Spring and cleaning and de-stashing and rediscovery
Spring means many things, but it always reminds me of our Ottawa Valley Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild foray into growing our own flax, aka ‘The Flax Project’. Its hard to believe it was over two years ago, nearly three, that a group of us tackled the happy adventure of trying to produce our own flax crop, not once, but twice. It brought back memories of warm spring days planting and weeding, hot, hot summer days of staking and weeding (the one constant was weeding), days of harvesting, drying, retting, seeding, rippling, scutching and all those lovely bizarre words to describe specific processing of flax. Flax is grown and harvested in a community, but it is customarily spun in the winter when there is no other more pressing work to do. I find it very dusty and messy fiber to spin, or maybe I just don’t like doing that part without the shared company of fellow fiber lunatics.
So while I was clearing out bits and pieces of unfinished projects, I found my share of the flax and tow.
I also found loads of other flax that had been spun over the years.
Most have been left as singles and is ready for weaving.
Some I boiled as an experiment. Flax will lighten in colour if you boil it. It also softens significantly and your house will smell like hay soup.
Some came to me bleached, so I gave that a spin. It was extremely soft. My concern is for the durability of anything made with prebleached flax fiber. Woven flax is renamed linen for those of you who didn’t know, and linen fabric is incredibly strong, and long wearing.
There are two down sides to linen; one is that it wrinkles. I like the wrinkles of linen, especially jackets and trousers, but some people can’t stand that characteristic. The other is its tendency to fade. Linen will take colour but over time it will lose that colour and move towards white. Again, I like this in linen, and it takes ages for this to happen. A bright, bright blue will mute over years and acquire a vintage look that can only be seen in linen.
Covid enabled me to join a most remarkable group of flax enthusiast started by an extremely generous woman in Europe. Her name is Christiane; she was gifted a large quantity of flax from a lady called Berta. This was from Berta’s dowry. Christiane decided to share it with other interested spinners and reached out on social media. I asked for two stricks. A strick is what the finished combed flax. It is usually very fine, has little to no straw and is very tidy, ready for spinning.
Well!! You can imagine how this took off. In the middle of a pandemic. People desperate for knowledge, information, something challenging, interesting, contact with the rest of the world…this took on a life of its’ own. Much of this flax was grown, processed and stored pre WW2. It was of historical significance, to be part of that is pretty inspiring. Christiane knows what she has and rose to the occasion. She was gifted more dowry chests, documented more stories, and sent out more flax to more and more enthusiasts. She also sent out hand woven linen, patterns, she wrote articles, held workshops, taught about the history of flax production in Europe, specifically Austria, helped flax lovers from all over the world to connect with each other. The project became massive. She now has help to manage the administration of this mammoth undertaking.
Thanks to Christiane I now have suppliers of flax in Egypt and Canada and my treasures from Berta’s flax plus a community world wide I can go to if I run into problems and need answers.
But the question I’m sure many of you have is can flax be of any use to felters? Yes, I think so. For binding felt books, for embellishments, for stitching, linen backing on a felted image, dry felting onto a linen fabric (not sure, but the fabric is durable), there must be elements of cross compatibility.
The season for demonstrations is coming up and it looks like this year we can actually go out into the community again. I am looking forward to taking along a fully dressed distaff with some gorgeous blond flax, blowing in the breeze, a little water bowl for dipping near at hand and inspire awe in the local population, that humans can make thread out of grass. Okay, not awe, but maybe some curiosity, I’ll take curiosity.
7 thoughts on “Spring and cleaning and de-stashing and rediscovery”
It is said that you learn something new every day – I now know that linen is woven flax! (Maybe I just didn’t take in this information in the flax growing and harvesting blog posts?)
Linen garments always look as if you’ve slept in them but they are the best things to wear in the heat.
What a fascinating story about Christiane – thank you for sharing.
Great post Bernadette. The little bit I helped with the flax project was a lot of fun. I wonder if anyone spun an used any of the flax.
I do love linen. I find it the perfect mid-season fabric, and sewing with it is lots of fun. I’d love to try weaving it one day. Have you done that already, Bernadette?
Your group sounds lovely. I guess one of the positive sides of the pandemic was that people actually united over the internet to share knowledge around the world! I’m glad you found them. Thanks for sharing.
Leonor, I haven’t tried weaving with linen – yet. That is on my to-do list. I’m doing some research on the process to make it easier, but like spinning it can be really dusty and a bit messy. There is some ‘dressing’ that people can use for both spinning and weaving. Its made of boiled flax seed. This mucilage is painted on the warp to keep the flyaway bits under control. Linen also has no stretch, so mistakes in warping show up. Who first thought of putting this goop on the linen had to be so desperate they would try anything!
I have used flax for embellishing felt and it gives a nice crinkly texture. Otherwise, I usually use linen for embroidery projects. It’s great to stitch on. I look forward to hearing how you like the weaving process. Boiled flax seed sounds a bit icky.
I love my linen clothing and the way it softens over time! Flax has a long history in the Irish context – linen garments have been dated to the 11th century and in the 1800’s Belfast was recognised as the world’s largest linen producer.
It intrigues me the way that covid has impacted on developing new relationships and you certainly has discovered a new ‘tribe’ of flax enthusiasts worldwide Bernadette. This is really wonderful. To work with such a dowry must have been awesome. I love that whole backdrop to the story. Berta chose well bequeathing it to Christiane. Thanks so much for sharing this little piece of history in the making.
Wow, what a great story! Who could have imagined the knock on effect that original gift of flax could have? Like Lyn, I hadn’t realised that linen was actually woven flax and I’m a big fan of linen clothing too.