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Linen Flax - Flax plant for spinning and weaving  RSS feed

 
Simone Gar
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Simone Gar wrote:Awesome thread. I love linen! It is still huge in Europe, not so much here in North America. I am looking for linen right now actually and have a hard time to find any, especially untreated (organic?) soft linen.
If somebody get's going on this and produces linen, let me know I am a potential buyer


fabric btw not yarn.
 
r ranson
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If the weather permits, I'm going to be planting my first lot of flax seed this week.

There are so many opinions on when one should plant flax. Some people are convinced it can over winter just fine, others say we must wait till a month after the last frost.

I want to know how fibre flax behaves locally, in our growing conditions, and what timing works best for planting it where I live.. Now that I've spent two years saving up enough seeds, I can finally do something to find the answers to my questions.

This year, I'm planning to plant a small patch of flax every month from Jan through May.

The local Flax to Linen group, whom I adore, are firm believers that flax MUST be planted in April or May for best results (Is it whom I adore because there are several people, or who I adore because they all belong to the same group?). I have my doubts. The main reason is, that flax needs lots of water at the beginning of the growing season. Planting the flax AFTER the rains have stopped for the summer, makes no sense to me. Especially since it's a frost hardy plant early in life.

Well... okay, it does make a little sense to me to wait till after the rains have stopped. Especially if you have a large field and are doing the work by tractor. The ground is too sodden to work in the late winter, so yes, there are times when you need to plant the flax later in the year.

For a hand worked garden with good drainage, I think that we can plant much earlier in the year.

This year is the first step to discovering if I'm right or not. I'll see how the plants grow and if there is any advantage to planting earlier in the year.



 
Chadwick Holmes
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Hey R, look what I just got, a German flax wheel.......
image.jpg
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
 
r ranson
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Lovely wheel.

That style of distaff (the stick things that stick up from the wheel for those of you new to spinning) is often used for flax tow spinning. But it can easily be used for wool or line flax.

That looks a great little wheel. Drop me a line if you have any questions with it.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Thank you for the information! Through the link I found your blog Trampled By Geese. There's a lot more to see and read there!
I have a little bit of flax seed, my sister gave me. I hope it will grow ... And I'll look for more.
 
r ranson
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:Thank you for the information! Through the link I found your blog Trampled By Geese. There's a lot more to see and read there!
I have a little bit of flax seed, my sister gave me. I hope it will grow ... And I'll look for more.


Thanks. Glad you like my blog.

I use to blog a lot more, but since I found Permies, I do most of my writing here.

With a blog, I worry that I'm cluttering up the internet... just another person monologuing. On the forum here, there is so much feedback and interaction of ideas.
Then again, that blogs almost 11 years old, so there is bound to be a few useful kernels among the chaft.



Let us know how your flax experience goes. I love hearing about that sort of thing.
 
Sharla Kew
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I made an image with advice from this thread! Thanks, R Ranson!
GrowingFlax.jpg
[Thumbnail for GrowingFlax.jpg]
 
Rue Barbie
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Great thread to read. I'm not a spinner/weaver but I did put some old flax seed stored in the fridge into a cover crop mix with other seeds. It was seed from the grocery store, not fiber flax. It's about 2-3 years old. I planted it about a month ago, so that would be early-mid February, in warm Southern California. It germinated relatively well - at least in areas there seem to be a nice amount of flax plants growing. It is slender and not one of the more robust cover varieties. I doubt it will amount to much with all the competition.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Hey all. I'll join you in growing fiber flax this summer. A collaborator, who is into natural clothing, sent me a lovely packet of fiber flax seed. I'm waiting for about a month to plant it. (Thanks Dawn!)
 
Steven Feil
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We have what I believe is the WILD variety that grows on our property. IT IS QUITE invasive and will take over whatever else you are trying to do with your property. Maybe with some use for it it may not be quite such a PEST, which it is now. Well, other than provided nourishment for the pollinators.

For the dew processing method in dry areas: could one lightly mist it each morning if there is not any moisture?
 
r ranson
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If you have a chance, please share a photo of your wild flax.

Lately I've been learning that lots of non-flax plants are called 'wild flax' all over the world. I'm hoping to make a collection of these wild flax plants to see if they can be processed into cloth, or if they are just called wild flax because they look like flax.

Steven Feil wrote:For the dew processing method in dry areas: could one lightly mist it each morning if there is not any moisture?


Absolutely. This was very common practice.

Also, you can partly rett the flax, dry it, then finish retting another time, sometimes years later. So, for me, if there isn't enough dew, I just dry my flax and rett it later in the summer.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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We don't get enough dew around here to ret flax. However, my perennial flax is retted fairly well by overwintering outside. My plan for retting the annual fiber-flax is to lay it in an area of the garden where the sprinklers overlap, so that it will be irrigated twice a week.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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R Ranson wrote:If you have a chance, please share a photo of your wild flax.


This is the best I can do tonight... Flax already gone to seed growing along the fence-line of one of my fields. It looks like there are two pale blue flax flowers in the photo. The big white flowers are bindweed. I believe that the wild flax around here is Linum lewisii. It competes well with grass and weeds in the wildlands, but doesn't encroach into my fields.

 
kadence blevins
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I can't read the full thread right now but from what I know about flax there are varieties that are better seed and varieties that are better fiber. For those getting into this does anyone happen to have found these and the variety names?
 
r ranson
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kadence blevins wrote:I can't read the full thread right now but from what I know about flax there are varieties that are better seed and varieties that are better fiber. For those getting into this does anyone happen to have found these and the variety names?


this post has a bit about it. Some of the other posts also have good links to different varieties.

Most linen varieties of flax have been lost. Very few if any has names until the 20th century. Each community had their own landrace. But as cotton took over, these sotly and quietly faded away. With so few varieties remaining, I feel concern that there may not be enough genetic diversity to maintain resilience. The more people who grow and save seeds from linen flax, of any variety of mixed, the better it can survive.

What were looking for is a flax that will grow at least a yard high and not have many branches. Some of this is achieved through genetics, some b by how we plant it. Sown in a block, very closely spaced together, will force the plants to grow up instead of branching out. So it's possible that w we could use grocerystore flax seed to produce linen. Save seeds from the tallest.... Create your own landrace.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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In Belgium and in the part of the Netherlands closest to the Belgian borders, and also in France flax for linen is still grown! But as far as I know after harvest the flax is transported to the Far East to be processed. Then only the best fine linen yarn is transported back to Europe to be woven, for damast tablecloths a.a. The other linen yarns are woven in Asia too.
 
Steven Feil
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R Ranson wrote:If you have a chance, please share a photo of your wild flax.


Spent so much time trying to get rid of it I never thought to take a picture! It will be MONTHS before we get to see them in flower again.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Here's a photo of my flax plants this morning. They are perennial, so the new growth is already well advanced.


Looks like they retted fairly well overwinter.


So I made enough yarn to wrap around my finger a few times.


I don't have fiber working tools, and little understanding, but whatever... It seems to me like a proper fiber flax should have a more soft interior. Looking forward to comparing this to the fiber flax seeds that are scheduled to be planted soon.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Yes! My flax is growing! From seeds my sister brought from Northern France (where fibre flax is still grown in large quantities).
 
Hans Quistorff
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Kris Arbanas wrote:Great thread! I'm really excited about the possibilities with flax because I have some wet spots and have heard that it is one of the few crops that can take wet feet. Is this true?

R Ranson, is there anywhere in Western or Canada wide that sells growing seed?

The kind I have grows in a clay flood plain and starts growing while flooded in the early spring/winter. I sent some stalks and seeds to Ranson. Apparently from Joseph Lofthouse post this is the variety.
Linum lewisii, Lewis Blue Flax, grows as a perennial on my farm and in the surrounding wildlands. It does not require irrigation. I've made fiber threads out of it, but rhetting and schutching don't seem to work near as well as shown in the videos using domesticated flax. The seeds are much smaller as well.
The seeds have little umbrellas on them like lettuce seed. So far it looks like it is going to be a very good year for it; much of the field has grown all winter. I have shallow ponds in the field with reeds that I can bind the bundles and put it to ret in the fall.
 
Larisa Walk
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The seeds have little umbrellas on them like lettuce seed?
My domesticated flax's seeds are in little round seed capsules. If they look like lettuce seeds they must be another genus. I wonder what their taxonomy really is?
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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I returned here to re-read it all, because I harvested the first few stems of my flax. I saw I only posted a photo of very small plants (seedlings). Sorry. My flax was growing very well, maybe thanks to all rain. Although flax for fibers has to be harvested before the seeds are ripened, I decided to wait. That's because I only have very little flax now and want to grow more, using my own flax seeds. So these first flax plants in my garden have to produce seeds. Most stems and seed-hulls (is that the right word?) are still green, but a few plants were yellowed. I could pull them loose with ease.
Now I think of it: tomorrow I'll make photos. Now I can show you a photo made a month ago. See how tall and strong it's growing?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Here's what my fiber flax patch looked like yesterday...

Also a comparison of wild perennial flax (top) to one of the fiber flax plants. 

0713162036-01.jpg
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fiber flax
flax-wild-vs-fiber.jpg
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wild flax (top) vs fiber flax
 
r ranson
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My flax harvest is in and dry.  I've had an interesting year growing a great variety of flax and beginning my flax breeding project.

I wrote about it and the people at Permaculture Magazine North America kindly published it
  (even if I did go waaay over the word limit).

Basically, I'm lamenting the lack of choice when it comes to flax seed.  For a plant that supposedly has almost two thousand varieties, it's kind of disappointing when one can only find a handful of different kinds of flax seed for sale.  Combine the lack of choice with the modern growing schedule of fibre flax (spring planting vs the overwinter varieties of our ancestors), made me feel we need more kinds of flax.  I'm going to see if I can make some if possible by making the bees do the work for me, but failing that, by hand pollinating.



Something that didn't make it into the article are my thoughts on perennial flax for fibre production and what that would look like.  For fibre flax, we want a single, straight, long stem that is harvested by pulling up by the root.  But for perennial fibre flax, we wouldn't be pulling it up by the root.  We would probably cut it about one or two inches from the ground.  Some of the varieties of flax I grew, were long straight stems... however, they had lots of branches at the base of the plant, just above the soil line (but had no branching after - each branch produced a long, straight, stem just like we want for fibre production).  Perhaps this would be a good shape for perennial fibre flax.  This definitely needs more investigation, but I think it has a lot of potential.   
 
Hans Quistorff
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My perennial? flax was spotty for height again this year because of the field drying out early.  The ponds dried out a month early but around the ponds there is some nice tall flax. Where it is not growing thick it tends to branch but when crowded makes single stems only branching at the top six inches.

@R Ranson: Did you get any of the seed I sent to grow? Was the quality of the stems I sent good enough to process?
I planted two sections of my clay soil that had been covered in carpet with the seeds that I make ny daily pred with. The flax I broadcast very thick 16 inches wide and ten feet long. It got extra water when my raspberry drip sprang a leak and got about 20 inches tall.  The seed pods are now beginning to  form up. I will write about the other seed plants in the staples thread.

We are getting early rain for september so the sections of my field away from the ponds that had flax come up thick but not enough moisture may have a chance fore the plants that just hung in there at about 3 inches tall may shoot up and be harvested.  They seem to be able to keep growing and blooming until December but if they have already flowered and formed seed they do not grow any more. Even if they are not processed for linnen they are excellent for mulch because they will last two years or more like a woven mat on the ground.
 
r ranson
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I admit, I haven't had a chance to plant the seeds yet.  We had intended to move this year, so I didn't put anything I really valued in the ground.  Whether or not we move next year, we don't know, but I think I'm going to take a chance and plant some of the seeds at least. 

If the weather cooperates, I'll be retting flax this month.  The stuff I retted last year wasn't done enough so I need to re-ret it. 


Here's an interesting guide to spinning line flax.
 
r ranson
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Here's what my fiber flax patch looked like yesterday...

Also a comparison of wild perennial flax (top) to one of the fiber flax plants. 





Between these two, the bottom one is going to give a better quality fibre.  However, you can still get something worth while from the wild flax.

If you can find some wild flax that do all their branching at the bottom of the plant, instead of half way up, I think it would be a quality to select for when saving seeds.
 
Hans Quistorff
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I think I'm going to take a chance and plant some of the seeds at least.  

The wild flax that I sent you can be planted now. It naturally wind sows the little umbrellas on dry days this time of year and on into winter. I can always gather more seed for you.
 
Jason Padvorac
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Here is another source for seeds - Sherck Seeds in Indiana has some fiber flax seed in stock: http://www.sherckseeds.com/pages/seeds/special-use-garden-plants/fiber-flax/


Edit: and it looks like Joseph Lofthouse is offering them now, also!

http://garden.lofthouse.com/seed-list.phtml
 
Danette Cross
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So glad to find this thread (no pun intended!)

I love spinning and weaving linen more than any other fiber.  Hemp comes in second, then wool (don't tell my 5 sheep that!)

I haven't grown flax on this property yet, have owned it since 2013, so it's about time to get some fiber growing in the ground besides what's on the sheep!  I am looking for a good source for FIBER flax seeds. Any good sources anyone can recommend from USA or Canada?
 
Danette Cross
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BTW I see some of the sources listed, but 450 seeds isn't going to be enough.  I am looking for about 1/2 - 1 pound.
 
Hans Quistorff
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I planted the black flax from the bulk bins at the grocery store. I wanted to compare it to the wild flax that grows perennially in  my field.  I planted it thick in a bed 2' x  16' .  It grew thigh high and only bloomed and set seed at the very top.  The roots were more shallow than my wild flax so it was easy to pull.  This was heavy clay soil that had been mulched then worked over by the chicken tractor.. I planted it by sprinkling it on the ground and pounding it in with the tines of a spring rake.  You don't rake it, just bounce the rake and the springs loosen the soil and work the seeds in.  This also worked well for the millet and amaranth that i had in alternating strips.
 
r ranson
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Danette Cross wrote:BTW I see some of the sources listed, but 450 seeds isn't going to be enough.  I am looking for about 1/2 - 1 pound.


You may have to bulk up the seeds yourself.  Buy a few packets then grow it in a small corner of the garden, save seeds, repeat.  This is actually a really good technique because. after two or three years, the plants will have acclimatised themselves to your conditions and will thrive better than seed brought in from outside. 

I also recommend starting smaller for new growers as it gives them a chance to perfect your flax processing skills on small batches.  It would be heartbreaking to grow a quarter acre of the stuff, only to ruin it from retting too long or some other 'learning experience'. 
 
Danette Cross
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I've grown flax several times. My land has several micro zones, compared to my old place that was basically all the same, so I need to test in several areas, not just one plot, so need more seed.
 
r ranson
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Danette Cross wrote:I've grown flax several times. My land has several micro zones, compared to my old place that was basically all the same, so I need to test in several areas, not just one plot, so need more seed.


If you find a place that sells bulk fibre flax seed, please let us know. 

 
Danette Cross
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I will!  I have family in The Netherlands and may hit my cousin up to go find me some good long line seed!  Right now I am ordering the 200 gram (7 oz) package from Wild Fibers in the UK. Not as much as I need for all my test plots, but enough to get started. Flipping shipping doubles the price.  But it's good Belgian/Dutch seed, so I will see how it does here in NW Montana.

I am also getting ready to build a new flax break, a better ripple, shape up a new scutching knife and set some more hackles.  When I get them the way I like, I will post pics and the process I used for making them.  If you have the right tools, then processing is actually fun because you can go from one thing to the other and mix it up a bit.

Then - the dye garden!!  Has anyone grown Woad here in NW Montana?  In the east and south it can become an invasive weed, but here in the colder temps, I think it would be a manageable crop.
 
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