, I shall keep a close eye on it from now on, because getting the three taller beds pulled in early February would be really good – our wedding date is creeping closer!

 

New year, new heights!

2020 is two weeks old, I haven’t posted an update all year, so it’s time!

Here is the flax bed – a range of heights, and a mix of flowers and seed pods. I’m going to have A LOT of seeds, next year I will have to borrow garden space at friends’ houses, I think. There are weeds (and a couple of self-sown lettuces!), but they’re not getting in the way of the flax. I occasionally spot neighbourhood cats lying between the beds, so there is a small amount of lodging happening, but otherwise it all seems to be growing well.

IMG_20200114_130224034

Here is the first row, and the shortest one. It doesn’t get much sun, due to the overhanging trees. There are no flowers yet, and the height ranges from about 40cm to a few that have reached 60cm. IMG_20200114_130614425

Row two, most are around 70cm, though a few are shorter. The tallest, however, is 90cm, and almost reaches my waist. Many flowers, and a few seeds pods.IMG_20200114_130630024

Rows three and four – mostly between 70-80cm. More seed pods than flowers!! IMG_20200114_130641133IMG_20200114_130647384

Grow, my pretties!!

 

 

 

Morning flowers

I noticed a glorious display of flowers as I backed my car out of the garage this morning (I was off to donate blood for the first time in over a decade, and to raid a friend’s scrap fabric stash), and I just had to stop and take a couple of photos – flax flowers only last a short time, so I knew that the display may not be as lovely when I got back home a couple of hours later.30 December 2019 (1)

Lots of lovely, delicate blooms!!30 December 2019 (2)

Reaching new heights

Christmas is over, but I had a lovely few days visiting my family. I got several garden-related gifts, and came home with a couple of new pot plants that I will keep in the courtyard space that I am going to renovate into a sheltered outdoor seating/relaxing space (thanks to a birthday-gift DIY store voucher, which I will combine with some frugality and visits to our local tip shops).

In the rest of my garden, my lettuces are going well, my one tomato plant has some small green tomatoes, I’ve got a few peas I could pull, and I’ve harvested a few potatoes (not a great crop, this year).

This time last year, I was starting to see some yellowing off of the stalks (at 14 weeks since sowing). Now, it is 12 weeks since sowing the seeds, and the flax still grows. There are more flowers than a couple of weeks ago, and more of the plants have reached 70-80cm in height. The difference between the amount of sun experienced by the left-most patch and the rest of the crop is stark, now.

29 Dec 2019

I intend to leave as many as possible of these to go to ripe seed, since acquiring seeds here in NZ is expensive. I particularly need to focus on pulling seeds from the tallest plants. For future years, I need to either not grow flax on the far left, or to do some serious pruning above and to the side of the camera – but I want to leave that until I am ready to replace that retaining wall (which is years away, while I save the money!), so shade-loving plants it might just be (and wider planting rows in the rest of the space).

I do love flax in flower!!

Floral efflorescence!

Last year, on December 14th 2018, at 50cm in height, and after 13 weeks of growth, I first saw flowers on my flax plants. Today, on December 13th 2019, at 60cm in height, and after 10 weeks of growth, I saw flowers on this year’s crop!

Last year’s crop grew another 10cm or so after the first flowers appeared, so I hope this crop grows more. I can watch and wait. Certainly, the leftmost bed is much shorter – and it gets a lot less sun than the rest. Perhaps, if we have a few weeks of regular sunshine before harvest (which is potentially in early February), we might get some better growth!

13 December 2019 (1)

And here are the flowers, out of focus thanks to the camera and the wind. Ah well. 13 December 2019 (2)

Old videos are awesome.

My friend Monty (check out her blog of interesting crafts here) shared some Youtube videos with me – flax processing in rural Italy in 1963, which have very recently been uploaded to Youtube by the Digital Heritage Service. A series of six videos shows the processing of the flax from harvesting through to spinning, and cleaning the threads. It’s an excellent resource, even with no sound, it’s fascinating to see the equipment used for processing on a large scale.

I’ll put the links up here for my own reference, and any who find this interesting.

The flax is harvested by a group of women, complete with yummy gnocchi soup for lunch, before the bundles of flax are put onto stooks set into the ground for drying.

They ripple the flax in a barn, and then spread the plants onto the field – evidently they use dew retting!

There is a giant smoking box that the flax lies over for a while – I assume that’s to make sure that it’s very dry (you shouldn’t break flax on a humid day, I’ve read, to have a cleaner break, hurhur). It also looks as though they use the brakes to do some light scutching as well. It’s a joy watching the playful interactions between the workers (presumably a family group), doing things like tucking flowers into the men’s hats, and playfully pushing them off the brake they were sitting on.

Big stones are used to weigh down the hackle boards, and sticks are used to pick up the freshly hackled fibres. I think it must be the tow fibres that happens to, as some fibres are smoothed and twisted (that must be the line).

Here we see two old ladies spinning (and two old men smoking!). One lady is spinning the smoothly twisted line fibres, while another is spinning the big pile of tow fibres. Tow fibres do make a much rougher thread!!

It then shows the other lady dressing the distaff with line fibres in preparation for spinning.

The final video shows processes that I know little about, not being a spinner or weaver yet, but I think he’s using the tow yarn. Then a young woman sets a bunch of the product of that previous step into a big bath, heated by a fire underneath, and sprinkles what looks like ash over each layer, before setting large sticks upright through the layers (I’m not sure what purpose they serve) and fills it with water, before lighting the fire underneath the bath. She and a young man pull the noticeably darker skeins out of the bath, and they are taken away to be rinsed in a cold stream (lots of snow on the ground – but the nice young man brings a kettle of steaming water for her to warm her hands in!). More rinses follow (large wooden tub, hot water) before the skeins are set on a rack to be dried in the sun.

Then follows an interesting process – a man and a woman take each skein and rub them over each other. An older gentleman then sets up another spinning process, onto their final bobbin!

It’s all very fascinating!