Flax, round 2

community garden plot with plastic compost bin

I never managed to complete my blog series on my flax project earlier. The weather got cold and wet last fall which put an abrupt end to my flax processing explorations and the fall is always the busiest time of year for me at work, which tends to put a damper on a lot of things I’d rather be doing.

That’s alright though. There’s always time to try again! The flax stalks are bundled up in my parents’ garage awaiting processing later this year, and I’ve planted new flax. Two kinds this year: ‘Marilyn’ and ‘Regina’. It will be interesting to see the difference between them.

I acquired a community garden plot this year and so far the main outcome has been a marked increase in crop-failure related dreams. They say that gardening is a nice, wholesome activity, that spending time outside is good for your mental health. Tell that to my brain! It’s non-stop drought and famine. The reservoirs will dry up, the sun will beat down and my little seeds will fail to germinate, or the little seedlings will roast in their beds.

But in the midst of this life goes on. My flax has sprouted:

many tiny seedlings sprouting in soil

Some of this is not actually flax… I can’t tell yet, but there’s flax in there. I also have an onion:

baby onion seedling in soil

And chives, because chives just kind of seed themselves and grow and do their own thing regardless.

Take that, brain.

Flax: growing

flax plants growing

I wasn’t familiar with the flax plant before I started Linen Growers Club. I knew vaguely that the plants grew blue flowers and seeds that I like to eat, but beyond that it wasn’t ever the sort of thing that we grew at home and I’m not confident I would have been able to pick it out of a lineup.

The specific cultivar that we are growing this year is called Marilyn. It’s a heirloom variety originally from the Netherlands, but now apparently widely used for small-batch fibre production. It produces less seeds than ornamental or edible varieties of flax. It puts all its energy instead into producing long, spindly stalks that end up producing longer fibres more suitable for spinning. This variety was chosen because apparently the modern fibre-flax varieties that were used in earlier years of Linen Growers Club have been developed specificially to be processed with industrial machines, and turned out to be difficult to work with hand tools.

My first challenge was finding space to grow my flax, which is always at a premium in Vancouver, especially if you’re renting. I ended up growing it in my parents’ back yard, which is a considerable distance outside the city. But the upshot of this is that my parents have really gotten into this project, watering the flax daily and sending me updates via text message.

They also have really good soil, enriched by years of compost and manure, so the plants grew vigorously and always seemed to look healthy. I’ve heard that this actually isn’t necessarily a good thing – that sometimes poor soil produces better quality fibre, so I’m not sure how exactly the soil conditions will affect the end result once it’s all processed. But there’s a certain sense of satisfaction that you get when you see your plants looking robust and swaying gently in the wind on their long, spindly stalks.

The plot ended up being a bit larger than what I had seeds for, so it was sown at a bit less than the recommended density. I’ve heard that it’s possible this has negatively affected their height, but I’m still pretty happy with how it has turned out.

Growing flax this year has been an exercise in getting really familiar with a kind of plant I’m only experiencing for the first time. It’s been interesting and it’s inspired some poems I may share later.


In 2018 I’m participating in the Linen Growers Club, a collaborative project to produce linen from scratch and contribute to a growing body of knowledge about local fibre production.
View other posts I’ve written about this project.

Linen Growers Club

flax flower

Remember that time that I spontaneously decided to build a theremin after seeing a random tweet for a workshop?

I did it again. Earlier this year I made the impulse decision to join the Linen Growers Club run by Earthand Gleaners Society. It’s a seven month class that runs from February to September, meant to guide you through the process of making linen from scratch.

Throughout that time, you’re responsible for growing your own flax crop, then harvesting and processing it into useable fibre. Once you’re finished that process you can contribute some of your fibre to Earthand’s growing collection of samples of locally-produced linen, adding to a growing body of knowledge about local soil and weather conditions. By then you should have the skills to be able to continue your adventures in local fibre production on your own.

Linen Growers Club - tamping down the seeds

Each month we’ve gathered to check in about how our crops are growing, followed by a discussion about what to expect in the coming month. We spent the rest of our meeting time working on learning various processing skills.

I’ve really enjoyed our meetings. There’s something that just feels very right about sitting around in a circle and talking about your crops. It’s undoubtedly one of the oldest activities we have – something people must have been doing ever since since the agrarian revolution.

And there’s always something warm and supportive about being in a circle with people who are working on fibre craft. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is – stitching, spinning, knitting – they all promote a sense of calm. Bits of chatter break out but there’s no pressure to join in. I always feel well in such a space, and I always come away feeling like the time was well spent. I think for me working with fibre is an act of very consciously deciding to unplug in a way that I never manage to do otherwise.

processing flax into fibre

I’ve been collecting notes about my experience and I’ll share more in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned.


In 2018 I’m participating in the Linen Growers Club, a collaborative project to produce linen from scratch and contribute to a growing body of knowledge about local fibre production.
View other posts I’ve written about this project.

Darning Socks

socks with darned heels

For my first mending project I wanted to try my hand at darning socks. These ones had large holes in the heels so they were good candidates.

Darning socks fell out of favour when cheap, machine-knit socks came onto the market and it became more cost effective to throw out holey socks than to fix them. Certainly it would have been more cost-effective to replace these socks, which were cheap Christmas gift socks that I have very little attachment to. It took me a couple hours to fix them. But I enjoyed learning a new skill and there’s something about hand-sewing that I find very absorbing in a meditative way.

The most basic darning stitch results in a firm, inflexible fabric. That’s where the darning egg comes in. It stretches your stitches out pre-emptively so that they won’t end up too tight. It makes the mend look lumpy and weird but the result is surprisingly comfortable.

close-up of darned sock heels

My stitching is a bit rough. I initially made the rows too far apart and that meant that there were gaps in the woven fabric that I later closed in with a new layer of stitching. In future I’d probably think a bit more about where I’m sticking my needle to prevent that from happening. Also, as I was working on this I started to get kind of bored with a plain 1×1 weave, especially when so much more is possible. One week I might just try out doing a sampler of cool patterns instead.

But at the rate I go through socks, these are sure to be the first of many, so I’ll have lots of chance to perfect my technique.

Should you want to also try mending socks there are many tutorials available on the internet. I used this one. I don’t have a darning egg so I used a lightbulb instead, which worked well. You can’t get incandescent lightbulbs in Canada anymore, but you can get LED ones with an incandescent shape at IKEA.

sock darning progress shot

I’m repairing a thing a week in 2017. You can see all the posts about this project here.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend IWM PST 14925 ©Imperial War Museum
Make Do and Mend
IWM PST 14925 ©Imperial War Museum

I’ve decided to take up a year-long project in which I take some time each week to mend or fix something. I have a number of reasons, the main one being that I have a lot of things right now that need relatively simple repairs that would make them more usable. I dislike throwing things away, and I need to curb my spending a bit, so making the things that I have last longer makes sense.

It will also be a way to develop some new skills and engage with some of the thoughts that I’ve been having about the unustainability of our consumer economy and the value and benefits (if any) of performing anachronistic manual tasks. Our current model for the creation and distribution of goods requires a massive input of resources and the exploitation of cheap labour often working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. One of the easiest ways to decrease your environmental footprint is to just buy less things.

The other reason is that I experience real difficulty in committig to long-term personal projects and I’d like to force myself to be more disciplined in following through with them. I allow busyness and paid work to push my own personal projects into the margins and the result is that I have a list of things that I want to accomplish with a perpetual deadline of someday. Without committing to regular deadlines that won’t change.

I get tired sometimes of making things, at least, making things for the sake of making things. Do I really need more things in my life? Sometimes the answer is no.

I have a list of things right now in my mending pile but not enough to last the whole year. One thing I’ve noticed though is that after committing to this project I’m starting to notice more and more things that aren’t quite right in some way that I’ve just subconsciously chosen to tolerate. So they’re getting added to the list.

I’ll be tagging all the posts related to this project with #52mends so please follow along.

Belated update

Long time no see, eh?

Things have been really busy around these parts lately. I hate how whenever one leaves off writing in a blog for a long time the resulting post ends up being a big, uninteresting list of things done over the preceding period of time. I’d rather just tell you all about interesting little episodes, projects I’m working on and the like.

I started a new job working at Dance UK and Youth Dance England in December. The good news is that it’s the best job ever, but the bad news is that it sucks up a lot of my time and makes it hard for me to sit down and write about what I’m doing.

I’ve worked in non-profit arts for a few years now, but dance is new to me, so it’s been fun spending time immersed in the project of learning everything there is to know about British dance. Work takes me to lots of interesting places, like Royal Opera House, above, or the dance science lab at Trinity Laban, below.

Though lately I’ve mostly been in the office, snowed under with work. Right now we’re working on the UK’s largest-ever dance conference which is a hell of a lot of work, but also pretty exciting.

I’ve been taking a class on the Poetry of Place at Poetry School with Roisin Tierney on Monday nights, which is one of the highlights of my week. I’m constantly impressed by the work that my classmates bring in, and the feedback on my works in progress has been very helpful.

I’m also taking lindy hop classes at Swing Patrol London, which is super fun.

My new Sunday project is learning to spin on a wheel. It’s a lot of things to think about all at once, but I’m gradually improving. Today the weather was warm enough that I was able to do some spinning outside. The cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and it was nice chatting with random neighbours and cats who stopped by to check out what was going on. I think another couple weeks of working on it and I will get it down.

I’m thoroughly enjoying springtime in London, seeing the world very rapidly get a lot less grey. One surprise has been how friggin huge bees are in England. This one was over an inch long and very fat. I have no idea how it manages to stay in the sky.


Quill, by Jared Flood

This is the first knitting project I started after moving to the UK, since due to lack of space, I had to leave all of my yarn and knitting supplies at home. I wanted it to be substantial enough for it to take a long time, yet easy enough that I could work on it without having to think much, since I had so many things to think about: finding a job, a place to live and dealing with the headaches and bureaucracy surrounding moving to another country. I also wanted something relatively simple in a creamy white colour to replace a similarly coloured pashmina that I seem to have lost while moving.

Quill by Jared Flood delivered. It’s been a great easy project for long train rides and episodes of Doctor Who. The feather and fan section got to be a bit of a slog after a while though so I was very glad when I finally got to the edging.

I’m going to come across as a heretic but I hate circular needles and I avoid them whenever I can. They were recommended for this project because the rows get so long and I don’t think I would have been able to get through it without them. But I ran into some issues at the beginning the edging section. It got very fiddly and my needles acquired a mind of their own and started twisting around.

In all likelihood this is because I use cheap circs and not the super expensive fancy ones that have nice flexible cables. I’m on a limited budget at the moment and I also need something to justify my hatred of circs.

I solved the issue by using a straight and a circ in tandem. Worked like a charm! The edging flew along after that.

I’m happy with the result and I think it will get a lot of wear this winter. I enjoyed it so much that I think I might eventually try out the multicolour option. I love the yarn too. It’s 100% British Alpaca from I Knit London, a satisfying mix of warm, squishy and drapey.

Progress pictures and needle and yarn info on Ravelry.

Adventures in hyperlocal knitting

Mudchute Farm sheep

It’s November first, which means it’s Wovember in the UK! Wovember is about celebrating wool and the people and animals who produce it and drawing attention to the challenges they face at home and in the global market. Wovember outlines this here.

I knew beforehand that moving to the UK might be a little dangerous for my budget and now I suddenly find myself in a place where there is so much excellent wool to be found. That was part of the plan, of course, and inspired by Knit British I’ve decided to try only purchasing wool and fibres sourced from UK producers for the time being. It’ll be a fun way of learning more about domestic wool production, and some of the breeds and small producers that exist in the UK.

I believe firmly in buying locally produced goods where it’s an option. Aside from the lowered carbon emissions that come from shorter travel distances, it helps maintain jobs and livelihoods of people in one’s home economy. And, in the event of problems in global supply chains, buying local enables us to be less susceptible to shock by keeping knowledge and production close to home.

Icy Water Mittens

Right. Well, remember earlier when I said it was getting cold outside? Well, my first finished attempt to keep winter at bay is this pair of mittens. The pattern is Icy Water and the yarn is special because it’s hyperlocal, from Mudchute Farm, a 3.5 mile walk from my house.

I was a little surprised to find such a large farm in East London. It seems to be a favourite place for people to bring young kids because you can meet all the livestock they have there. There are signs everywhere welcoming people to feed the animals, but only carrots. Everyone, everywhere on the farm is carrying bags of carrots. At first I was surprised to see that people had come so prepared, but then I realised that there is an Asda right next door. I’m sure it leads the country in carrot sales.

Mudchute has a small flock of rare-breed sheep that it uses to produce a very durable feeling wool in a limited palette of colours. They also serve lunch and there’s a lot of pleasant walking around the park and farm, so it’s a nice day out, regardless of if you’re interested in knitting.

The mittens are very thick and warm so I imagine I’ll get a lot of use out of them this winter. Project details on Ravelry.

Must knit faster

Must knit faster - Quill by Jared Flood

I realised something in late September. It’s getting really nippy, especially in the evenings, and when it’s overcast.

I sent a link to my projects on Ravelry to a potential employer the other day (it seemed relevant at the time). Looking over them made me realise just how many of those projects are in Canada right now. It was summer when I moved to the UK, and I didn’t have very much space in my suitcase so I only packed for the season I was in. I left behind most of my warmest, bulkiest knits.

For many years I felt like I was always trying to catch up to the weather – like I couldn’t knit fast enough to get projects finished in time for me to be able to use them when I needed them most. I was always packing newly finished projects into plastic bags without wearing them. It was frustrating always starting projects only to have the seasons fly by without me having finished them.

I remember the fall a couple years ago where that changed. It was an amazing watershed moment where I’d finally reached the point of having knit enough things to be able to actually wear them during the season when I needed them. I realised one morning it as I was walking down the hill to the Skytrain on my way to work. It was cold out, but I was really comfortable.

I was comfortable because I was literally encased in wool garments that I had knit. And all that winter I was comfortable. It gave me so much satisfaction, knowing that I had finally accomplished that for myself.

But now winter is coming and I have no handknits. I guess I’ve got to start from scratch again.

Pictured above: Quill, by Jared Flood