The flax princesses

There are many versions of the story of Sleeping Beauty. The brothers Grimm’s may be the most widespread one while the romanticized Disney animation may be the most known today. Recently I found a new version, though, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you aren’t familiar with the Berta’s flax project, started by Austrian fiber artist and teacher Christiane Seufferlein, read this post before you go on to the story of the Flax princesses.

I am often asked by non-spinners what the princess was stung by. Was it a part of a spinning wheel? Was it a spindle? Or a distaff? My standard reply is usually that while she may have said she was stung by whatever, she was actually just making sure she got some peace and quiet to be able to spin. The new version I found is about strong and independent princesses who save the whole community with golden flax.

The flax princesses

Once upon a time in a land far, far away – or near – where the golden flax grew all the way to the horizon, many bold and skilled princesses lived. All the princesses had precious spindles, wheels and looms. They knew how to take care of the golden flax and turn it into the most beautiful fibers, yarns and textiles.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away.

The princesses also knew that the golden flax was an important and valuable treasure. They weren’t extravagant with the golden flax, instead they saved it for days of hardship. To show how much they valued the golden flax they put it in treasure chests and adorned the precious stricks with paper flowers.

Princess Berta was a skilled spinner and weaver. She also shared the secret of the golden flax in the treasure chests with her son. Princess Gusti knew all the secret flax words. While Princess Maria spun her way through rough childhood winters, Princess Stephanie started a weaving service for her neighbours.

The years went by. Fewer and fewer people knew the secret about the golden flax. Spindles, wheels and looms were stored away or thrown out. The memory of the princesses and their skills was fading away.

One day people started to burn or bury the chests with the once golden flax. Nobody wanted it anymore and it took up too much space. For many years the secret of the golden flax was forgotten by most people. Until one day. A new princess came – bold, skilled and with a very generous heart. Princess Christiane was her name. The son of princess Berta had come to Christiane with Berta’s chest filled to the brim with her golden flax.

Princess Christiane kissed the golden flax and brought it to life again. She shared Princess Berta’s and many of the other princesses’ flax with the world. The stories of the princesses flew out of the chests and enchanted people wide and far. New skilled and bold princesses, with their wheels, looms and spindles polished, cared for the golden flax and made new textiles.

The golden flax, the old princesses and their stories would never be forgotten again. The old stories were spun together with new ones and the flax became golden again.

The story of the flax princesses does not end here, but continues to enchant the world.

Princess Christiane

As it happens, I took the train to Austria with my family just recently. I have an Austrian heritage through both my parents and have spent lots of summers there both as a child with my parents and as an adult with my own family.

My childhood summers were filled with hikes in the mountains around Salzkammergut in Austria.

This time I did get a chance to meet Princess Christiane. She drove for two hours to pick me up at the bed and breakfast where I was staying with my family, and drove another 40 minutes to Bad Ischl where there was an exhibition of traditional and non-traditional costumes in the breakfast parlour of the former emperor and empress. While the exhibition was very interesting and well designed, I enjoyed our talks more than anything.

Josefin and Christiane, both a little star struck. I’m wearing the shawl Christiane gave me.

Christiane is such a generous soul and we shared so many experiences. We talked of spinning, flax and spinning teaching as well as the stories all the flax princesses have told and entrusted Christiane with. And we were both a little star struck with each other.

Sister shawls

As I have been reading about Berta’s flax and all the work Christiane has been doing I have seen her wearing a beautiful shawl. While spinning my Austrian flax (from Princess Stephanie) I realized I wanted to knit something similar, like a sister shawl to the one Christiane was wearing. I spun the yarn and cast on for the project (Veela by Libby Jonson) in time for our long train journey to Austria.

When we arrived to our destination it was a very special feeling to pick up the needles and knit the sister shawl with the yarn I had spun from Austrian flax back home in Sweden, there in Austria. On the same ground where the flax had grown some 80 years earlier.

When I met up with Christiane she was wearing the shawl I had admired so. And when I told her about the sister shawl I was making she instantly gave her shawl to me. It was spun and knit by artists of a Nepalese cooperative, from Nepalese nettles.

A common thread through all the lands

As I am writing this I am going back home on the train to Stockholm, a long journey from Austria. I keep knitting the shawl from my Austrian flax yarn. The thread goes from stitch to stitch, but also from town to town along the way, knitting all the communities together into a kind-hearted flax weave.

We start our journey back home from Salzburg, Austria. I thank the mountains and the land that raised my father and my grandmothers and that is a part of me and my children.

Every time I pick up my knitting I feel the skills and love put into the preparation of the flax, the stories and the value it had and almost lost. I knit this shawl with so much love and respect (and some skin chafing on my index finger) for all the flax princesses.

When I met Christiane I did take the opportunity to buy some more flax from her. This time I got five stricks (about 800 grams) that were harvested before the turn of the last century. It was safely rolled into her nettle shawl in my luggage on the way back home. I will spin it in Sweden and I will think of the Austrian roots of both myself and the flax.

Berta’s flax. This time with an unknown story. What I do know is that it comes from Walding near Linz and predates 1900.

Vielen lieben Dank Christiane! For bringing the flax world together through princesses all around the world, for the conversations, for your kind soul and for a nettle shawl that will keep warming my heart. I hope we can continue our conversations soon.


Happy spinning!

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