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Posts Tagged ‘line flax’

cindy in cotton vest - BLOG

Cindy Conner in her homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest

Have you ever wondered if it would be possible to make your own clothes from what you could grow in your garden? Well, I have done that and would like to teach you how to go about it. I am talking about growing cotton and flax for linen in your garden, processing it for fiber, spinning it, and weaving it into fabric to sew into clothes. Or, if you prefer, you could knit or crochet what you spin. In order to pass on what I have learned, I am giving a workshop on June 8, 2019 at my place, Sunfield Farm, near Ashland, VA. It would be just for that day from 9am-4pm.

The day will start with a garden tour. That is a big deal because I don’t normally open my garden to the public. You will see cotton and flax growing there and the flax will be nearing harvest. You will also see the other crops I have growing, including grains nearing harvest and the compost piles that are in the rotation on the garden beds. I will explain the growing conditions for cotton and flax.

flax straw and line-closeup - BLOG

flax straw and the line flax it becomes

Everyone will receive a pound of retted flax and have the chance to work with it on flax brakes, scutching boards, and hackles. You will produce the line flax that you will learn to spin in the afternoon. You will also collect the tow from your flax and learn how to make it into something useful.

There will be an hour lunch break at noon. Iced tea and water will be provided, but you will have to bring your own lunch and snacks. I am located only a few miles from the small town of Ashland. If you don’t pack a lunch you could get something to eat there. Of course, if you don’t need the whole hour for lunch, you are welcome to go back to working with the flax after you eat.

spindles for workshop - BLOG

spindles you will receive in the workshop

The afternoon will be filled with spinning and learning what to do with the spun yarn. You will receive raw cotton and a metal tahkli spindle to spin it with. Spinning on a tahkli is not something you learn quickly. It will take a lot of practice to get proficient at it. However, the lesson and practice you receive that day will get you started. You will also receive a wooden spindle to spin the flax you processed yourself. Once flax is spun, it is called linen. In the future you can use that spindle to spin tow and to ply the cotton that you spin on the tahkli.

homegrown-handspun- cotton shirt 2016

closeup of Cindy’s homegrown cotton shirt

There is much more to learn besides spinning before you can weave and sew and you will be exposed to all of that in the afternoon. I will be showing the garments I have made from my homegrown, handspun, handwoven fiber. You will also witness fiber being scoured, learn about shrinkage during scouring and weaving, see the looms I use, and learn about the equipment I have acquired and how much of it is actually necessary.

white cotton warp linen weft shirt - BLOG

Cindy’s shirt with white cotton warp and linen weft

That is the tentative schedule for the day. Of course, if it rains, the schedule of events will change, but we will get it all in. Canopies will be set up outside for the flax processing if rain is threatening. The garden tour can proceed during a drizzle, so dress appropriately. Spinning lessons will take place inside or out, but the show-and-tell for equipment will be inside the house, which will be open all day for participants to use the bathroom when the need arises.

The class is limited to 15 students. The cost is $115 for the day, including the spindles, retted flax, and raw cotton. To hold your spot, I will need a check from you for the full amount. If you prefer to pay in two payments, the cost will be $120 with $60 due as a deposit to hold your spot and the remaining $60 to be paid by May 8, 2019. Email me (Cindy) at cconner@HomeplaceEarth.com to let me know you are sending a check and I will tentatively put you on the list and give you my mailing address.

If you are coming from a distance, the charming town of Ashland, VA offers services you may need. There are a variety of hotels and restaurants near Interstate 95 and Rt. 54 at the edge of town. The historic district includes restaurants and the train station where Amtrak stops daily. If you should choose to arrive by Amtrak you could stay at the Henry Clay Inn and we could arrange to pick you up for the class. I have no connections with anyone there, but mention it because it would be convenient if arriving by train.

I am giving this workshop because of the interest that has been shown in my work growing cotton and flax/linen from seed to garment and I want more people to join in the fun. Unless you have acquired some of these skills on your own already, you won’t be able to go home and do all of this right away. However, you will be exposed to the process and learn what equipment you may or may not need. Although you may eventually move up to using a spinning wheel, you will have the spindles to get you started. I spun all the fiber for my first garment, a homegrown cotton vest, on a tahkli spindle. For a preview of what you will experience at this workshop, check out my blog posts about cotton and flax/linen.

I am looking forward to a fun-filled day and hope you will join me. Since the class is limited to 15 people, don’t procrastinate. Once it is filled (everyone’s check clears) I can only put you on a waiting list in case a spot opens up.

See you in June!

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flax-straw-spun-thread-on-spindle-a2-2016-blog

Homegrown flax straw, line flax, and linen thread spun from the line flax.

Growing flax in your garden and making it into linen is a great experience. Linen is the name for flax fiber once it is made into thread. It is hard to believe that what you harvest in the summer, something that looks less vibrant than the straw that results from growing wheat and rye, can produce fiber that can be made into fabric. Knowledge and the right tools is all it takes, in addition to planting the flax seeds at the correct time.

The variety of flax you will be planting for linen (Linum usitatissimum) is different than flax for culinary use (Linum perenne). Also, the planting is different. For linen you will need to plant the seeds closer together to get a very thick stand. The goal is to have straight stalks with no branching. A variety of fiber flax that I have found readily available is Marilyn. The Heirloom Seed Project at the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania sells Marilyn flax seed, as does the Hermitage in Pitman, Pennsylvania. Richters in Canada is also a source of flax seed. One pound of flax seed will plant about 300-400 square feet. You might find it for sale in some places by the packet for smaller areas.

Don’t delay in ordering your seeds because the time to plant is in early spring. Last year I planted on March 8 here in Virginia in Zone 7. Using the information in Linda Heinrich’s book, Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth, as my guide, I waited until the soil had warmed to at least 43-46° F. (6-8° C.). Soil that is too cold will slow germination. Since I was planting in beds in my vegetable garden, I had the required open and sunny space. One guideline as a time to plant is to count back 100 days from when hot weather (80° F., 27° C.) sets in. Here in Virginia it can get hot early, so I went with the soil temperature guideline.

flax-flowering-blog

flax flowers

Harvest time is 90-100 days from planting, or 30 days after the crop is in full flower. I watched for that and marked my calendar for harvest in 30 days. There will be some earlier blooms and some later ones, but watch for the major flush of blooms. I harvested most of my flax on June 22. I let one bed go about two weeks later to let the seeds mature, harvesting that bed on July 8. I thought I would be sacrificing the quality of the fiber if I waited for the seeds to mature, but so far, it looks good. I have processed it into line flax for spinning, but haven’t spun it yet. Time will tell.

I prepare in the fall for my early spring flax planting. The area needs to be moderately fertile. In the fall, instead of planting a cover crop, I cover the intended flax beds with leaves from the oak and maple trees in our yard, since I can never be too sure what the weather will be in early spring and I want the beds ready early. If I could depend on having the cover crop winterkill, I would plant for that. However, sometimes our winters are too mild for a sure winterkill, which has happened this year. I pull off the leaves a week or two before planting to let the soil warm and, when the time is right, put in the seeds.

flax-growing-in-rows-in-the-gardenblog

Flax growing in rows in a 4′ wide garden bed.

Everything I have read about flax cautions about keeping up with the weeding, but I found that was not a problem. The flax was well established by the time weeds appeared. The leaf mulch over the winter might have helped with that. Planting can be done in rows spaced close together (3-4 in., 7.5-10.5 cm.) or broadcast. Planting in rows will help you identify what is flax and what is weeds, making weeding easier. When it is time to harvest, you will be pulling it up, roots and all, rather than cutting it. The fiber extends all the way into the roots and you want every bit.

flax-equipment-blog-brake-hackles-scutching

Flax brake, scutching board and scutching knife, and three hackles. The middle hackle is an antique. We made the other two.

Growing flax is the easy part. Once it is harvested, it will need to be retted, which can be accomplished by soaking it in water or laying it out in the grass to let the dew take care of it for a couple weeks. After that, you will need equipment, which may not be readily available, to process it into line flax to spin. Of course, then you need to spin it, then weave or knit it. Don’t worry, I will be telling you about retting and processing in future posts. We have made a flax brake, scutching board and knife, and hackles to do the processing. The spinning can be done on a handspindle or a spinning wheel.

If you would like to work with flax and you do not intend to grow your own, you can purchase unretted flax from the Heirloom Seed Project at the Landis Valley Museum. That’s how I got started. Places that sell spinning and weaving equipment may have line flax for spinning. The class I took at the John C. Campbell Folk School in 2015 helped jumpstart my flax education.

Get your seeds in the ground this spring and watch for them to flower in 60-70 days, then mark your calendar for harvest 30 days after that. I’ll be posting again before harvest time to guide you along. This will be fun!homeplace earth

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