Here's a short video clip I shot at the Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival in Stahlstown, PA yesterday. It was a fun little festival and I enjoyed watching the demo and seeing their flax breaks and other equipment. In the foreground is the breaking, behind that is the scutching, and off to the right is the hackling.
On the way there, we stopped for breakfast at a fun little doughnut shop in Cranberry, PA. The name was Peace Love and Little Doughnuts. If you ever have the chance to stop at one of these doughnut shops, don't miss the opportunity!
Back in 2013 I purchased a fleece that I was going to use just for myself. I've been busy and happy working with a lot of other fleeces making yarn for my shop, but I've had that one fleece just for me in the back of my mind all this time. It's been waiting for me, still raw, stuffed in one of those orange DIY store buckets with the lid snapped securely on since I bought it over two years ago. I figured it was finally time to open that bucket and get to work on that fleece.
I have been thinking of that fleece these past couple of years, remembering how nice it was, and dreaming of the sweater I would make with it. Well, I've washed it now and combed it with my four-pitch English wool combs and it is every bit as luscious as I knew it would be.
Here are a few of the combed puffs, ready for spinning:
I spun a small test skein of around 20 yards and knitted a quick swatch. It's soft and squishy and lovely:
So, three years ago I started growing flax in the hopes of processing it into linen yarn and then making something with it. This is something that I have secretly wanted to do ever since reading A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich back in the 1990's.
Martha was a midwife in the later 1700's in New England. She kept a kitchen garden, an herb garden (medicinal) for her profession, and she grew flax so that she could make linen to weave into clothing. The flax garden is barely mentioned in her diary and in the book, but it fascinated me. She was by no means unique in this, many people made their own linen clothing this way.
Fast forward to 2010 when I took up spinning. Right away I started researching about growing flax for fiber. I started growing flax in 2012. I started with a small experimental plot, and then graduated to a larger one after that. For the past two years, I've grown flax in a 10' x 20' plot, harvested it, processed it into flax fiber, and spun the fiber up into laceweight linen yarn.
After two years I had about 1500 yards of laceweight linen yarn - enough to make something. I chose to make a garment, and chose the knitted pattern Seta Sun, which I found on Ravelry. If I had a loom I would have woven cloth or towels, but I don't have a loom yet.
I began the top last week and finished yesterday. Here are a progression of photos:
I messed up the lace pattern at the bottom, but I actually like how it turned out, so I refrained from ripping back and re-doing.
I really love my top. I am so happy to have done this after thinking about it and wanting to do something like it for so many years, even before I started spinning.
I will continue to grow flax for linen. Someday I'll have a loom, and then watch out! Until then, I'll make knitted things like this top.
I planted my flax a few weeks ago by strewing the seeds. I had 13 ounces of seeds, 5 oz. of my own that I saved from last year's crop, and 8 oz. more that I bought. My plot is 10' x 20'. I divide that roughly in half with a roughly 1-foot swath down the middle for walking on to help with weeding. I prepare the plot by tilling in compost/manure, lime (flax likes a sweet soil), and alfalfa hay (which acts as a sort of slow-release nitrogen). Here is the plot just after strewing the seeds, raking lightly (lightly is the key word), and then stepping all over it to tamp it all down a bit:
Here the flax is starting to sprout:
Here it's getting taller:
This is from today, it's starting to shoot up. It needs a good weeding, but we've had a week of steady rain and the soil is just too wet to weed. I've laid newspapers down the middle and put straw on top of that to keep the weeds in check on my little walking corridor. I think the flax is at week 4-5 here, I believe I planted in the week after Mother's Day:
We are finally looking at a rain-free day today, but this weekend it's back to rainy. It's really getting swampy out there, You can see how the plot next door on the left is flooded. Hoping things calm down a bit rain-wise, but it looks like we'll get still more in the coming week.