Since 2014 I have had an experimental flax patch of around 1 square meter. The sole purpose of the patch has been to learn about flax husbandry and preparation. The results have varied in quality. I have said to myself that I will spin my flax when I think the quality is good enough or when I think I deserve to. This year I will stop procrastinating and start spinning. I have a flax plan!
The experimental flax patch
My first year wasn’t really part of the experiment, at least not when I started. I bought some flax seeds to grow as a companion plant for carrots and potatoes. As the season turned I decided to harvest the flax and go through all the processing steps. My tools were less than ideal – a rock for brake and a spatula for scutching. I did get a hackle, though! I used a pillowcase and a rolling pin to ripple the seeds (a method I have used until last season when I build a ripple myself).
Through the years I have sometimes processed my tiny flax harvest at Skansen open air museum. I have also got hold of all the tools – brake, scutching board and scutching knives, a fine hackle and a flax brush, plus the ripple I built.
The resulting bundles of processed flax through the years have been of very varying quality. But I have learned something new every year, just as I intended.
One square meter of flax
Last year, Västra Götaland region in Sweden started the project 1kvmlin, one square meter of flax. Anyone in the region could, to no charge, get a bag of flax seeds enough for one square meter. In a Facebook group the participants could learn from each other. I think there were also flax processing workshops. The project was a success. This year all regions in Sweden participated. I planted my patch this week and I might plant another square meter in our allotment.
I love the community feeling of a project like this. Individuals, schools, organizations and others get involved in an activity that once was an industry that thrived and, sadly, died.
A flax plan
Through the years I have saved my processed flax and put it away. I have told myself that I would spin it when the quality was good enough. But how would I know that unless I tried? So many people all over Sweden are trying this, with far less experience than I have. So I’m jumping in now, extending my experimental flax patch to experimental flax spinning. My flax plan this summer is to spin.
Other flax sources
I have spun flax before, just not my own. I bought one kilo of processed flax from Växbo lin, a linen weaving mill situated in an area with a very long flax and linen tradition. The flax they use, though comes from France and Belgium. The Swedish flax industry died in the late 19th century due to import of cotton.
I do have flax that was processed in Sweden, though. My brother’s mother-in-law Birgitta was brought up in the heart of one of the the traditional flax regions in Sweden. Her grandparents grew flax and sent it for processing. She has saved it and recently asked if I wanted it. When she first asked me I didn’t know the story of her flax. I remembered all the unspun flax I had an declined her kind offer. When she told me the story and that it was old flax from her childhood home I immediately changed my mind. This was a true treasure.
The processing mill Birgitta mentioned was active between 1943 and 1953, so The flax from her grandparents’ home must have been processed at this time. Birgitta doesn’t spin herself, but she has woven from the flax from her childhood home. She remembers her grandmother spinning.
So, my plan is to spin flax this summer. As many of you know there is a lot of dust involved when spinning flax and I don’t want to subject myself to that. Therefore I will only spin it outdoors, which leaves summer to spin. Our terrace is the place I flee to in the afternoon when it gets too hot for me in the sun in the front of the house.
If I get the courage I will also spin the tow. I have no experience with this, so my plan is to create my own experience. You’ve got to start somewhere. These are sentences I tell my students and it’s time I listen to the teacher.
In the video Spinning flax on a spindle I show you how I prepare the processed flax for the distaff and how I spin it on an in-hand spindle. For some odd reason this is by far my most watched video. There is also a lovely video where I process my flax at Skansen open air museum.
Flax blog posts
The easiest way to find earlier blog posts about flax is to use the search field and type flax. Below are some of my favourite flax posts.
- Harvest day in the experimental flax patch with some beautiful photos.
- Spinning flax on a spindle with written tips on how to dress the distaff and spin flax on an in-hand spindle.
- The basics of flax processing.
- A basic guide on flax retting and how to see if the retting is finished.
- Flax Day, which I spent with my friend Cecilia at Skansen open air museum
- A request from a follower of a flax timeline. A good checklist with signs to look for during the planting and processing.
- Flax brush, a lovely tool for finishing the flax just before you dress the distaff.
- Distaff pins, made by my grandfather to her mother.
- Flax processing at home, last year’s processing was the first I dod with only my own tools.
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