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

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

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 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 Lots of information about the upcoming workshops out there.............. Come and join in!