As I mentioned in previous posts, after using plant dyes on wool and purchased linen I became obsessed with the idea of supplying my own fiber as well. Since I don't raise sheep (though it still remains on the maybe someday list) growing flax to make linen was an easy choice.
Everything I know about growing flax I learned in the book Homegrown Linen: Transforming Flaxseed into Fibre by Raven Ranson. This is truly a wonderful book, filled with actual how-to information. I can't tell you how many books I've bought where the entire actual useful content would have filled three pages. Not this book, I was thrilled with how much work went into it and went from knowing zero about homegrown flax to linen to growing it and processing it.
I followed the advice in the book and acquired flax seeds from a variety of sources and mixed them together. I was thrilled that the flax grew quickly and the weeds were no bother.
For the rippling (which is where you remove the seeds once dry) I didn't have a fancy comb so I just put the flax on a blanket on my deck, made a flax burrito and stepped on them. This broke open the seed heads and it worked just fine.
After the seeds were removed the flax needed to be retted, which is the bacterial magic of breaking down the pectins to release the fibers inside the stems. I dew retted my flax on the lawn, next to a large tree in the shade. When it was hot and dry I sprinkled them with a hose and flipped them every couple days but otherwise left them alone. The book says it takes between 2 weeks and 3 months and for me, it was just over a month.
The rest of the processing I followed the book guidelines exactly, though using the most low-budget methods suggested. I broke the flax in my hands wearing work gloves (she wasn't kidding about the splinters - gloves are a must) and I scutched (knocking off the outer crispy stem pieces called boon) with two pieces of scrap wood.
The last step, hackling (basically combing it out) I used, wait for it...metal toothed dog brushes. Actually, one was a dog brush and this one below is a cat brush. Still.
Below shows after hackling (left) and before (right). This is the part that is the most tedious, trying to get all the little dark bits off to reveal the pretty fibers underneath.
In the end I wound up with a nice hunk of silvery tan fiber that I've been spinning. I understand the "flaxen hair" term now, it really does look like blond hair in the light.
I'm still undecided as to what I'll make with this once it is all spun up into yarn.
My initial goal with this project was to grow fiber to dye with homegrown indigo, but now I'm not as motivated. I'm rather smitten with the natural color because of how precious it is and how much time and effort went into it. Then again dyeing half with indigo might be a nice contrast... time will tell.
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