Fully Loaded


Who knew you could fit so much linen in a Prius? Driving around in this I feel like I’m in the clown car of linen…!

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And don’t forget safety – I can still do a shoulder check, just!

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So in a rough estimate I think this harvest could total 120 lbs. The expected rate to produce fibres from this mass is around 20%. So for 100 grams of sticks I hope to get 20 grams of fibre. The colour inside is quite a beautiful honey gold, not at all what I expected, I thought it would be much darker. I look at these piles of flax and wonder now, when will I get back to knitting? And how much will I need to process to weave with?!?

But then I think, oh man, this is fun stuff to be working with and I squish off more of the chuff pieces with my fingers while I make little bundles of fibres!

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Canadian Flax – almost linen now


We bundled up the flax yesterday to remove it from the field and stop the retting process. At first the report was that all the flax is over retting as we have had a bunch of rain days since our harvesting. Also the report is that this year has been a very hot growing season and there is not as much flax in the stalks to yield.

Upon further inspection and testing we immediately found two varieties that have great breaking strength and dented my fingers pulling it apart, but the lesser harvest per stalks seems to be accurate. All of the flax is spinnable, and in the weaving vernacular, some will be great for warp but some will only be great for weft. When it comes to knitting, all of it should be fabulous for knitting projects, even with breaking, the staple length is longer and the fibres are stronger than cotton. I brought home the dew retted Chantal (white flower) variety to start scutching (by hand for now). I need to find out how much work it will take to make a hat!

When we left the fields after the harvest it looked like this:

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Today we bundled it up and the fields look like this:

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The large bundles are for processing into fibres and the small ones are for the UWO Field Research station for records.

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Everything is carefully tagged and I am quickly learning the names and characteristics of each fibre bundle. We removed them from the fields to store until they can be moved to my farm in Arthur, ON.

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It looks like only a little in the trailer, but only about half of the bundles fit in the car for transport!

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I had brought some of the harvested Chantal variety home so people can practice water retting (people are back from vacations and we can get started, but I’m working full time, which is delaying things!) A batch of the Chantal harvest was dew retted and the final batch is the upright bundles from the harvesting pictures.

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The bundles are in the process of being water tub retted at the field station.

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OMG the smell! It’s quite rotten and raunchy! You can see the bubbles created by the organisms that are breaking down the outer fibres.

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Helmut is not loving the way this fibre is retting at present, and was showing us how he tests it out from the tub. It is not peeling the way he likes just yet.

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I will start taking some videos and close ups of what is happening in the scutching!

 

 

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2016 – More Focusing on Linen


In 2016 my life has become a little like a sad song…My father in law and my grandmother both passed away, I am no longer employed and my car is a bit broken. But life is not all bad news. In 2015, I applied to teach at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. Along with the generous sponsorship of materials from Louet, in October, I will be teaching people the art of spinning linen fibres using a distaff.

Having an unreliable car means I can’t travel around very much and all farmablefibres plans have ground to a halt. Since this is not far off what was already occurring, its not all bad. Though the farmhouse shop won’t likely be open in 2016 now. But my house in Waterloo cleaned up beautifully (finally) and I can have guests over to knit, spin and weave together. Even if the living room ceiling is (still) exposed!

Unexpectedly, a very interesting opportunity presented itself this year. Back in 2012, I was a advisory member of a Fibre Flax growing initiative in Southern Ontario. You can see the report that was published here. A hard copy of this report is also available for $20 from Helmut (hbecker@uwo.ca ). This year I am part of the Upper Canada Fibreshed group that will be growing linen in backyard plots. I looked for a bit of guidanceĀ  and met with, a few members of my former group at a UWO growing station to discuss growing flax and research topics once again. I am personally interested in the fibre flax seed varieties, germination and storage. We know we are late to apply to grants in 2016, and we have agreed to look into 2017 opportunities. I think a year (or two) of research is just what I need right now.

On April 20th, 2016 the research station planted a variety of fibre flax in their fields. One hundred days later the crop is ready, and on July 28th a group of volunteers came together to harvest the crop. Thank you everyone who came out to help. This is labour intensive work that is made possible by everyone helping and working together!

This is the view from one side of the fields. The flax is planted in square plots two wide by many long. This year has been very warm and as a consequence, the flax has not grown very tall. It still looks so beautiful to me.

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The view from the other end of the field.

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This end plot is flax with white flowers, rather than the usual blue.

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Harvest in progress. Helmut brought his personally designed rippler.

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He showed us how to remove the seeds, tie them, and stack them up. Tying the sheaves up is its own side art to learn! I only managed an overhand knot. I will have to look into this knot in rope before I will ever be able to master it with fibre stalks on the field! If anyone knows any names of the knots used historically to tie flax, please let me know, it will really help my knot search (……runs off to consult the personal linen library).

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OK back! Ahh finally finished; post harvest. The flax has been pulled and laid down (as per UWO guidelines) for dew retting.

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The rows are set up so the flax can be turned using a long stick (kind of like a spatula) to ensure the dew reaches all sides of the flax equally.

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Not all the flax was rippled. The four plots at the front of the fields were left to grow and produce seeds, they will be harvested last, well after the 100 days to give the seeds a chance to fully mature.

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The coolest thing about working at a field research facility, is that they grow really neat looking stuff. This is a peruvian linen. It is grown in a different section of the fields. The plant is smaller than the european varieties. The flowers are a stunning blue, and you can really see the colour in the petals that have fallen to ground below the plant.

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This is our group picture that I corralled at the end of the day. In the end our harvest party group was fourteen strong, and Ed really deserves an extra mention for doing double the harvesting! Thank you to everyone who came out, especially those who came at the last minute. I know the people who could not make it yesterday are anxiously waiting to see these pictures! A part of me is thinking about 2017 now, and thinking maybe next year we can meet again to do this in the communal 10×10 plots we could set up at my farm in Arthur…. lets discuss that at a meeting I have promised to host there this summer!

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Should I Block? Probably!


It is one of those questions that people ask me a lot. Should I block my bast knitting to finish it? Most of the time I just answer a very straight yes. Even though first I throw my own pieces through one washing machine and dryer load. It turns out for production knitting, I would rather not block an item as that just adds to the labour cost.

I have this bandana pattern that I have been working on, in 6ply LanaKnits hemp on 6mm needles. I don’t block it at all. It is knit in garter which helps me evade the blocking step.

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But when I switched it up and made the same pattern with 3 ply hemp yarn on the same 6mm needles, the question of whether I could block or not, is no longer optional.

It took me an extra hour to add in all the pins!

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Bur without blocking, straight out of the first wash & dry my bandana looked like this:

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It feels very nice, but doesn’t look nice enough to sell. Also, when I try to model this, it looks wrinkled and bunchy on my head!

Words can not describe enough how superior this bandana looks once it has been properly blocked. And there is the added bonus of how good it looks and feels when I wear it!

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Please do consider blocking every project. It will make your yarn and your project shine.

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And since I was taking pics outdoors, here is a bit of my garden this year.

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Marvelous Linen


Full head shot selfie. These words instill the same dread in me as big deadline or final exam due. I love being behind the camera and focusing, but I find myself taking only 2 kinds of shots in front of the camera; over the top theatrical or lump.

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Great bed head!

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I should smile more maybe? (Nothing is gonna help the guy behind my shoulder though..!)

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Then I thought, ok extensions!

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I can be Goldilocks or Rapunzel and channel my inner diva! And of course, linen is perfect for this. Linen is marvelous!

I want to show the world how amazing this fibre is and what it can do. Yes it is rough, but only at the start. It will not be quite so harsh when it becomes 10 or even 100 year old linen so beloved and cherished in families. But to last, it has to be strong. The fibre has to start strong.

Flax starts as a very delicate and beautiful plant.

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There are 2 basic varieties of flax; plants for seed and (my favorite) fibre varieties. I use Louet Super Fine Flax Top. It has a 12″-18″ staple length which makes it quite a challenge to spin, my drafting zone can be longer than my arms can stretch.

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To help I use a distaff. The one in the right of the picture below is my favorite hand carved antique distaff.

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Spinning on a wheel or with a spindle, try both! Without a distaff there is simply more waste fibre. I started with dry spinning, but much prefer the wet spun product (once I got the hang of it). You can also try using the wet towel method, or blending with different fibres, linen makes the fibre stronger.

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I like linen for many different purposes, so I spin both thick and thin yarns.

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(3 ply handspun)

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Natural fibres are my environmental favourite, but occasionally I love to inject and work with a bit of colour. I’m always practicing that thick and thin!

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I made the 3 colour hand spun yarn in the background to try out handspun linen socks!

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I never have enough, but I can’t help but use my handspun in my weavings.

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I hope you will all join me in 2016 on my path to spin straw into gold, and look good while doing it!

 

 

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Very Sad News


My father in law passed away this past week. The funeral will be on Fri Feb 19 at the Turner & Porter Funeral Home (2180 Hurontario St), visitation from 2-3 pm, wake at 3 pm.

 

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Presto Change-o


I will not be vending at events in 2016. 2016 will be the year of opening my yarn farmhouse shop.

I was pretty sick this summer, and have come to the conclusion that doing too much at once is definitely worse for my health! DH is still in school working on the PhD, and I find that going back to full time work is awesome. And more lucrative than being an artist.

So I am going to become a weekend warrior. We will combine my yarn business which is being reduced down to a hobby scale for 2016, with our hobby, fixing up a 135 year old farmhouse in Arthur, ON.

But the place still needs a bit of work!

It has amazing potential, and I have some one day retreat ideas that I have been discussing with fellow dyers. I am hoping that some time in April we will have more to show people.

For now, here is the place through the seasons.

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