Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cultivate: environmental art with community

The opening reception for "Cultivate" is October 3rd, 201 @ 6pm. Stop by the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre and see what the Urban Weaver Studio is all about! Featured artists include Sharon Kallis, Martin Borden, and Todd DeVries. The Flax-Linen project, Cedar weaving and invasive basketry are also represented.

Go to the Roundhouse Community Centre web site for information on workshops and special Urbanweaver inspired events led by: Rebecca Graham, Sharon Kallis, and Joy Witzsche.

About the exhibition:

"The demise of the honey bee, up-purposing green waste, urban bird habitat, the global mobility of food; artists’ projects inform social, ecology activism that calls us all to change. Cultivate features the work of artists who draw on urban ecology as subject-matter and material to explore environmental concerns and the city."

"Cultivate is the first annual exhibition in the series "State of the Practice", a Park Board Arts, Culture and Environmental Art project that highlights social and community-engaged art practices in Vancouver."

Details can be found here:

Cultivate: environmental art with community -- facebook event page

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fibre Feast Celebration August 15th

Thursday August 15th 5-8.30pm 

West Point Grey 
Community Centre 
4397 West 2nd Avenue 

Join resident artists Caitlin French and Sharon Kallis for an evening celebration of all things fibre at the 
Aberthau:flax=fibre+food gardenbed.

More info at:

Last post about the flax and linen production

Random photo, nothing to do with UW, because blogspot won't let me write anything today without posting a picture first. Yesterday, it was OK even though it wouldn't let me edit of do corrections, but today it's having a psychotic event again.

So this will be my last post for Urban Weaver. Dealing with blogspot takes hours of frustrated typing and retyping, playing around to see what its problem du jour is currently. USE WORDPRESS POTENTIAL BLOGGERS.

So, that's it from the Urban Cloth Project, aka Vancouver Flax2linen. You can find some of the stuff we do here http://aberthauflaxfibrefood.blogspot.ca/ but the things happening at McLean field house will not be reported. We will carry on processing flax there and don't forget we will be processing broom in a couple of weeks time (see post below this one) - please come and join us.

Basketry/cedar stuff continues as in the workshop/events page, and though the flax/broom/linen stuff will also continue, I will no longer be bloggin about it.

Happy spinning, weaving and dyeing,


Musicians, dancers, fibre-folks wanted:

Musicians, dancers, fibre-folks wanted:
Scotchbroom processing again! we tried this last year over May long weekend- and it was soooo much fun, we got results- but think maybe scotchbroom fibre  in August will have
more strength, join in and help out! check out the video by Martin last year to get an idea of what it is all about...
the plan:
Saturday 10th-11-3pm, we will harvest some scotchbroom at MOP garden as a part of the regular work party meet up and hang out at the Maclean Park Studio:
Monday  12th- 5.30-8.30pm cooking the fibre, we can  weave, spin, otherwise amuse ourselves as the fibres cook outside- potluck  food encouraged!
Tuesday 13th-5.30-8.30pm dancing the fibre!! yes! musicians! we need you! food welcome, chaos likely...
Wednesday 14th 5.30-8.30 pm  pounding fibre and processing, come help, potluck again!
Monday 19th 5.30-8.30pm after fibres  dry in the sun  we can finish off the processing and attempt spinning

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We now have tubes you can use to rett your flax crop - and here's how to use them

Blogspot seems to back on it's cycle of not allowing me to write without a photo........

We now have a couple of PVC pipes set up ready for anyone to rett their flax crop - thanks Sheska! Here's the link to how she made them and how she used them http://www.instructables.com/id/pvc-pipes-for-retting-flax-plants/.

So far she's the only grow-along who has retted, and from teh processing we did on Monday night it looks like her crop is going to produce better linen fibre than mine. It seems to be finer.

Meanwhile, Sharon has been spending time on Saltspring with someone who has been growing flax for herself for years and who has generously shared her knowledge with us. Seems that sorting your crop before retting is very important. More about how to do that here http://sharonkallis.com/2013/07/30/the-beauty-of-my-community/

Here's what the flax grower (Pat Davidson) had to say .. "sort the donated flax from thick and thin stocks- as retting times are different ( fatter = faster) ". There are lots of photos of Pat's linen weaving and her processing equipment on Sharon's blog, so I recommend you taking a look at what an expert can do!

So Monday night was full of 'firsts'. Three people spun flax on a drop spindle for the first time. For one of them (that's you Judy!) it was the first time they'd ever spun anything at all. Three other people processed flax for the first time in their lives, and Sheska wove a cloth sample with her own home grown, processed and handpun linen.

So three new flax spinners initiated, a new spindler taught, three flax processers produced and a flax grower sees the process through from beginning to end for the first time (and I suspect it was her first time weaving anything too)! Plus, we all learned a lot from seeing the great retting tubes Sheska made and these will get much use after the linen season is over for soaking willow and other basketry materials too.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

We have all the processing equipment now and started turning flax into gold

We now have all the equipment needed for flax processing and spent last night making our own linen - very exciting!
This is Sharon using the antique Doukhobor ripple to get the seed heads off the flax.

Martin is using his beautiful hand made flax brake and Sharon is using the scutching knife he also made. The brake is way more efficient at breaking up the dried pith inside the flax stems, and the scutching knife pulls the broken pith pieces from the stems, ready for hackling.

Here's what scutched flax stems look like.

Sharon is whipping those scutched stems through our coarse hackle, the fine hackle can be seen in the background, and the scutching knife in the foreground.

The hackle separates the fibres in the stems and pulls out any short weak fibres. The fine hackle separates the fibres into finer ones, only we found ours didn't make out linen as fine as the sample I bought from Victoria Flax2Linen. Is it our processing technique, something in the growing, retting not long enough, or something else? We don't know, but hope to get some answers ar Aberthau on August 15th when Victoria Flax2Linen come to give advice and spin with us (details of this in the Events post at the start of the UW blog).

Sharon is already spinning flax into gold like Rumplestiltskin, despite this being her first try! You can get a very fine thread if you wet your fingers. She's using a home made spindle made from a chop stick and a circle of wood (for the whorl). I wove the thread into another sample on the spot.

More processing to be done next week at the field house on the day of the full moon.


PS It was very cool how many people stopped by to see what we were doing and to join in. Some of our older Chinese neighbours clearly knew what we were doing and demonstrated the techniques they used to use. A young girl came past and asked if we were making linen - she'd seen the flax growing in the park and last night saw it made into cloth.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Linen cloth from my own, home grown and processed linen!

Here it is folks!

The first Vancouver DTES linen in recorded history! Looks a little hairy and string like, but I was braking in my fingers and finished the hackling by using carders, so there's shive still attached in places and the fibres were jumbled together from the carding. Proper line flax is only hackled and is much smoother like this stuff from Victoria Flax 2 Linen.

Here's how I did it....

I broke the flax by twisting the stems over my finger. Then I used the scutching knife made by Martin Borden to get rid of the broken bits of dried pith (shive). This was pretty hard to do, so I can see why the scutching flail was invented!

Then I hackled the flax stems through a coarse hackle. This is also hard work, especially to avoid hackling your fingers. I separated out about 3 flax stems once I could see the linen fibres starting to appear. It wasn't good quality because of the amount of shive still attached to the stems.

Here's what it looked like

I carded it using some dog/cat fur combs because there was so little of it.

Spun it wet using a lightweight spindle and skeined it on a tiny niddy noddy and waited for it to dry. Wound it into a ball, wetted it again and wove it.

And here it is on my home made pin loom. When it's dry I'll take it off.

Interestingly, it is a mix of the golden colour you get from water retted linen and the grey from 'dew' retted.

This week we will be trying out the almost completed flax brake and processing more flax at the field house. Exciting times!


Friday, July 19, 2013

Flax retting complete, some processing done, and Blogspot is working (almost) properly again.

Retting is complete now.

I untied the bundles and spread the flax on the concrete of my patio. I sprayed it with the hose before bed for two nights and left it to dry in the sun. Seems to have finished the retting process nicely.

You can see from teh picture that the flax is no longer green at all. I have dried it and have it hung in a shady place away from the sun and (potential) rain.

I think that the Encyclopedia Britannica might be right about retting twice being a good idea. Flax that has been over-retted is a right-off. It's unusable. Retting in water is risky because you need to check so often to see if it's 'done'. Better to partially rett in water, dry it, then finish off the 'dew' (hose) method. That's much easier to control. I assume the bacteria needed to rot the green part from the flax is already on the stems from the water retting, so additional water in the form of a spray from a hose, just reactivates the breakdown process.

We spent part of Monday night at UW this week (in between making felt) sanding the parts of the flax brake. The wooden scutching knife is complete. Many thanks to Martin Borden for all the hard work.

I had a try at processing the flax, braking it by hand in single strands, then getting rid of the shive on my knee with the scutching knife. Finally, I tried using the ripple to hackle it and this was partially successful. I have some partly teased out fibres. Hopefully my Shropshire hackle will arrive next week!

Meanwhile, check out the flax events happening at Aberthau. They're at the end of the Events post - the first one that opens on this blog.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Woad weeds from the flax plot - fighting Blogspot to get the post up on here!

Here's the picture that Blogspot wouldn't let me upload on the last post. This is the first dip in my woad vat. Fleece (and silk and cotton) left overnight in the vat came out the usual turquiose with some areas of mauve. This isn't supposed to happen, as leaving stuff longer in the vat doesn't increase the colour. I did add some thiourea before I did the overnight dip, so perhaps I had an oxidation issue - who knows?

And that's why conservative voters don't make good natural dyers. Psychology longitudinal studies of US voters reveals that people with an intolerance for ambiguity of any kind will vote right wing. So you can be sure they won't like the unknowns involved in natural dyeing!

Just a further thought - I wonder if the proximity of the woad to the flax in the plot changed the chemical nature of the indigin in some way, so that it was more prone to oxidation?

Is retting complete? And Blogspot won't let me complete the post with photos of the flax's woad weeds dyeing mauve (instead of the usual turquoise)

Blogspot still in snit mode about me writing before posting a photo (and still won't let me correct typos without deleting back to the mistake, so appologies in advance), so here's photo of my retted (?) flax so far.

It seems to be turning the golden colour you associate with water retted plax, but the centre of the bundles are still damp and need further drying, I think. The golden flax is still pliable, and I can see the need for braking and scutching if this really is the end point of the retting process. It bends and isn't at all brittle.

Sub heading (because I can't make the bold or underline functions work either!): Why Conservative Voters Don't Make Good Natural Dyers.

I used the woad plants that were growing as weeds in my flax plot yesterday. Did my usual successful woad method, except that I didn't remove the roots from the plants (too lazy). Instead of my usual lovely turquoise blue colour, the first dips produced this.....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Restoring soil fertililty with alfalfa - planting details

Yes this is the same picture as the previous post, but blogspot won't let me write anything without first putting up a picture.......... go figure!

Plated my alfalfa seed yesterday after weeding the plot. 50 seeds per sq ft is the density recommended (for those of you who still haven't become metric!). It needs to be sown in the next 3 weeks to get a chance at decent growth. You'll need to rake the seed in and water well as the soil is very dry.

You can leave it over the winter and dig it in in the new year to put nitrogen and humus back into the soil, or you can use it to dye a nice range of yellow/greens and olive colours.


My retted flax is out of the water and drying after 4 days

Blogspot seems to have partially recovered from its hissy fit (though I still can't go back and edit, so sorry for any typos).

Here's a picture of my flax out of the retting 'tank', AKA green bin, today. I'm not sure if it's completed the retting process, but according to what I read it's better to take it out partially retted and try scutching (once it's dry) only to find it's not retted enough, than to over-rett and thereby ruin the crop. Encyclopedia Britannica says that traditionally flax was twice retted.

The water in the 'tank' had become very green and yesterday developed a white scum on top. It smelled a little, but mostly a kind of hay/silage smell, so not bad at all.

I removed it and put it in the sun to dry, based on 3 pieces of info abut when retting is complete:

1. When the stem makes a snap sound when you twist it around your finger in the water. Retting begins from the root end so you should try there first and also 6-10cm higher up.

2. when you can break the stalk and see the fibres coming away.

3. When you can remove the outer stalk with a fingernail and see the fibres exposed.

Mine did #2 and #3, but only the root end snapped when I twisted it and there was a smaller snap 6cm up the plant.

I decided to take it out and try scutching some. If I don't get any linen fibres, then back in the water it goes.

Some of  the advice I read says to change the retting water after 48 hours and then every 24 hours after that. Some advice says no need to change the water at all...............

Here's the flax a few hours after it came out of the water. You can see it's starting to get that golden colour of water retted flax, but only the bottom third of the plant. Perhaps I haven't retted it long enough for the top of the plant to change............................?


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Retting my flax

Retting my dried flax in my 'green bin'....

My flax is dry, I think. It seems dry like hay, rather than dry like straw. The leaves had all fallen off and were crsipy, the stems had shrunk in volume quite a lot, and were dry but still a little bendy (ie they didn't snap when I bent them). I have no idea if this is dry enough or not, but I guess I'll find out!

I tried filling a clean plastic tote with water and weighting the flax down. The tote was about 30cm too short for the flax, but the largest thing I could find. It leaked from a crack in the base that I can't seem to find. So I've filled my green bin with water and am going to try retting in that.

As you can see from the photo, the flax is too tall for that too, sticking out by about 20 cm. I've bent the flower/seed tops part over and am hoping that will work!

I've had to put the bin in a part of the garden where I can bale out the water and use it for irrigation after the process is complete. Sadly that means it's in a shady part of the garden, and I suspect that will slow the retting.

Appologies for typos in this post. Blogspot is having one of its regular hissy fits and won't let me make corrections or take the cursor back into already written text. I'm hoping it'll let me publish without losing everything as it so frequently does (won't let you save either....). If you're ever considering a blog, use Wordpress, not Blogspot is my advice!


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Flax harvest time has come quicker than I thought! **Now updated to show how to dry the flax.**

This is my flax crop currently. The round bits are pods of seeds and flowering is almost over!

I had no idea it would progress so quickly.

I shall harvest tomorrow (pulling it up by the roots), and will string the plants roots up on a fence to dry.

Grow-along people, check your flax plants! Could be time to harvest for you too!

My library research (great book called The Wartime Farm) said to harvest when the leaves are just turning yellow.

Here's my flax stem with yellowing leaves.

This gives you a sense of how tall the plants are.

Looks like we'll be harvesting at McLean Park soon too.

Harvest update

Pulled the plants up by the roots today.

Collected them together and took them home for drying in the sun.

Tied the flax in small bundles and hung them on my cucumber climbing frame in the sun. It's important to get the roots all at the same level in the bundle (you'll see why when you come to the hackling part). I've made the bundles small so that the sun can get to all the plants.

More information on how to rett your harvested crop coming soon. I had hoped to do some retting try outs using the previously grown flax that was kindly donated, but that trial is being done as part of the Aberthau project. That means it won't be finishing until the end of August (too late to give advice to you grow-alongs).

So my flax will have to be the trial run so that I can let people know what I've found that works (or doesn't!) before the end of the summer and you'll have enough sunny, warm weather to try retting for yourselves.

The McLean flax will be drying in both stooks and bundles on the fence after tomorrow night - come along and check it out!


PS I've haven't been able to get a coarse hackle in time for processing my flax crop (I will probably be hackling at the end of the month), so have ordered a small one from Shropshire from these folks http://www.flaxland.co.uk/projects.html. Hoping they can ship it to me in time! If it doesn't arrive by hackling time, then I'm going to see if it's possible to use the ripple donated by Capilano College as a substitute and the fine hackle I bought from Texas to finish the process. It's not the ideal way to make linen from flax, but the best option for now.

Final PS. If your crop has started to lodge (fall over) like the McLean Park plot, then it's best to harvest as soon as there's flowers out. Don't wait because once the plants are on the ground they will get mildew and won't produce any good linen fibre. FYI the McLean plot was planted at 3x the density of everyone else (45g/sq m), so this may be an isolated problem.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Flax is Almost in Full Flower

Here it is on July 3rd. It was sown at the end of April.

This being (almost) full flowering, means that in 10/14 days I'll be harvesting the crop. I can tell it's almost full flower because there are very few flower buds left to open.

The McLean Park plot sown a week later has one or two flowers (but doesn't get as much sun).

By comparison, here's the Aberthau flax, sown on June 18th. You can see that it's less that half the height.

So check your flax plants for flowers. You don't want them to set seed if you can avoid it, as this takes energy away from the fibres that will become your linen.

When the plants are in full flower, wait 10 days, then pull them up, roots and all, a handful at a time. Stack them roots upward, against a fence or wall or in stooks, to dry in the sun. If it looks like rain, bring them indoors or under cover to dry. You don't want the plants to get damp and mildew.

I'll post up when I start to harvest...........


PS Here's a link to teh blog about the Aberthau plot http://www.aberthauflaxfibrefood.blogspot.ca/. Lots of information about the upcoming workshops out there.............. Come and join in!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Aberthau Community Centre Flax Plot and Retting Pond

Here’s the latest picture of the 84sq m plot with its seedling flax and a range of dye plants.

Some of the dye plants are also edible (carrot tops, amaranth), and the marigolds not only dye but they draw aphids and carrot root fly away from the other plants.

Just out of the picture is a permanently flooded area that we are now using as a retting pond. We were given some old flax plants grown in Vancouver that the grower hadn't retted (thanks Louisa!). So we have a chance to do some trial runs at retting before our own crop is ready. We hope to learn how to do it successfully so we can pass the information on to all you grow-alongs.

The Urban Weavers at McLean field house didn't like the idea of the retting being done in the bath there as retting (AKA rotting) can be smelly, so the flooding problem at Aberthau has become a bonus feature.

Also, here's a picture of the antique fine grade hackle being scrutinised by the blacksmith from Burnaby Heritage Village and David Gowman (Legion of Flying Monkeys) to see how they can make us another one - but this time the coarse one we'll need for the first hackling.


Friday, May 31, 2013

Weeding your flax - now's a good time

Don't know about your flax, but ours is 10cm tall now, so we're going to take off our shoes and weed the plots.
It's important not to tread on the seedlings because they don't recover well from being knocked over - hence barefoot weeding. You only need to do this once, and since the weather will be sunny from Sunday for a few days, this is a good time.
You need to remove the weeds because they compete with the flax for light, water and soil nutrients, also it's much easier to harvest without weeds in the crop.
No rain means I can also bike or bus out to the Jericho plot and take some photos. I hear that Caitlin and Sharon have been working hard sowing the flax and planting the dye/food plant seedlings grown by the Park Board, so I can't wait to see it. I'll be taking along my pruning shears to tidy up the willow spinning wheel while I'm there. I'll post pictures of the plot next time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Handspun and handwoven Eastern European linens on sale at Le Marche, Vancouver

If you want to eat at a great cafe and get a look at some great linens, you only need to go as far as 28th and St George. I was taken there by a friend this week.

Le Marche cafe has a collection of towels, tablecloths and tea towels for sale, all in natural flax colour or bleached. If you want to get a feel for what you can produce with your flax, this is the place to go - the food excellent too!

(photograph courtesy of Le Marche)



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Urban Cloth Project website for all things linen in Vancouver

I've been having some problems with using this blogspot because of my refusal to acquiesce to Evil Google's terms for downloading Chrome.

Because of that I'm now posting all the Flax Project posts on wordpress too, at www.urbanclothproject.wordpress.com.

So if you want to see all the flax posts only, that's the place to go. It will also be where all the flax growing and processing information will go to when I take my leave and hand the project over to Caitlin and Sharon later this year, after harvest.

That process has already started. I turn 60 this year and have decided to take things more slowly. I don't have the energy I used to. Sharon and Caitlin have energy enough between them to power a small continent for a year. Wait until you read about the things they have planned on August 17th at the Aberthau flax and dye plant plot!

More about this in a later post..................

More about Sharon here: http://sharonkallis.com/
More about Caitlin here: http://www.wewilltellyouallofoursecrets.com/


Water your flax - but not as much as your cotton!

This hot weather is great for flax germination but we're all having to water our seedlings. This first two to three weeks after planting is pretty much the only time you'll need to water the crop, and the weather is going to turn cloudy and rainy at the weekend, so no more water will be needed then.

A flax shirt takes 6.4 L of water to grow and produce. A cotton T shirt takes 2,700 L. That's the amount of water one person drinks in three years. For more on how unsustainable this is read about how cotton production drained the Aral Sea http://ejfoundation.org/cotton/cotton-and-water.

As you will have noted as you prepped the soil for your flax, it needs very little nitrogen based fertilizer. Cotton is what's known as a 'greedy feeder', needing large amounts of nitrogen and unless you're producing organic cotton, all of that nitrogen is processed from oil. It's the 3rd highest user of nitrogen of all the crops (including food crops) we grow worldwide.

You may also have noticed that I haven't mentioned any pesticides you need to add to your growing flax. That's because it doesn't need any, unlike cotton which uses 25% of the total world's pesticides in its production http://ejfoundation.org/cotton/cotton-and-water.

Find more information about cotton productionand the pesticides and toxic chemicals used in its production here, http://www.novozymes.com/en/sustainability/Published-LCA-studies/Documents/Comparative%20LCA%20of%20a%20t-shirt%20produced%20with%20biotechnology%20and%20conventional%20technologies.pdf

As you'll see by August, linen can be produced without any chemicals at all.

A linen shirt has a LCA (Lifecycle Assessment - the amount of a resource it will use from production, through wearing until it is discarded) of 130g of greehouse gases. A cotton T shirt (with less fabric) has an LCA of 410g of GHG.

I personalised this linen shirt, bought at Value Village by embroidering on it. The embroidery says Sown, grown, rippled, retted, scutched, hackled, spun, wovem, bleached, sewn. LCA 6.4L of water 130g GHG. I wanted to remember how much work and energy went into it, and why buying clothing second hand is so much more sustainable than buying new. And shipping our second hand clothing around the world to the countries who manufacture them, but are too poor to buy them new, just adds to the carbon footprint and destroys the local weaving traditions and ethnic clothing.

70% of the LCA of all your clothing is down to you. Only 30% of the GHG of a piece of clothing comes from its production and manufacture, the rest is down to your washing and drying. If you want to seriously reduce your GHG production than you need to wash in cold water, and always air dry (because most of that GHG is from using the drier).


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Antique flax hackle, and don't forget to water your flax seeds in this sunny weather

The flax hackle arrived in the mail today, all the way from Texas.

Thanks to Jo Ann, for sending it.

These things are as rare as hen’s teeth since the only maker of them in North America has become ill. This one looks like a coarse hackle to me - not that I'm an expert), so we're still looking for a medium or fine one if anyone sees anything like this. If you do, let Urban Weaver know and we'll snap it up immediately.

It has hand forged spikes about 6cm long, and the hackle part is about 10 x 4cm. It's pretty heavy.

We're having some pretty dry weather, so don't forget to water your flax seeds.

 Mine are already germinating (I planted 13 days ago), so this is a vulnerable time for them.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

New flax, old flax

The weather has been perfect for flax planting!

McLean Park, Means of Production garden, my plot and I hope the other grow-alongs are all now planted, the Aberthau flax will be sown in May. I have 7sq m of flax sown. Not enough for a shirt, but I'm hoping for a furoshiki and a vest.

While building a living willow sculpture of a spinning wheel as a memorial for a friend* (more on this later), one of the group of friends weaving told us she had a lot of 20 year old dried flax plants that she had grown herself, in her basement. She is happy to donate them to the Urban Weaver and we are delighted to have them.

This means we will be able to start doing some retting experiments to see what works best, in advance of our own crop being ready. I expect the bath in the field house will be the first place we'll try. Expect more posts on what we find out!

* The willow spinning wheel

A very good friend of mine - spinner, weaver, dyer (all that good stuff!), died this year. Neither Sharon (Kallis) or I can work out which of us had the idea for a willow sculpture memorial, but her husband invited 5 of her close friends and with Sharon's expert design and leadership we wove a willow spinning wheel together.

The wheel is made if living willow, so new growth will need to be woven in, or clipped. This shouldn't be a problem, as the area of stones you can see on the left of the picture is the site of the new 84sq m flax and dye bed that will be built next week at Aberthau. That means there will always be someone around tending to the flax or the dye plants.

Here's what a friend who lives abroad (another willow weaver/spinner/dyer) wrote about the memorial:

Masami's Wheel is a lovely willow sculpture and a very fine memorial. It is fine tribute to Masami and a credit to all of the folks who made it.

If the sculpture develops into a group of young willow trees, it will become less of a sculpture, but a more lasting memorial.

If the remnants of the sculpture are allowed to develop into mature trees, they will be a feature in the landscape for decades.  

If these trees are periodically pollarded, they could become "veteran trees" and might survive for centuries

I love the idea of a "floating" memorial.  Will it last until next month/year/decade/century?  Who knows? That is the beauty of it!

Myself, I love the idea that her wheel, and eventually the willows that it generates, will stand watch over the flax and dye bed for us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Time to sow your flax!

Well folks, the time is here according to the long range forecast.


There's no frost forecast in the next couple of weeks, and the temperatures after Monday seem to be rising nicely, so the soil will have a chance to dry out and warm up.

Based on this information, I would say that sowing your flax sometime next week, towards the middle or end of the week. However, do check back at the forecast and make sure that there isn't any frost forecast. Sunny days mean no cloud cover at night so it can get cold enough for an overnight frost.

How to sow

You'll need to do a last weeding on your plot, then hoe the soil and rake it to a fine tilth, break down any small and large clods and remove stones.

For those of you with larger plots.

I recommend roughly dividing your seed in half and broadcasting it to get an even coverage. Start in one corner just throw the seed out in front of you in a sweeping motion. Walk forward a couple of step - repeat. Go to the opposite corner and broadcast the remaining seed in the same way. Now rake 1cm of soil over the seeds, and either walk evenly over the whole plot or firm the seeds in by tamping down with the flat head of the rake.

For those with small plots.

When your plot is weeded and raked, spread your seed evenly over the whole plot. Rake 1cm of soil over the seeds and tamp the soil down either by walking evenly over it, or tamping down with the flat head of the rake.

Don't feed the birds!

You'll need to protect your seed from birds, so I suggest some netting over the plot or string black thread across it for a week until the seedlings emerge.

And don't forget to water the seeds (if it isn't about to rain in the next few hours).

Please email and  let myself, Sharon or Caitlin (or the UW address) know what date you planted your flax. We'd like to know which dates turned out to be the most successful in producing a good crop, so we can be equally successful in the years to come!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Flax planting may be on for the last week of April - weather forecast

The 14 day weather forecast http://www.theweathernetwork.com/fourteenday/cabc0308?extcmp=sem_web_googleen_text&cities-en&gclid=CKH4l6qEzbYCFYF7QgodSUYAuQ shows the daily high crawling up slowly towards the end of the month, and no sign of frost.

However, as we can all feel, it's still pretty cold and the soil is even colder (and wet!) - go put your hands in some out there and you'll see what I mean. Seed sowed into that will just rot before germinating.

We'll need a good few warm and sunny days to heat the soil and dry it out some, but of course with the clearer weather comes clear nights and a high risk of overnight frost.

So I'll keep you posted, but I personally won't be planting any flax before the the last few days of the month based on this forecast.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

A lesson on being a peasant (and growing more flax)

Today I visited the back yard of a rental property that I've been guerilla gardening for more than three years. The soil was manured, top dressed with bone meal, weeded, raked and ready to plant potatoes today. In my cold frame are climbing zucchini growing, ready to plant there in June.

I started this garden to use as a way to show young renters how their food is grown. One of them became a keen gardener and researched and traded recipes with me to use what was growing. At his behest, I planted the herb garden there.

The rhubarb I planted almost four years ago was sprouting last week, and the herb bed, currant bushes, raspberries and strawberries were looking good. I weeded the flower bed  I established for the residents (lysimachia was up, as was the montbretia), talked with one of them about when they'd be able to help themselves to potatoes this year and went home.

When I arrived this week, I found a builder had dumped sewage contaminated soil and rubble all over the garden, killing the strawberries, several herb plants and burying the rhubarb and flower bed. He said he 'didn't see' anything growing there That means the residents (and myself) won't be able to have any vegetables this year and the fruit on the bushes will be too risky to eat.

So to rescue a bad situation, I'm going to put the whole area down to flax. That's about 5 times the amount I had intended to grow, but I can't see a better alternative. More linen for me this year!

It occurs to me that this is the type of situation that landless peasants face regularly. Random acts by landlords, willfull or ignorant destruction, our increasing number of extreme weather events caused by climate change, can mean they totally lose their food supply.

Luckily, I have a vegetable garden of my own at home and though the loss of all my hard work made me sit down amid the builder's rubble and cry, I shall continue to eat very well.  Meanwile rich countries are buying up land in Third World countries and turfing off the traditional farmers http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/apr/27/international-land-deals-database-africa.

Please read the link. Canada is in the top 10 list of countries displacing peasant farmers to get ownership of foreign land http://landportal.info/landmatrix/get-the-idea?img=top-10-investor-countries. This is being done by our government with our complicity. Let's not say we 'didn't see' what was going on.


Flax, terroir, homogeneity and globalisation

Someone who visited the Urban Weaver one evening, described a locally sourced fibre and dye sweater as having 'terroir'.

'Terroir', roughly translated and taken away from its use in describing wine, means 'of the place' or 'of the land'. She explained that she meant the mixture of localy sourced fibres, dyed using plants from Stanley Park made the garment uniquely 'of the land' where it came from and was being worn.

The availability of cheap oil and its evil spawn, globalisation, has meant the regionality that used to define our communities and places, no longer exists. It has made available to us the riches and rarities of the world's far flung places that were once only the priviledge of the wealthiest. How many suits did your great grandfather own? Unless he was rich, probably only one or two, because sourcing the fibre/fabric/labour to make them was expensive. Now we buy and throw away cheap cashmere sweaters with abandon, in willful ignorance of hard work and raw conditions it takes to raise, process and make that luxury fibre.

Now that we can have the things that were once only for the rich (*alert: We are the rich. According to the UN we are the 12th richest country out of 193 of the world. The country producing cashmere is 163rd, and the one processing it is 93rd) nothing is special anymore. We rich countries can source anything we want. Result? We all dress in the same stuff, and find ourselves very boring to look at.

We must find ourselves boring to look at because we waste even more oil travelling to poor countries to look at their regional dress. They take pride in wearing clothes that distinguish them from other countries, even from other villages. We on this continent just wear the same stuff that we all source from a handful of big box retailers. We  have no regional dress, no regional pride in our clothing. Our clothing has no terroir. We look uniformly boring.

You can reclaim that regionality and produce unique clothing by growing and processing local flax. The Urban Weaver has everything you need to do that for free. We have seed for you, will soon have the equipment for you to process it into flax, and will teach you to spin, weave and dye it. The oil use will be tiny, the carbon footprint (unless you drive to the field house) small, and no one will have been exploited in the production of your clothing.

There's still a few weeks to join in. Why not exert your uniqueness and regional pride - your terroir?


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Free ebook about growing, preparing and spinning flax

This came today from my 'Spinning Daily' newsletter

A love letter to linen

Spinning flax into linen isn't something that I do very often—but I've often dreamed of the things I could make with this age-old fiber. I love the qualities of linen. I love that it starts as a spindly, delicate flower that is stronger than it looks; I love that it is stronger when it is wet; I love that it gets softer as it ages; I love that it has hydroscopic qualities (meaning that it absorbs water quickly—keeping you cool in the summer), as well as being hygienic (it resists bacteria—that's why it was used for medical bandages until disposable bandages became the norm). My wardrobe is populated by linen—I love my linen pants, dresses, skirts, and shirts—not yet handspun by me (but a few I've sewn). Perhaps someday my spinning will be that ambitious—it is good to dream.

However, I think this summer I'm going to try to fulfill a dream that started when my Aunt Deb (who nurtured my love of textiles when I was a child), went to Sweden and brought me back the most humble and yet beautiful linen washcloth. I dream about spinning and weaving more of them—eventually having a whole closet full of handspun linens.

For our new free eBook A Guide to Spinning Flax: Linen Spun from Flax Fibers, we've collected some articles from past issues of Spin-Off to share with you. In rereading them, my love of flax and linen is revitalized. I'm ready to sow seeds in my garden, to set up a distaff, and to spin a useful and enduring yarn that will delight me for ages. Maybe my Swedish-inspired washcloths will be woven with handspun flax from my own garden.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Drug dealers help out the flax project

The flax seed has been weighed out for all the various plots that will be growing around the city.

Sounds like and easy thing to do, but at a sowing rate of 12-14g per sq. m., weighing out 13g packets of seed for the smaller plots was hard. None of us had a kitchen scale that could accurately measure such small amounts, and the consequences of being 5g out in the weighing would mean a 1 sq.m. plot that was either 50% too dense (so the flax grows too tall and falls over) or 50% too sparse (so the flax grows side branches and the fibre is no good).

I won't tell you who among us went to a marijuana supplier to borrow their very accurate scale for a few hours, but it was perfect for the job.

FYI, the following places will be growing flax this year:

Science World
Means of Production Garden
Capillano College
McLean Park
Aberthau Community Centre

and 6 local gardeners.

The Aberthau plot is the largest at 84 sq.m, but only a third of that will be flax this year. The other two-thirds will be down to dye plants or vegetables that produce dye as part of a 4 year crop rotation. The smallest plot, about 0.5sq.m.) will be on Pender St, near International Village.


PS Sowing won't happen for a few more weeks yet as there's still a high risk of frost and the soil isn't warm enough yet.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Make your own pin loom

Here, as promised is all the information about making your own pin loom.


This site has all the instructions for making several sizes of loom and the jig for working out where to nail the pins. I actually reduced the size even smaller for mine, and as long as you keep the pin arrangment the same as the diagram on all 4 corners of the loom, it works.

I also find that it's OK to just nail into a a block of wood to make a small loom. You can simply take a piece of wood and nails! I used a piece of old cork flooring and drilled a hole in the centre - the hole also not really needed.

The website above also has instructions on how to weave on your loom and ideas on what to make with the cloth.



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Flax to furoshiki!

At last, after many months of trials and sampling, I’ve finally found a way that even the more beginning of beginner can make cloth from their flax.

The standard Urban Weaver chopstick/toy wheel spindle spins flax very well. It only takes a very short while to make enough thread to make a 4cm square on a home made pin loom.

I’ll post up the details of where on the internet to find a jig and instructions for these lovely little looms later.
Once you have completed your square and taken it off the loom, put it into dilute bleach for a few minutes.

When it's gone paler, rinse it and dye it!

Here’s my dyes out in the sun this weekend. Takes a day to dye a square. I used blackberry juice from berries I canned last year, ditto cherry juice, onion skins, dried weld leaves, tansy and safflower.

Then just rinse your squares again, iron them and sew them together. That's the cloth you can see in the top picture.
And in case you think it isn’t possible to produce a big article of clothing this way, here’s a shawl I spun, wove, dyed, sewed together. It’s made of all local fibres from angora rabbit, to bison fibre (from the bison meat guy at the Terminal Ave farmer’s market) and ‘chiengora’ (malamut cross hair from the dog pound). The dyes are all from local plants too (apart from two dark blue indigo squares).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Flax and linen day at Joybilee Farm, Greenwood, August 10th

If you’re planning a trip this August but haven’t decided where to go, you might consider going to Greenwood, BC for Joybilee Farm’s annual flax day http://kettleriverartsfestival.com/events/joybilee-farm-linen-festival/.

You get a chance to see them processing last year’s flax crop, see this year's flax fields http://joybileefarm.com/about-joybilee-farm/linen-demonstration-garden/, spin some flax, make pine needle baskets with waxed linen thread and look at some of the lovely linen clothing grown and made in Grand Forks by the Doukhobor community. The historians from the Boundary museum (well worth a visit if you get time), will also be at Joybilee talking about the history of flax growing in the area.
For those living sustainably , there is a Greyhound bus from Terminal Avenue Greyhound Station, leaving at 6.30 am, that gets to Greenwood at 3.40pm. There is a daily bus from Greenwood at 9.10 am that goes straight past Joybilee farm, but appears to stop 6.4km past the farm entrance. I did ask Joybilee if they had any more information about the bus and where it stops, but they tell me they've no idea as they never use it.

Or you could try this - about 10km short of Greenwood, is Mile 0 on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail. This is the jumping off point to take the trail to see the rebuilt Myra Canyon trestles. So if you’re coming by bus, bring your bike along, bike the trail to see the trestles. The next day you can take the Greyhound on from Midway to Greenwood and bike the 7.8km from there to the farm.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

American measurements and flax seed planting.

Just organising myself to weigh out the Elektra seed for people who are doing a grow-along - don't get enthusiastic for planting though, as the soil isn't warm enough for sowing yet!

Biolin, being the good Canadians they are sell their seed by the Kg and give planting rates as 12g per square metre. Everyone who is doing a grow along seems to measure their plot in feet. Why is that?

Is that because we actually think 12 inches = 1 foot, 5280 feet = 1 mile is easier than our own metric system?

How come we measure the temperature in the garden in degrees Centigrade, but the temperature in our ovens in degrees Farenheit?

Is it because we're increasingly becoming American in our ways?

Do we really want to be one with the only country on the planet still using a system based on the arm length of Henry I a thousand years ago?

How come we measure the distances on our roads in Km and the distances in our gardens in feet?

Do we carry the conversion rates in our heads to make sense of it all? Clearly not, as American rocket scientists caused the crash of the 2009 Mars Orbiter by their inability to convert from the metric units that all the other collaborating countries were using.

For those of you who don't, the conversion is divide the square feet measurement by 10.764 to get square metres.

Seed will be weighed out at the beginning of April (at the rate of 12g per sq m). Watch this blog to see when you can collect it from the field house. I'll leave the labelled bags in there, in a mouse proof container.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Do something revolutionary - grow your own shirt and be part of the revival of linen growing in Vancouver

Here’s a summary of what’s going on for anyone who wants to be part of the local linen revival.

We’re going to be growing flax this year at the Means of Production garden
http://moparrc.com/, a garden I’ve annexed at the back of a rental property and a couple of Park Board sites around Vancouver. If you see a plot of lovely blue flowers at McLean Park or Aberthau – it’s a future linen shirt in bloom. We also have several people growing flax either at home or in their community garden plot, using this blog to tell them what to do and when to plant.
Flax was once grown all over BC, as far north as Bella Coola - we have the ideal climate for it. Families planted a small plot of it every few years to provide the material to make garments, bed sheets etc. As it's such a hard wearing fibre, it wasn't necessary to plant every year. Being able to process, spin and weave your own linens wasn't an art, it was just what you had to do if you wanted something other than woollen underwear (scratchy!) and blankets.

Caitlin ffrench (knitter, weaver, spinner, dyer and much more) will be partnering with me to grow at MOP, and she'll take the project forward in 2014 to grow more flax at Trillium Park and various other City pieces of land. Flax needs a 5 year rotation so she'll be growing dye plants in between the flax years.

The flax processing equipment that we will be building this spring will be stored at the McLean field house until Trillium Park's artist space is ready and will be available for anyone to use. If you want to grow some flax in your garden (it has such pretty flowers!) let me know. Flax seed from the store won't work, it needs to be a specific fibre producing type (I can provide you with small amounts of Elektra flax seed if you come to the field house). You could grow some at home and use the processing equipment to make your own linen.

Some details on flax cultivation

Here’s the type of soil and site you’ll need:
  1. Location and moisture - flax likes to be shrouded in moisture during the
    growing season. This isn't usually a problem in Vancouver, but you may need to water the seedlings if we have a dry spell in spring.
  2. Location and wind - flax will rot if it falls over. You need to either grow it in a place where it's sheltered from the wind (or animals walking through the plot) or put up a short fence. Willow or bamboo sticks put around the plot edge would work.
  3. Flax doesn’t like to be shaded by trees, or be in waterlogged areas.

Time line for growing flax and making linen 
The time line is:

1.Prepare the seed bed by removing weeds, and adding a layer of compost and bone meal for the potassium and phosphate needed to produce fibre. Don’t put any nitrogen based fertilizer on, as this makes weak stalks which will fall over (lodge). Best done right now, but at the very least by the end of March.

2.Rake the seed bed (and remove any extra weeds that have grown) just before planting. Seed planting will be in April/May depending on the temperatures. Watch this blog to see when we plant ours. Spread the seed by broadcasting (throwing it!). Firm the seeds in by pressing the rake head onto the soil over the entire plot (you can do this with your feet too).

3.If we get a dry spell during germination, the seeds will need water – again, watch this blog and I’ll tell you when/if that’s needed.

4.When the plants are 10cm high, weed the plot barefoot (so as not to damage the plants – they die if they get knocked over).

5.  90-100 days after germination the plants are in full flower..

6.  10 days after that you can harvest – more about that in the blog as we get closer to harvest time. You can follow along and harvest when we do……

So check out this blog for updates on the flax growing process. I'll also be posting photos and details of how the building of the scutcher, brake machine and hackles are coming along.


Urban Cloth Project a.k.a. The Flax Project

The ground preparation on two new flax plots

The flax plot at Means of Production garden is now dug, weeded, and bone meal added for phosphate, ready for planting thanks to hard work by Sharon, Caitlin and Arlen.

There is a medium size tree in the SE corner, but we're hoping it won't shade the crop and result in poor fibre production.

If any grow-along folks haven't yet prepared the soil for planting you need to get to it. If the weather stays this mild, we may be into seed sowing by next month.

The plot at McLean Park has been double dug and bone meal put on the soil. Many thanks to Sharon, David, Martin and especially Cindy, the McLean Park gardener.

Sadly, the soil is full of stones, not very deep and on top of a clay pan, so it's going to need a layer of compost of some kind and extra soil to make it viable. We're hoping the park Board will deliver a load of soil and some leaf mulch to give some organic matter to the soil and make a decent seed bed for flax seed germination.

This plot will be shaded by several trees, so we will have to see how this affects the flax. Flax should be grown where there is full sun.

It's also going to be hard to stop the many off-leash dogs that are brought to this park from flattening the seedlings or lodging the flax plants. It will need a good fence around it. For now, until the soil and leaf mulch are delivered, yellow tape will have to suffice.

We have finally decided on a name for the project - The Urban Cloth Project. This takes into account the work that Urban Weaver has already done on the possibility of using invasive species like broom for cloth, the 'chiengora' from the grooming of the finer coated dogs in the local pound, and urban yarn harvesting. The latter is buying machine made sweaters from charity stores, unravelling them, plying the yarn and either reknitting or weaving with it to make new garments.