Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Flax formations

One blue flower opens every morning: 30 days after flush of flowers, flax is ready to be pulled and dried (for linen)

In an earlier post, I said that I would I write later about flax. Perhaps this story is conveyed most succinctly and beautifully in a 15 minute video by Benoit Millot available on Vimeo.

Ripe, golden seed bolls tumbling in an autumn sky

From flax to linen fibre, the video shows sowing, retting, scutching, combing, spinning, weaving, and wearing. And not the historical version either, though the romantic relationship with flax & linen is still very present.

Here are some of the words of the people interviewed for the film. Clearly, cultivating flax cultivates love. Such an odd plant and incredible material!

"The life of the flax plant is 100 days of thought [reflection] and observation"

"You can develop a relationship with this material. It embodies a kind of intimacy, the way if feels, the way it looks"

"Linen needs love"

For a more detailed, historically-informed perspective on flax, I turn to Linda Heinrich's book, Linen: From flax seed to woven cloth.

Yesterday, I brought some retted flax home to dry completely - according to various tests (e.g., remove the woody core, twist, tie into an over-hand knot and then snap - if the fibres break evenly across, the retting is complete), the flax has completely retted. After the dew dries this morning, I will loosely bail the plants and allow them to dry completely. If all goes well, my first batch of retted flax will be ready to make linen. If it's under-retted, I can re-ret later; however, over-retting, is disastrous. At best, I could make paper from the short fibres (which I'd love to learn about - here are a few interesting resources to start from: Helmut Becker and Susan Warner Keene).

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