I have written in earlier posts about my miniature-scale flax patch and how I grow, process and spin my own flax. This post is about flax processing at a whole different scale.
This is the sixth and last post in my flax series. Earlier posts have covered flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patch, spinning flax on a spindle, flax processing and retting. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.
A horse buggy cover
This summer we rented a cottage in the Swedish countryside. The landlords are well aware of my textile interest. One day they came to the cottage and said that they had something to show me. I followed them into their kitchen and saw a giant piece of textile. It was a horse buggy cover. They had received it from a relative who was dying and who knew the cover would be well taken care of.
The cover was woven from handspun flax from the relative’s in-law’s ancestors. I don’t have a picture of the whole cover, but picture this: A woven blanket the size to fit a two-seat horse buggy for the riders to sit on and perhaps also be covered by in cold weather, like a blanket.
The cover is very densely woven in twill. It is constructed as a pillowcase, so that it can be filled with wool for the winter. The yarn is very fine and evenly spun.
When we looked at the inside of the cover, we saw the difference in colour. The outside of the cover had been significantly bleached while the inside had kept its blue colour.
How much flax?
So many questions arise when I look at this textile. Say the cover is at least about 150×200 cm, perhaps even more. And double it for the pillowcase construction. How much flax would you need to grow to weave something this size?
How many farms or harvests?
Did the people who made this cover have enough land of their own to sow all this flax? Were there more farms involved to grow the flax? Or did one family save flax for several year’s growth to process enough flax for the weave?
Who was the spinner?
Who were the people who spun and wove this cover? Was it only one spinner and weaver or were there more people involved?
When was it made?
I have no information of when the cover was made, and we looked for some clues to the time period it could have been made. We looked at the seams and they seemed to be machine sewn, so the cover was probably made in the 20th century.
For what occasion was it made
Was this the regular horse buggy cover that people in general made for themselves for everyday use or was it a fancy cover, or perhaps a community horse buggy cover used for special community occasions?
A little help from a friend
I talked to my friend Maria Neijman of Historical textiles and asked her if she could tell me anything more about the cover based on these photograph. She told me that the weaving technique seems to be warp-faced broken twill to make the cloth dense and durable. I asked if she could tell me anything about the dying. She said that the dark blue yarn in the stripes probably was dyed with indigo. The background colour was more difficult. She said that since the dye had bleached so badly, it may have been dyed with aniline, a synthetic dye.
Some questions answered and many still unanswered. But at the same time it is nice to leave the blanket with its mysteries. Just being able to look at it and feel all the labour and love put into it makes my spinning heart skip a beat.
This was the last post in my flax series. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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