Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Weekend with Flax and Linen

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending The New England Flax and Linen Symposium in Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts organized by the Flax and Linen Study Group of Historic Deerfield Mass. 
This event took two years to put together. 
It's been almost a week since and I'm still processing all that I learned. 
Basically, my mind was blown away more than once. 

As a long time wool person who thrives in this slow process in which I insist in working, I could appreciate greatly all the love, passion, struggles, failures, discoveries, creations, sharing of stories and techniques that everyone who came to speak so willingly and excitedly shared with us all. 

It was all such a treasure!!!

There were historians, weavers, farmers, dyers, mill owners, biologists, environmental activists, authors, textile researches, anthropologists, spinners, and so much more. 
All there to learn and share alike.

As a mother of a 14 month old, it was delicious to get away for a bit on my own. As
I arrived early Friday evening and enjoyed driving through Greenfield and Deerfield admiring the golden light setting in, a peace washed over me that helped set my mind into a much needed gear of cleansing and opening up to receive information. I drove by beautiful fields and many odd abandoned looking buildings. Beautiful dark rich wooden barns and endless rivers and ponds. So many dye plants too but I knew it wasn't time to think about that. It was freeing not to do a thing except attend every talk and demo, rest, and eat. 

Driving down the road of Historic Deerfield was a treat in itself. 
I found a beautiful peacefulness that my mind desperately needed. 

 A few of the most inspiring speakers for me where; 
Cassie Dickson from North Carolina. I could listen to her speak all day. She spoke about retting methods which is the key process of helping the flax to turn into linen. 
I was completely inspired by what Cassie shared and I I came away feeling like it was something I could do on my own.  
Cassie spoke about her processes and her experiments about dew retting and getting various colors from just this process. That was my favorite part of the entire weekend. 

Here's one of her slides of various flax bundles dew retted in North Carolina at various times of year. 
Don't you just love these colors?!

Cassie also teaches every year at the John C. Campbell Folk School, usually during their Shaker week a Linen and Silk class. I cannot wait to do this some day. She told me students will be working with silk cocoons from the silk worms she rises. How amazing is that?!?!?

Another favorite speaker of mine was Jeff Silberman from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He spoke about his personal farming experience and gave a wonderful overview of the textile market today.
These next two pictures are of his slides regarding his research of the world textile production. 
Very eye opening to me. 

I was surprised to see silk at 0% and flax at 1%


On the first day we all had a chance to see the whole seed to fabric process take place in most of it's forms. Though I did not get a photo of each step, these are in order. I have to admit, after a very full morning of talks with such rich info, and then it being in the mid 80's around noon, my brain had already melted and then I started to physically melt. It was very hard for me to stand in the beating sun with so many people watching these processes and kind of competing to ask questions. I knew that I would learn better some other time and I was already making mental notes on continuing my learning. 

I'm excited about planting a very full bed of flax next year, then hanging it to dry. 
They were very fast talks and explanations about some of these processes but I feel confident about trying each of them out when the time comes. 

I learned you have to keep all the fibers lined up through the whole processing period. 
dried flax

After the dried flax has spent some time rotting (retting) it is dried again to then just be beaten until the outer core comes away and the softer middle is revealed. I'm not using correct term I'm sure, remember I just learned some of this stuff. 

The dried out layers has be removed by being kind of scraped away. 
scutching the dried flax
Then the scutching can begin. Which is to comb the fibers. The fluffy bits left behind is known as tow flax- which can also be spun, but separately I believe. This scutching process gets the flax down to a finer material which will be easier to work with on the wheel. 
combing the flax or heckling

Below is the flax spun up which some one used a spinning wheel for. 
This presenter (I'm so sorry but I've lost track of whose sample this is!) did various test samples of her washing/ bleaching methods to show us the process. 
I just love seeing them all together like this. Just fabulous, a design in itself. 

I can see myself going through the bleaching process in order to then dye a very pure color, but I LOVE these natural colors so much. I think I would also do some over dying of the natural colors. Can you see indigo and madder over dyed onto these greys? 

I also had a chance to explore a little bit and catch my breath from all the learning. 

I discovered a butterfly garden  which was delightful when I suddenly found myself surrounded by monarchs and these bright blue butterflies. 

And early Saturday morning I attended the Greenfield Farmer's market where I got some great tomato growing tips, found the softest sheep skin for R's book nook and yarns for myself. I love collecting locally grown and spun yarns for my test dyeing. 

Well, my brain has not quite stopped buzzing with everything I learned and all these new ideas. I've got a BIG ONE cooking which I need to mull over and hash out with my beloved, but I'm SO EXCITED. Also come November I'll be taking this class with Amy King of Spunky Eclectic at Portfiber, my favorite local fiber shop. 

A HUGE THANK YOU to ALL who came to speak and helped to plan at this amazing Symposium.  

If you work with flax or linen, at any stage and want to share info here in the comments for others to find you, please do! 


1 comment:

Jacquie said...

I have worked with flax. It spins very nicely, very soft. Very pliable. I buy it prepared though from my best friend Toni at The Fold. In the beginning you try everything. I bought raw fleece, I washed it, carded it... Then I did it a few more times. I now know that just don't like that part of the process. Even spinning... I tried everything. Okay maybe not everything! But now I know what I like. I love Shetland. I love roving. When I spin Shetland it is so different from commercially prepared fiber it makes my heart sing. I love color work but not intarsia. I like knitting Alpaca but I don't like spinning it. I like dyeing. I love natural dyes, the delicacy of the colors. When I have a garden again I will definitely grow my own dye plants. For now, I'm calculating how many pansies I can fit on my small balcony.

This thing we do is such a slippery slope. Each of us is called to different aspects and there is so much to learn, so much to love, that it ends up being different things for different people. That's what I love about fiber events. Looking at what fiber is for other people. Socks, hats, yak... whatever. It's all so blessedly good.