As a crafter and a gardener, I like to combine my hobbies in interesting ways. In this case it was growing and harvesting European flax (Linum usitatissimum) in order to prepare some linen for spinning and weaving.
Back when we lived in Wellington I bought some Essene European flax seed (Linum usitatissimum) from Koanga Gardens. In the first year I sowed half the seed packet into a 1 m x 2 m space, and grew the linen plants mainly for producing seeds, so in years afterward I could grow even more flax for linen. My linen harvests thereafter would be self-sustaining. I now grow linen every couple of years for collecting seeds, and stockpiling flax stalks for making linen.
This blog post is showing the process of growing linen from seed sowing to harvesting. In later blog posts I'll share as I go through the flax processing and then spinning and weaving it.
The first thing I did was buy the book "Homegrown Linen: Transforming flax seed into Fiber." by Raven Ranson. This book is very detailed, and shows all the necessary steps in growing homegrown flax for linen. I then used it to calculate how to grow it in New Zealand seasons.
The first step in growing flax seed is deciding when to sow the seed. Flax seed is sown in spring when oats and barley are sown, and in our case it was in mid-October. If flax is grown for linen then the seeds are grown very close together so that long tall stalks are produced, but if flax are grown for seeds, they are planted further apart to allow for branching and more flower production.
After weeding the patch of ground it was to go into in spring last year, I fertilized it with a high nitrogen fertilizer in the form of sheep pellets, and then prepared the soil to a fine tilth. I then sowed the flax seed in a broadcast fashion very close together, so that the linen plants would grow very tall, with little to no branching. After covering the seeds over with a fine layer of soil using a rake, I watered the seeds in, and then covered the crop with bird netting to protect the seeds from the local very hungry avians. It takes approximately 100 days from seed sowing until plant harvest, so this was classed as day 0.
Within a few days of watering each day, the flax seedlings began to appear. It is always very exciting to see them come up.
And within a week, the seedlings were actively reaching for the sky. In the photo below I was growing the linen plants for seed, but as you can see, I spread them a little too far apart.
Once the flax starts growing, it basically fends for itself. If sown very close together no weeds will grow, making it an easy crop to take care of, as long as it gets enough water. And once the flax reaches about 50 cm tall, it begins flowering at around day 60. The beautiful blue flowers open during the day, and close again at night. And now that the plants are tall, they sway very prettily in the breeze.
Flowering and setting seed boils takes around a month. One of our neighbourhood cats, who we call Patches, decided to make their snoozing spot inside the linen crop. No matter how many times I tried to shoo them away, they kept coming back, so I let them be. It's a good thing they're cute because they ended up squishing a bunch of linen...
Once the seed heads (boils) have set, now is the time to think about when to harvest. It's a good idea to set aside a section of your crop to let the boils (seed heads) mature and turn brown, which means they are then ready to harvest for next years seeds. Their plant parts will be dry and thick and yellow, and they won't make good linen.
The rest of your crop will be used for producing linen. When the bottom half the plant has turned golden, it is time to harvest the plants. The seed heads will not usually be viable for collecting seed, but I've found in the past that some of them can be.
The best way to harvest linen is to pull them out by hand in clumps. Lay the harvested linen plants out on the grass, all facing the same way, with the roots at one end, and the boils at the other. Once you've harvested all the linen plants, it's time to stook the plants, which means creating bunches of sheafs, and then tying them in the middle like the poles of a teepee. You want air to get up into the middle of the sheaf to dry it out. Place the sheafs upright with the roots at the bottom and let them dry in the sun on sunny days.
Once the linen plant sheafs are dry you can store them until you want to begin processing your linen. The next step is processing my current linen crop, and this will occur in a couple of weeks after autumn starts...
Have you ever tried experimental gardening? I've done this in the past with growing wheat, and it's very interesting to see how food and fibers are processed. It makes you appreciate how complicated food and textile production is.
Have a wonderful day
Over the summer holidays I caught up with a few crafting projects that in the last few months have been left languishing on the to do pile because of the busy Christmas season for work. When I'm not gardening, crafting, reading, or writing this blog, I have my own online Felt store, Hearth & Oak, selling textile products that I make.
The first crafting project I got to do over the holidays, was to finish spinning 200 grams of Ashford Avacado merino/silk blend I've had for over a year. I love the colours that Ashford use in their colour ways, and their merino/silk blends are always very easy to spin.
I learned to spin when I lived in Wellington, and was first taught to spin on a drop spindle by Frances Stachl at a workshop at Holland Road Yarn Company in Petone. I bought my rimu drop spindle off Frances at the workshop, and my drop spindle is my pride and joy, and I'm glad I got one of hers before she stopped woodworking. It is light and perfectly balanced, and spins like a dream.
When I started this project last year, I had begun spinning it on my drop spindle, but when I started again in the holidays, I switched to my spinning wheel, which is a New Zealand made Majacraft Suzie Professional spinning wheel. I bought this wheel when I lived in Wellington, and I love the weighted wheel and double treadles, which makes it easy to spin for a long period of time without any issues. In general I just spin for the fun of it, and then decide what to make with the yarn later, and that's what I did this time. I know some people will have conniptions about this, but sometimes I just like to spin for the fun of it.
It didn't take long to spin up the 200 grams of fibre into two 100 grams singles.
After letting the bobbins rest for a day, I set up my spinning wheel for plying, and it didn't take long at all to ply the yarn in the "Z" twist direction.
And after letting the plied yarn rest on the bobbin for a couple of days, I wound it into a skein, and then washed it to set the twist. And now my Ashford Avacado merino silk yarn is now ready to be turned into something new, my plan at the moment is to weave it into a scarf, but that will happen later on in the year.
Did you get up to much over the Christmas break? I love to use that time to do stuff I've been wanting to do for a while.
Have a wonderful day.