Stacks Image 9

Growing and Harvesting European Linen for the 2023-2024 Season

Hello friends,

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


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon or Bluesky

Carrot Forest Cross Stitch Project Finish

Hello friends,

While I was recovering from surgery back in March 2023, I spent the first couple of weeks resting either in bed, or on the couch. One of the benefits of it was it gave me plenty of time for crafting, and cross stitching in particular. I had started working on the Carrot Forest cross stitch pattern from Owl Forest Embroidery back in 2022, and I was already three quarters of the way through the project before my surgery.

I love the aesthetic of Owl Forest Embroidery, and I had bought this pattern in early 2022 because the mix of uniquely patterned carrots and cute white rabbits was completely adorable. I made some changes to the pattern, for the background I used 16 count black Aida, and for the DMC colours for the carrots, I changed them to DMC608 and DMC741. I wanted a really stark contrast between the cross stitch pattern and the background, to give it a chalkboard effect that would match my mushroom sampler cross stitch I already had framed in my craft room.

Cross stitching on black Aida is tricky in order to easily see the stitching holes. It's best to stitch it during the daytime with strong daylight, or at night with a white cloth underneath and a strong white light above. The other thing to take into account with stitching on black Aida is that it is possible to see the coloured DMC floss underneath the Aida if you're moving to a different section of the project. I made a point of not jumping sections between each carrot or rabbit, and I used the loop start method to start off each section so there would be no tails underneath.

I prefer a good drum-like tightness of my fabric while stitching, and moved my cross stitch project over to a Nurge square plastic hoop when I recently got one. I'm really happy with the even, tight tension of the fabric in the Nurge hoop, but at the same time it is really gentle on the stitches underneath. The other thing I like about the Nurge square hoops is that it gives you more room to work with, especially in the edges of projects.

I had made decent progress in 2022, and my favorite part of stitching was watching the rabbits appear, surrounded by giant carrots. When I picked the project back up after surgery, only three carrots, and a small section of the border remained, and in about a week the project was finally finished.

I'm really pleased with the my cross stitch overall, and I've since washed and ironed the project. The dimensions of the project are a little weird, so it's going to be a little tricky to find a frame which will fit it nicely. We have a bunch of old picture frames that were given to us, so I'll try there first, and if I have no luck I'll try checking out the local op shops to see if they have any that might do. My Mushroom cross stitch project is in a white frame, so if I don't have any luck finding a white frame, I think I'll paint whatever frame I do find to be the same colour.

Have a wonderful day


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon.

Show more posts

Social Media