Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The culmination of my growing flax for linen experiment

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. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

This year's (2015) flax-for-linen plot

 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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Knitting with homegrown, handspun linen

 I have finally begun knitting with my homegrown, handspun linen - the next stage in my flax-to-linen experiment/project. If you wish to see more about my foray into growing flax for linen, click on the flax and flax-to-linen labels at the bottom of this post.
 I'm knitting a pattern I found on Ravelry, called Seta Sun. You can find it here: Seta Sun by Birgit Freyer.
I have a lot going on, so it may take me a while to get this thing done, and who knows if my knitting skillz are up to it? But here goes!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Review: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

When this book first came out, the few things I heard about it made me not want to read it, and I thought I never would. I thought it was going to be about a whiney, stupidly ill-prepared woman who bit off more that she could chew hiking the PCT and wrote a book about it. In my youth I enjoyed the outdoors and was a backpacker and maybe a little bit of a snob in that I had little patience for people who went into the wild unprepared. But my book club chose this book as the read this month and I decided, against my better judgment, that I would read it.

Well, actually I listened to it, and I was hooked pretty much from the beginning. Everybody sees the books they read differently from everyone else because of what they bring into them regarding their own life experiences. A lot of the reviewers saw this book the way I originally thought it would read, whiney and self-indulgent. But I ended up not seeing it that way at all. Yes, she was stupidly ill-prepared for such a monumental endeavor, and yet she was also very well prepared in some ways, having read the guidebooks and prepared packages for herself, etc.

What it really comes down to is that her life was on the cusp of something when she decided to do this hike. And the thing of it is, this was HER life, not yours and not a story made up to please anyone. This book is her life laid honestly bare. The book is about what she did to figure out which way she would ultimately nudge herself to go while her life teetered on that cusp.

And, putting all of the very personal stuff aside, just making a decision like the one to hike the PCT alone takes moxie. To actually go through with preparing to do it takes more. To sell everything you have to be able to do it is almost unimaginable. To do it with increments of $20 parsed out to yourself along the way because that's all the money you have in the world is just plain brave. And to get to the trail ill-prepared, with bad boots, a too heavy pack, in the Mojave in summer, begin, and not quit in the first week, much less the first couple of days, is outright bold. To actually finish hiking over 1000 miles of challenging wilderness alone with all of the above being true, is absolutely heroic. And to come out of it at the end having gone through something of a cleansing crucible is absolutely wild.