It’s summer and I’m thinking about Linen…


There was a recent post on Facebook that linked to a May 16th  article in the New York Times about the two brothers from Pennsylvania who wrote The Big Book for Flax.  Most anyone who attended Maryland Sheep and Wool festival a few years ago saw them there, selling their beautiful coffee table book about linen when it was first published.

The article points out the hardships these two men have faced in trying to build a commune where members would work together to live off the land, including growing flax and spinning and weaving it to make their own clothing.  Their lifestyle is modeled off the colonial Moravian communities that settled in this part of Pennsylvania a couple of centuries ago.

I’ve never been certain how well flax grows in the US.  I know Sara von Tresckow has good success in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  Her website boasts a flaxcam, although I did not see live video of flax growing!–truly like watching grass grow!  Instead there is an interesting photo essay of the whole seed to harvest process. Sara spins and weaves with her homegrown flax.  I loved her solution to the volatile weather that the midwest gets each summer.  She cordons off her fields with baling twine to help keep the plants vertical during a blow or a thunderstorm. Now that’s an attention to detail and a labor of love!

Last year I met a woman from New Hampshire who demonstrated flax preparation at the Bushnell Farm in Old Saybrook as part of an annual historic festival of ‘life on the farm’ in our area of the Connecticut River Valley. Gina Gerhard brought locally grown flax from New Hampshire along with all her tools for demonstrating  the whole process from harvest to stricks that are ready to spin.  I described the whole process last year in this blog post.

Still, I can’t help thinking that flax is easier to grow in northern Europe where the weather is more reliable, where the  light is gentler for softly bleaching the fibers to that perfect silver.

Linen is such beautiful fabric that I have always wanted to spin it.  I have made a few attempts in the past and have enjoyed it.  I have a few spools of wetspun linen waiting to be plied and then utilized in some way.  I have a lovely image of myself in a simple handwoven jacket–where I also am a perfect size 6.  It’s always fun to dream….

Last week at NEWS I saw some beautiful linen stricks at the VavStuga booth and couldn’t resist buying one. It has that beautiful color that I associate with flax from Belgium or Netherlands.   Now I wish I’d bought two–or three!  I can’t do much with 4 oz!


 Then today I stumbled on a link to a beautifully done vimeo video on current European flax processing.  After seeing so many demonstrations and videos of traditional techniques for retting, breaking, scutching and combing flax it was very interesting to see the same processes done by machine.  It still appears to be a low impact way of using a natural product–far less environmentally challenging than most cotton.  Check it out.


And there is a sequel that includes some high tech applications for using linen in the automotive industry, for sports items such as bicycles and surf boards,  and even for fishing rods!  There is exciting information in this video about quite innovative uses for linen and flax fibers,  and yet the mechanics of processing flax are fairly basic compared to other high tech fibers. Fascinating!


There is about 25 minutes of video here, and all my words.  I think I’d better stop for now!

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