textiles

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.

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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.

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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.