Many of you may have heard of the project Berta’s flax, initiated by Austrian fiber artist Christiane Seufferlein. She got a chest full of hackled flax that came from relatives to Berta. She married in the 1950’s and, like most women at the time, she brought a chest of flax into her marriage. Today is all about flax community, over time and space.
Straw into gold, gold into dust
Berta’s flax chest was used literally as a treasure chest – if she was to lose her husband in any way the flax was her property to use as she liked. If times were hard she would be able to sell some of the flax to stay afloat. In the flax chest were also woven linen fabrics, from the finest table linen to coarser potato sack fabric.
Keeping a chest of flax was common in many parts of Europe at this time, at first as a dowry and sort of an insurance, and later as a sweet tradition. From the 1960’s though, few people were interested in the flax chests and many of them were burnt or buried.
A flax heroine
When Christiane got Berta’s flax she wanted to make use of it. So many chests of flax had been burned and destroyed. Christiane decided to spread the flax over the world to give it good homes. Berta’s flax flew far and wide, and when the chest was empty Christiane had got many more chests, some containing over 100 kilos of flax.
Flax to Sweden
Berta’s story and Christiane’s project fascinated me, both through the stories and the flax treasures and by its Austrian origin. Both my parents have Austrian descent and my father grew up in Austria. I decided to ask for a strick. Christiane sent it, but for one reason or another the flax decided to take almost a yearlong detour and it was just this week that it arrived here in Stockholm.
Two of the stricks I got were from Anna Hanaberger. A linen merchant, Josef Riederer, had testamented two flax chests to Anna in 1858, over 160 years ago. Holding it in my hands makes my heart beat faster, imagining all the work that has been done by another flax community so many years ago.
Christiane had sent me not only three stricks of golden flax, but also a piece of linen fabric. I had told her that my father was born and brought up in Austria, that a piece of his heart is always there and that I wanted to make something for him with the Austrian flax. She promised to put a surprise in the parcel and the fabric was the most exquisite surprise.
By now Christiane has sent flax all over the world and the Berta’s flax community on Facebook has grown, it now has 2100 members. As my experience with spinning and fiber communities, the Berta’s flax community is one of kindness. All members are very helpful and passionate about fiber, spinning, keeping crafting techniques or sustainability.
The local community where Christiane lives in Austria keeps sending her chests of flax. Christiane keeps sending stricks out in the world, reminding us all of the flax community in another time, working together to equip young women with a solid insurance.
You can find the Berta’s flax community on Facebook.
Meanwhile in Sweden: A couple of years ago a region in Sweden started the project 1kvmlin, translating to 1 square meter of flax, where flax seeds enough for one square meter was sent out to anyone who wanted to grow their own square meter of flax.
I had grown about that size since 2014 and decided to join the project. Since then the project has gone nation wide and people all over Sweden (and some neighbouring countries) participate. 2021 over 6000 people grew their own square meter of flax in the project.
The 1kvmlin project started with an old towel on the attic of ethnologist Inga Widhja. The towel was made from flax that she had grown in the garden with her grandmother. The grandmother had said to sow the seeds “close enough for the white wagtails to slip on.” They had gone through all stages of the process together and spun and woven that treasured towel. Inga’s stort was the starting point of 1kvmlin.
Last summer was my first real flax summer. I had got some flax from the 1940’s from my brother’s mother-in-law north of Stockholm. Her grandmother Anna had grown flax and sent it to a flax mill for processing. It had been kept in a chest, but not in stricks, so the part I got was quite tangled, but I re-hackled it, brushed and spun it into singles yarns.
This summer I will spin the Austrian flax Christiane sent me. Perhaps I can take some of my handspun yarn to Austria later and knit it there, back where it once grew. If I’m lucky I will also be able to meet up with Christiane.
The flax community brings fiber people together through time and space. And by the goddesses do we need it in these times of trouble.
- Search for flax in the search field here on the blog for more posts flax related.
- See in this video how I prepare flax at Skansen open air museum.
- In this video I make a fan of flax to dress my distaff and spin on an in-hand spindle.
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