Ann and Simon at Flaxland grow flax, process the fibres and spin the thread. They make their own wooden machinery researched from old books about flax to help prepare the fibre. Their enthusiasm, inventiveness and knowledge is exciting and the preparation time was noticeably reduced to scutch and heckle the flax compared to processing it by hand at Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses. Innovatively, Flaxland make boats out of the flax plant from a strong flexible linen weave, coated in linseed oil which when cured in UV light makes the vessel waterproof. It is also lightweight enough to be towed by a bicycle, the bike can then be folded and placed inside the boat enabling long journeys across land and water.
With thanks to Timberland for the Earthkeeper grant, Seeds of Fashion was able to have a training day at Flaxland, to glean knowledge about processing flax back to an urban environment. Here is some information about the day:
We harvested some flax plants on the farm and laid them out to dew ret.
We removed the outer woody stems from previously retted and dried flax with wooden machines devised to help break down the outer stalks, one was a hinged breaker, the other similar to a mangle with a wooden cog which when rotated crimped the fibres and released the woody stems.
A scutching bat helped further remove stalk flakes. The fibre was then heckled (drawn through) a series of fine nails of about three gradient sizes, to create a fine fibre ready for spinning. Much fibre becomes tow at this stage and is left in clumps on the heckles. I learnt that the remaining flaxen fibres - looking so much like hair, becomes stiffer after a few days as if hairspary has been applied. If it is placed on a distaff and spun this doesn't happen.
We learnt how to dress a distaff from the heckled fibre, using a cone, spreading the threads across in fine layers and then spun some fibre using a drop spindle, see photos for more information.
Other interesting facts gleaned:
1 hectare of flax can produce:
1050 kilos of long line fibre
1050 kilos of tow (less quality, but still used for coarser fabrics, ticking etc.)
2 tonnes of cloth = 5000metres of fabric
200g/metre of good quality linen
One handkerchief represents about 1 weeks work hand processing.
Approximately 100g yarn is needed to make a scarf
Approximately (10g/hour) 10 hours spinning on a wheel
It is best to aim for fine stalks for a finer thread when sowing.
Not very high amounts of fertiliser are needed compared to rape seed for example. Varieties of seed sown include Suzanne and Alizee.