Linen shawl

Another long-time project is finished, a linen shawl in yarn I spun last summer and have been knitting off and on since then. The flax is between 80 and 120 years old and comes from the Austrian Berta’s flax project.

Many of you may have heard of the Berta’s flax project, started by Austrian Christiane Seufferlein who got a dowry chest filled with flax grown and prepared in the 1940’s. This was the first of many such chests, and now Christiane ships stricks of flax all over the world to enthusiastic spinners who want to honour the memory of Berta and all the other women whose chests have been donated. You can read more about Berta’s flax and become a member of the Berta’s flax Guild here.

Spinning on the balcony

I got a few stricks of flax from the Berta’s flax project, between 80 and 120 years old. I spun it in the afternoon shade on my balcony last summer on my sweet flax wheel Henrietta. Since I had learned that flax grows counter-clockwise I spun it counter-clockwise.

The Austrian flax has an overwhelming quality. All the steps from sewing and growing to retting and processing has been performed with such skill and dedication. And why shouldn’t it have been – this was a vital life insurance for the women of the time. And I got to spin it, which I did with love and reference to their work.

I had no specific plans with the yarn, but having seen Christiane in a beautiful hand-knit shawl I decided I would knit something similar, so I plied the yarn into a Z-plied yarn.


As I started knitting my linen shawl I realized that I unplied the Z-plied yarn as I knit – the yarn ended up in two strands held together in the fabric. I put some extra plying twist in the following skeins, which made it a little better. The lace fringe at the ends turned out biased, but after blocking it doesn’t really show. But I did learn something! As I keep telling my students: My mistakes are a map of what I have learned.

I brought the knitting project on the train to Austria that summer, the same route my parents had taken in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to be able to be together. I really wanted to bring the knitting project back to where it had been grown and processed so many decades ago, to the land where my father and my grandmothers were born and where I have three of my four roots. When I met Christiane I could also show her what was becoming of the flax she had so generously sent me.

I could live in this shawl. It is cool, soft and has the sweetest drape. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Flax isn’t very flexible in knitting, so my hands hurt after a while. Other projects have cut in line, but the shawl has always been patiently waiting, cool and sweet.

Harvest shades

In one end of the linen shawl the colour of the flax is slightly darker than the in the rest of the shawl. And that is how flax works – depending on weather, location, retting and climate, the flax can differ in colour. It is a sweet reminder of the natural material and that nature is perfect in its imperfection.


I finished the shawl this week. At the same time, we were packing for a vacation in a rented log cabin and things were scattered around the house in preparation for the journey. I wanted to block the shawl, but I realized that it would take up too much floor space. Then I realized I could just bring the shawl and my blocking wires to the log cabin and block the shawl on one of the spare beds. And so I did.

After having woven in the ends I had a finished linen shawl and the perfect location for a photo shoot.

Some numbers

Some questions always arise regarding measurements and weights, so here you go:

  • Shawl weight: 275 grams
  • Shawl measurements: 56 x 200 centimeters
  • Yarn grist: 3200 m/kg
  • Yarn meterage for the shawl: 880 meters.
A finished linen shawl. On the left fringe you can see a slight colour shift. Photo by Dan Waltin

The pattern is Veela, by Libby Jonson.

I am using the leftover 100 meters or so of yarn for a small traveling project which I will show you another time.


Here are some earlier blog posts about the Berta’s flax project and how I have rehackled and spun the yarn for this shawl:

Happy spinning!

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6 Replies to “Linen shawl”

  1. Just beautiful! I love it when I finally finish a project! I recently returned from my level 4 Master Spinner class at Olds College in Canada and this years focus is on luxury fibers (yak, bison, cashmere, and camel) and bast fibers (flax, hemp, ramie). I’m so excited to work on flax this year! Again, love seeing your posts and the projects you share!

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