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Linen Flax - Flax plant for spinning and weaving  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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This is my second year growing flax for cloth and I love it. I would like to share a few things I've learned and hopefully learn a few things from you too. I'm especially interested in different sources of seeds for fibre flax, and experiences growing/breeding it.




Image from botanical.com

Linum usitatissimum, commonly known as flax, is an exceptionally good source of fibre (or fiber in the US). The seed, often called flaxseed or linseed, contains a great deal of dietary fibre, and is very popular for animal feed and human health nuts. The seeds also make a popular egg substitute in vegan baking. What a lot of people don't seem to realize is that flax produces another kind of fibre, long strands of bast fibre are hidden within its stem, which through a little bit of magic (aka, chemistry) and a bit of work, can be transformed into linen cloth.

Although the same plant, the variety of flax grown for seed production is VERY different than that grown for cloth. It may be possible to use seed flax for creating cloth, but it creates a vastly inferior product. Flax seed varieties tend to be shorter, have stems that branch (makes for uneven fibres within the stock) and has fewer, coarser fibres than flax grown for fibre. For the purpose of this thread, I would like to focus on fibre flax.

Flax grows well in northern climes, with cool springs and moderate growing seasons. Basically places too far north or south for cotton, will usually grow flax with very little complaint. It requires minimal soil fertility, but the quality of the fibre is greatly improved with a application of well composted manure. In my experience, compost without manure does little to improve growth, resulting in substantially shorter stems, and far fewer fibres per stem. There are very few pests or diseases that attack flax. This is easily combated with a 5 or 7 year crop rotation. A small patch can be grown in the garden, or larger in the field. For the first attempt, I usually suggest about 6 to 12 square feet of garden bed so that one can see how it grows in the local conditions.

Flax is very popular with my local transition movement, as it provides a sustainable, chemical free source of lightweight summer clothing. Because of the environmental and labour issues with growing and processing cotton, linen is quickly growing in popularity. When worn next to the skin, linen cloth wicks away sweat and reduces bacteria growth that makes nasty BO. It dries quickly and feels a lot cooler than cotton in hot weather.




Image from flax wiki page


Growing flax:

Prepare the soil late in the winter for an early spring planting. A fine seedbed is desired. Flax can handle some frost, so I usually plant mine a month or three before the last frost date. It needs a moist start for the first 40 days or so, but after that, can usually handle a drought (depending on soil depth and root strength).

Flax does not compete well with weeds. When the flax plants are about 4 to 6 inches high is the time to weed. You can gently step on the flax and it will spring back. However, once the flax pant is over 8 inches tall, any compression of the plant will greatly damage the fibre yield. There are chemical herbicides that 'work' with flax, however, these have been shown to damage the final fibre quality and reduce yield. As flax does better with manure than chemical fertilizers, it is ideally suited to organic style of growing. Very few pests bother linen flax.

To get the best quality fibre, one harvests just after the flowers have finished, but before the seeds form. For moderate quality fibre, one can wait until the seeds have formed, then harvest the flax. Flax is harvested by pulling up by the roots, it is then tied in sheaves and stacked in stooks to dry.

Once dry, the flax sheaves are rippled (the seeds removed) and stored somewhere dry. They can be stored for several years before the next step, or they can be retted right away.


The fibre in the flax is called a Bast fibre. That is that it runs the length of the stem and needs to be removed before it can be worked.

Retting the flax is actually a controlled rot. This step breaks down the hard stem of the flax making it easy to break away the unwanted parts from the fibres. This can be done by submerging the flax in water, submerging it in running water, or laying it on the lawn and allowing the dew to do it's thing. The first two methods cause quite a problem for the water quality and can have a heavy impact on the local ecosystems. Also it stinks. Dew retting is said to produce a finer, lighter colour fibre which, in my opinion makes a nicer cloth. How long this stage takes depends on the temperature, humidity, thickness of the stem, and lots of other little things you wouldn't even think of. It's best to ret flax in small batches and to stop early. You can always re-ret flax but you cannot unret it. Once retted, it is again tied into sheaves and dried in stooks before storing. It can be stored in a dry place for many years or decades before processing it into spinnable fibre.


Getting ready to spin:

Processing the flax is best done on hot, dry days. It involves breaking, scutching, and hackling. This is quite dusty work, and way more fun to do in a group.

Here's a video:



When flax becomes linen is a topic of great debate, but most people these days say it happens when the fibres are transformed into yarn. That said, there is a lot of leeway with these terms, and only the most fastidious of people tend to be really bothered when the terms are used 'incorrectly'.

Once finished, we have two fibres ready to spin: Line flax and tow.

Line flax is the long bast fibres, this makes the best quality, smoothest, and finest thread. Tow is the shorter broken fibres that inevitably happen when preparing flax. These are often carded or combed before spinning. Tow makes a thicker, coarser yarn that is good for outerwear, fishing nets, twine, cooking string, and all manner of useful things.

Line flax is best spun from a distaff as it's difficult to keep the fibres organized otherwise. Tow can be spun from a distaff, roving, or several other ways. One can spin on a wheel or on a spindle. Linen is strong enough to be used as singles for both warp and weft. Knitting and crochet are more difficult with flax than with wool because of the lack of 'give' to the flax.

For a smoother thread or yarn, flax is usually wetted during spinning either with water or a sizing made with water and flaxseed. Flax is traditionally spun counterclockwise (s-twist), however, I suspect that flax grown in the Southern Hemisphere would be better spun clockwise (z-twist) like wool.

Why we spin flax counter clockwise (with an S twist)


Weaving linen is usually done in the winter or when the air is humid. Linen thread is very susceptible to humidity and will readily soak up any moisture in the air. The more moist the thread is, the stronger it gets.


There are still mills in the world that work with linen, but a lot of them seem to be in Eastern Europe and Russia now. Equipment for cotton or wool would not work with linen as it comes, because the qualities of the fibre are so drastically different. However, some mills shred the linen fibres and process it like cotton - in my opinion, too much of the benefit of the linen is lost by doing this, as it no longer retains its strength.


Flax culture, from flower to fabric by Mavis Atton - a book about growing and processing flax in Ontario.

[The magic of linen : flax seed to woven cloth by, Heinrich




Some thoughts for the future of fibre flax:

Long ago, before cotton was king, different regions had their own varieties of flax that grew well in their climate. Now there are only a few cultivars of fibre flax available, and the seeds aren't always easy to come by. As with any monoculture, the lack of genetic variability makes this crop more susceptible to disaster than it once was.

As awareness spreads of the ecological impact of what we wear, I think linen cloth will make a comeback. It's easy to wash, lasts decades, grows softer with use and causes minimal environmental pressure.

With this in mind, I think it would be of great benefit to start developing more varieties of linen flax that are better adapted to different regions. A few scutching mills here, a spinning mill there, and it would quickly become an economically viable crop again.



That's a bit about linen. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Also, it would be great to gather together as many sources of Fibre Flax seeds as possible. If you know any, please link.
 
r ranson
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A couple more links:

Richters on growing and processing flax
This seed company use to carry fibre flax seeds, but they look to be discontinued now.

wild fibres flax seed in the UK


 
David Livingston
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The Linen industry is not quite dead yet
http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/how-new-life-is-being-spun-into-northern-irelands-glorious-linen-industry-30685527.html

Maybe you could ask them for some seeds

Here in France where I live I dont know anyone producing linen anymore although it was produced in Brittany in the past and I have stayed in an old water mill used for initial proscessing. Quite a few folks grow linseed for oil production and I buy it to add to my bread I use the golden type rather than the brown as I find the latter too corse .

David
 
David Livingston
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I also know many folks who plant it around potatos as its supposed to ward off the dreaded Colorado Beatle

David
 
Dawn Hoff
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I Denmark there used to be a big industry of growing flax and making linnen - some industrial areas that now host IT-industry are named after linnen production tools. You can still buy flax yearn in most well-assorted knitting stores (I don't like knitting with it - it is not flexible like wool). I love weaved linnen, but it is often far more expensive than cotton, and thus often considered a luxury. For summer clothes it is only outperformed by silk IMO.
 
Holly Gates
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I got excited about trying to raise some flax for fiber, maybe eventually getting to some linen cloth. I like sewing and have made plenty of clothes. It would be awesome to have clothes I made from fiber to garment, and I don't live in a climate that would support cotton. Living in a fairly urban setting makes sheep untenable. And I know someone with a spinning wheel and loom which I can probably use if I get that far.

So this year I've planted about 2 square meters of fiber flax. It's doing ok if not great. Location isn't the best; partial shade and soil that was recently low nutrient dense clay and is only partly down the road to becoming good garden soil. But it's doing reasonably. At this rate I'll only need to save up the stalks over a period of 20 years or so to make myself a hanky! Anyway, kind of fun.

I got my seed (variety called "Marilyn") from Woolgatherers:
http://woolgatherers.com/FlaxSeedPage.htm

Attached is a picture taken this morning. Flax is in lower right-ish center. Also visible in the same ground level beds are peas, broadbeans, spinach, radish, mustard greens, potatoes, leaf brocolli, tatsoi, komatsuna, tang hao, and cress. The end of my compost bin system visible to left. On the first terrace you can see strawberries, spring wheat, carrots, sea kale, comfrey, lovage, borage, garlic, leeks, and lavender. On the back terrace you can see my baby espalier apples, sage, arugula, iris, oregano, green onions, salad burnet, savory, nasturtium, poppies, and sorrel.
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r ranson
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Lovely garden Holly. Your flax is taller than mine is so far, it looks like it likes that soil quite a bit. I think perhaps, for next year, the seed could be sewn considerably denser. Last year I grew about four plants per square inch, this year, I have more like eight. The closer together the plants are, the finer the fibre will be.

According to one of the books I mentioned, it takes a patch 20' by 20' to make a man's shirt. Of course, the author is parroting information they got from the early 1800s when the shirt style was very different, so I suspect it's a lot less for a modern shirt, maybe 20 x 10 feet? With your patch, you should have enough for at least the weft for a hankie, possibly some warp as well. You could combine it with some commercial linen thread for the warp. This would make learning to weave with linen easier, I think. I'll put some etsy links at the bottom of this post. There always seems to be a bit more waste the first year you process flax - as in about 4 times as much as there should be. But after a while it gets much easier.

Any questions with it, let me know. I'm still developing my flax skill but have mentors I can draw on if I don't know the answer myself.



Thanks for the links guys.

It's great to know that some places in the world keep up the tradition of working with flax and linen.

I wonder, with all the scutching mills that use to be about in the world, if any of the old equipment is hanging about somewhere? Most of it probably got melted down for the war effort (at least in Europe and Canada) but maybe... Also, I'm keen to find some info on how the equipment was built. Hand labour is fun and lovely, but to make flax an economically viable crop for our local fibre shed, it's going to take something more than enthusiastic volunteers.


Two etsy shops I've bought linen thread for weaving from. Both happen to be in Lithuania.

Word of advise, don't start with the lace weight 1 ply for warp - it takes a world of skill to weave, especially on a loom you aren't familiar with. Weaving again, the 2 ply would be my thinnest warp, but more likely 3 ply. The 1-ply works quite well for weft.

YarnStories
Linen spirit

edit for spelling
 
leila hamaya
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i've grown and worked with flax as a fiber crop, but only for papermaking. i think the process is much simpler, to make paper fiber out of flax than cloth.

had a bit of a fail on my seeding flax this year, did get two plants, but sowed a lot of seed, direct seed. sometimes its like that with direct seeding.

anywho i planted a few types, so we will see which one actually made it once it starts flowering! i like to grow linum bienne - pale flax. thats one i sowed the rest of my seed for, it was a bit older....also linum lewisii... and i planted some golden flax as well as a few seeds of the red flowered one...
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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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.
 
Holly Gates
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I actually put down seed at quite a high density, at least 10/in^2, but much of it didn't germinate. It is possible much of it was eaten by birds; I've had a lot of trouble with that in my plot. Last year birds ate nearly every one of at least 1000 sudangrass seed I spread. Flax seeds kind of remind me of sudangrass seed. Birds also loved oats and decimated those seeds, ate about half the buckwheat, but left the wheat alone. Anyway, a big variable. Perhaps next year I'll put a net over the flax seeds to see if that was the trouble. Also possible I didn't plant them deep enough or watered them too much or too little, etc.

Anyone have a sense for how long flax seed remains viable? I have plenty left over to plant next year but may adjust the density of seeding depending on how much I expect to germinate.
 
r ranson
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Flax seed remains viable for about one year - using standard seed saving methods. By the second year, one can expect about 50% germination rate. Third year, I've gotten 25 to 45% germination rate, but apparently that's quite high.

There are ways to vastly extend the shelf life of seeds. Carol Deppe talks about this in her book The Resilient Gardener, and I'm keen to try this with flax as soon as I get enough seed. You probably know this already, but I'll write this for future readers who may be new to the idea. I'm also majorly oversimplifying, but for a more indepth look at how seeds work, I highly recommend Deppe's book. A seed is a living creature. Quite literally. It contains a life, a protective layer, and a storage of energy for when the seed finds itself in a situation where it can transform itself from tiny life to living plant. As a seed, it breathes and slowly gobbles up it's store of energy. The more moisture the seed has the faster it uses up its storage of food. This is why people are always telling you that it's vital that seeds be stored in a dry location, moisture is one of the one factor that will wake up a seed faster than heat or light (the other two things we should avoid). They also tell you to store seeds in paper, or a container that will allow the seeds to breath. According to Deppe, freezing seeds helps extend shelf life, but unless sufficiently dry, can also damage the seed.

Seeds dried at room temperature, for those of us who don't live in deepest driest deserts, have a decently high moisture content. High enough that the seed is not very dominant at all. For long shelf life, we want the seed to be as dormant as possible, otherwise it uses up it's storage of energy and will no longer have enough to grow into a plant. Deppe talks about using a dehydrator in a specific way to dry the seeds so that their moisture content is so low that they are virtually completely dormant. These seeds can then be stored in an airtight container and still be viable for 10 times as long, if not longer as regular dried seeds.

Since flax has such a short shelf life, I was thinking of trying this drying method just as soon as I have enough seed. At the moment, I'm still bulking up.

The first seed I got, I suspect was about three years old, as less than half came up. I had a bit of bird problem that year, but this year, I planted early enough that the birds were busy eating something else, or they haven't arrived to start nesting yet. A net or reme would help reduce bird interference, but I wonder what people did about it in the past, before they could expend the time and materials to cover a whole field with a net. I'll have to do some more reading.

Fingers crossed that next year, I'll have enough seed to do some experimenting with planting times. I suspect it would grow well planted in Feb instead of April like our local flax to linen group does. April is too close to the end of the rainy season here, so it needs irrigation when planted then (fibre flax wants water the first 40 to 60 days after poking through the ground). But the last week or two of Feb, should be just fine for growing without irrigation. I was thinking of planting a 3'x3' plot once a week, each week the soil can be worked, starting from the end of Jan, continuing until the end of April, then see how each grows with no irrigation. That is, if I can get enough seed.

 
leila hamaya
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yes i have some birds, insects and what not who eat my seedlings, unfortunately. that seems a likely explanation for what happened to my flax seeds this year.

birds are smart about what a cleared, ready to go garden bed looks like...and they will go straight to an empty bed. it's like its hard to get it going, when a bed is completely empty. direct seeding into beds that already have stuff growing in there, the birds dont notice as much, or at all...i think they look out especially for that look of a newly planted empty bed, cause thats where they find the best results . well best results for them, worst results for me...

i could plant flax at different times, because i live in a warmer climate than most, and garden year round. on the coast i used to start flax at different times, stagger the plantings. but thats where theres hardly a winter time, coastal northern californias eternal lukewarm spring time all year. here i started flax in janurary and feb. i will probably try again, ounce i get some more seeds, in the late summer or fall...
 
Holly Gates
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My little 2m^2 plot of flax is flowering now. Pretty! Guess I'll probably cut them after they are more done with flowers. The yellow flowers in the background are from tang hao greens.

A week and a half ago the gardening mom of a friend of my wife was visiting from Nova Scotia. She came over to check out my garden. She grew up in Sovakia, and recognized the flax right away. She said lots of flax is grown for fiber in her country, and that it likes frequent watering. She said I should plant it denser next time, and that it ought to be taller. I did sow lots of seed, but it either didn't come up or was eaten by birds, and the soil kind of stinks in that area (and it is part shade), which probably accounts for the low-ish height of the plants. Hoping to improve the soil eventually, and I may net the seeds next time.





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r ranson
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How's the flax harvest going Holly?
 
Linda Listing
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The best linen still comes from Belgium. Henry's Attic imports it into the US, calling it Normandy linen. Some of their thicker linen comes from France. I carry both in my etsy shop, ursulasyarn.etsy.com

I've tried to grow flax after attending a flax scutching festival in Stahlstown, PA http://flaxscutching.org I didn't get very good line, mostly tow. My soil is still a work in progress. I may try again someday. Historically, it was grown in this area so maybe I had the seed for oil. I don't really know as the seed was a gift from a friend's garden.

I've also been trying to find a good commercial supplier of linen sliver for spinning. Currently, I just carry hemp roving. Hemp is spun with a Z twist and differs from linen in that regard. Though I'm pleased with the hemp from eastern Europe, I am still searching for linen, preferably something grown closer to Western PA. Suggestions are welcome.

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Holly Gates
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R Ranson wrote:How's the flax harvest going Holly?


It went pretty well! My son and I pulled it up in July; some had yet to flower, some was flowering, some was making seed already. Pulled amazingly easy. We stacked the small bundle on the grass while we pulled the weeds in the bed, put on some compost, then returned the weeds.

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pulling flax
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awaiting further attention
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weed mulch on compost
 
Holly Gates
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Then we bundled up the flax. I let it dry on the front porch for a couple weeks, then spread it on the back lawn for a number of weeks, until the fiber seemed to come away relatively easily from the woody core. Of course I have no idea what I'm doing since this is my first time! The bundle of flax is now sitting in my basement ready for scutching; it seems much lighter and smaller than when I pulled it. I may want to build up a couple years worth before trying to process further.
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retting
 
Holly Gates
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After harvesting the flax in July, we put the compost and weeds on as seen in the previous post, then some hay. Next, we planted some short season, mini watermelon (Blacktail Mountain, 60 days), which I've not tried before either. I've got three fruits about the size of a grapefruit. Not sure if they will be ripe before frost, which will be in a couple more weeks. They did grow more slowly and ended up smaller than I thought they would. This is a part shade spot with not great soil though.
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r ranson
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Linda Listing wrote:
I've also been trying to find a good commercial supplier of linen sliver for spinning. Currently, I just carry hemp roving. Hemp is spun with a Z twist and differs from linen in that regard. Though I'm pleased with the hemp from eastern Europe, I am still searching for linen, preferably something grown closer to Western PA. Suggestions are welcome.


Louet use to have very good flax strict as well as dew retted and water retted top. They all spin lovely yarn, however the strict needs to be lightly combed or hackled before dressing the distaff or you get tangles. I believe they get/got their flax from Belgin. For top or roving, I am very fond of the Ashford flax roving. It's semi-bleached and the individual fibres feel very soft compared to other flax preparation. The Ashford roving drafts closer to wool than other linen prep that I've tried, wich makes it a good stepping stone for spinners who would like to try linen. Although I haven't tried it yet, the Ashford flax roving is suppose to take dye quite well, or at the very least, it won't need so much boiling at the yarn stage to prepare it for dyeing.

I've noticed that more and more linen is coming from Lithuania. It may not be the best yet, or have the reputation of being the best, but I'm very impressed with some of the yarns I've tried from there. They seem to be line mills instead of colonizing the flax first (line, for those not living and breathing spinning - is the yard long fibres that have been extracted from the flax stocks. Cottonized is when they chop up those fibres to be about an inch or so long and use a cotton style spinning mill. Both create lovely yarn, but the yarn spun from line flax is generally stronger.) I think that Belgium and Ireland both usually use line to make their yarn, that's why they have such high reputation for quality.

I don't know any active linen mills in the US, but Biolin Research out of Canada may be a good starting place as they have been doing some interesting work with flax breeding and fibre. I don't think the fibre they sell is in spinable form, but they might have some customers who transform it... or perhaps some of the older small wool mill equipment would be strong enough to create roving from it.




By the way, did anyone ever wonder why we traditionally spin flax and other bast fibres with a S twist (counterclockwise - whereas wool is spun clockwise)? Did you know it works best for plants grow in the Northern Hemisphere?
 
r ranson
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A couple of interesting videos for how to process flax with simple tools.





Although this method obviously works, there are a few things I think could give better results for less effort.

Working with retted flax instead of dried stocks will make it much, MUCH easier to remove the boon (straw) from the fibre.

For breaking the flax, some traditions will do it with the mallet over the edge of the block, instead of hitting the stocks between the block and the mallet.

For scrutching by hand, one definitely needs gloves - the boon makes nasty slivers. I think that using a scrutching sword and board is much easier - really all you need is a ruler and a bit of wood to scrutch with - not too difficult to come by. Or one could do like the Ancient Egyptians and run the flax stocks between two sticks or a split reed.

Having the hackle (comb) in the hand seems to take more motion than having the hackles clamped to a table.

Also, did you notice how he says his fibres are corse? I suspect this is because he is working with un-retted flax, so the individual fibres stick together more, thus creating a coarser product.

On the whole, very interesting video. Well worth having a look at.
 
dan belo
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my mother made linen cloth 100 yrs ago in slovenia & brought some to the USA WITH HER 3 CHILDREN IN 1927, WE ALL USED IT FOR MEDICINAL PURPOSE, CURING SEVERE WOUND INFECTION, FOOT ULCER. I READ IN MY SCIENCE CLASS THAT LINEN WAS USED FOR MEDICINE.
 
Pamela Smith
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Thanks so much for sharing. I would love to see this make a comeback. I remember many years ago travelling the countryside in Manitoba, Canada and see stacks of flax in the fields. Being a city girl at the time I asked my husband about it. He said the flax bales would sit for many years before it is gathered and processed. He thought it was used for paper fine quality paper though. Not sure if Manitoba still is growing the flax and if it is or was for paper or linen. I guess that is something I will look into with the family out in Manitoba.

I would love to find seed for linen flax as well. I might start experimenting.
 
Dianne Goodacre
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Great topic! Please keep posting. Thanks
 
Pamela Smith
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I found lots of info on Youtube. This video is very detailed yet to the point and very short to give an over all idea of the process. The thing is even if one can do the process one still needs someplace to spin it and someplace and person to create the linen. Maybe there is a spinners guild in your community? I also know someone advertises to spin yarn for a cost in AB. Maybe there is a place close to you? I guess we need to do some research to be able to get a finished product or invest in the spinner and loom and do it ourselves. What would be great is to get others interested. Some could grow, some spin and some use the loom. Then share the finish product between all those involved.

 
Kris Arbanas
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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?
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Thank you for this interesting subject! I shared a lot of it with my fellow-fiber-enthusiasts at the FB group Permanet (NL). If you can read Dutch and you are interested in non-food permaculture (fibers, wood, a.a. and all that's needed to make useful products of it), please join us! There is not yet a website, but it will come too
 
Bonnie Michelle
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Pamela Smith wrote:Thanks so much for sharing. I would love to see this make a comeback. I remember many years ago travelling the countryside in Manitoba, Canada and see stacks of flax in the fields. Being a city girl at the time I asked my husband about it. He said the flax bales would sit for many years before it is gathered and processed. He thought it was used for paper fine quality paper though. Not sure if Manitoba still is growing the flax and if it is or was for paper or linen. I guess that is something I will look into with the family out in Manitoba.

I would love to find seed for linen flax as well. I might start experimenting.


We definitely still grow flax in Manitoba. They were my favorite fields to drive past when I was a child because I would pretend they were ponds of water. The blue flowers are so pretty.
 
Burra Maluca
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I think this is the same video, on youtube.

 
r ranson
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Awesomeness. That's the one.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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I am also interrested to grow it.
I have not read all, I will later on....
Wanna be sure my soil is fine, because the best linen comes from adequate soil as much as good seed, that is why some linen was more aptreciated,
you need the best minerals in the soil, to have strong fiber.
Also sow very close, so that it grows tall without branching a lot.

I tries the one from shop, and it grew well at my place, now I want the fiber type!
 
Carid Awen
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Great thread.
Anyone in North America with retting experience?
Streams? Bogs? Baths?
What have you tried? What worked best?

I've been trying to find more info on the infamous
River Lys that is used for retting (can't imagine the smell!)
to see if it is higher in certain minerals than other places also.
 
r ranson
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Dew retting (where you lay the flax on the lawn and let the moisture from the air do it's thing) takes the longest but has the nicest result in my opinion. The sun acting on the moist fibres makes the finished flax a lighter colour than other styles of retting. Also, no stink! I dew rett in the spring.

All methods of retting work well. They all have their advantage and disadvantages. It's very much a matter of personal preference which method is 'best'. Also, it depends on what resources you have readily available to you. If your local area is very dry and you don't have a morning dew, then dew retting isn't practical. If you have a gentle flowing stream, then stream retting is the way to go. If you are in a hurry and have still water (pond or old bathtub) then that's the best way for you.

The two best resources I've found on the subject are:

Flax culture, from flower to fabric by Mavis Atton - a book about growing and processing flax in Ontario.
The magic of linen : flax seed to woven cloth by, Heinrich

Your local library should have them, and if not, then they SHOULD have them and feel free to tell them I said so.

Another good book is The Practical Spinner's Guide - Cotton, Flax, Hemp by Stephenie Gaustad. Fantastic book, but perhaps a little light on the retting side of things. A lot of people might find this easier to understand than the other two books I suggested, as The Practical Spinner's Guides are very new and written in 'modern' english.
 
Daniel Morse
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I am in Michigan. I am interested in growing flax. Any place to get seed? I Should I prep a plot now?
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Hello R,

Any idea on number of plants, or number of square feet of planted area to produce a simple pair of trousers and shirt?
 
Simone Gar
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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
 
r ranson
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Seeds:
A link to my blog post about places that sell flax seed.

If you are in the US, or even if you aren't, Rare Heirloom Seeds / Baker Creak Seeds is a seller worth supporting. I'm very impressed with their ethics and work to provide GMO free organic seeds. I talked with them last fall about a fibre flax, and they said they do sell it from time to time if the demand is high enough.

This year Baker Creak is offering 4 kinds of flax. Their regular flax seems like it would work for fibre production. Although it is a bit short, only 30 inches tall. With close planting together and adequate water, I suspect it will grow taller.

What I'm doing this year is to gather together a packet of every kind of flax I can find, that might be remotely suitable for fibre production. I'll plant them together and try my hand at creating a Landrace. There will be some trouble, I suspect, as many books say that flax does not interpollinate well. But then again, the bees love my flax when I grow it... so I have hope.


How much flax for a shirt?
There are a lot of different opinions on this. Part of it is because of different growing conditions, but most of the difference comes from fashion. A shirt in the 16th Century took a different amount of fabric than a modern day shirt. Another influence on how much flax is your skill at working it. There is a lot of loss when you are learning how to process it.

Taking all that into consideration, around 200 to 500 square feet for a man's shirt is a fairly box standard claim in books. A 10'x20' or 20'x20' plot of flax should do it.

I can't tell you how much land for clothing, from personal experience yet as I'm still improving my skill. Mostly I've been focusing on finding and acclimatizing a fibre flax for our area.

My suggestion:
Find as many kinds of flax as you can that might even remotely be suitable for fibre production. Buy two packets of each. One packet for planting this year, the other packet in a airtight container in the freezer. Flax seed supply is intermittent at best, so get extra.

Each packet has about a teaspoon or so of seeds, sometimes more. Plant them in sections and label so you can see which grows best in your conditions. It's not going grow very much flax this year, but it's enough to practice on. Save your seeds (from all of them if possible, or just the best ones if you like). Now you have five to twenty times as many seeds as you started with.

Keep growing and increasing your seeds. Practice with the fibres you've harvested until you get the nuances of retting and other processes down. In about 3 to 5 years you're flax quantity and skill should be plenty good enough for a set of clothing or two. Not only that, but the plant will have acclimatized to your growing conditions and will provide a better quality product.

Or do what you like. It's entirely up to you.
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