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 guidance  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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