Monday, 22 October 2012

Flax to Linen

Linen fibre skeins: 6 hours of work, 124 grams of unspun linen
On Friday, I took two giant bags of flax plants (pulled, retted, and then dried in my living room...imagine the mess!) on the ferry to Victoria. There I met Barb and folks from the Flax to Linen project, who  - with incredible generosity - shared their tools and experience with me as we worked together to transform flax plants to linen fibres.

The steps of the process are:

1. Breaking (crushing bundles of flax plants to remove the straw "boon")

2. Scrutching (scraping boon off of the fibres with a wooden knife)

3. Hackling (combing the fibres through a series of three increasingly fine, very spiky metal combs to increase the smoothness of the fibre and remove the short fibres, called tow)

4. Tying into a skein (twisting long fibres into a bundle, like of lock of baby hair)

Wooden break, srcutching knife, and flax becoming linen
5. Bagging tow (the fluffy tow can also be used for spinning or making paper, though it needs to be cleaned and washed first).

So many new/old words! In the end, I returned on the ferry with one of the large bags untouched. I decided that the flax needs more retting to make it easier to work with, so back to the field with it. Now that the weather is colder (snow arrived on the mountains over the weekend), this retting process will take longer and it will be harder to dry the flax afterwards. Nothing is ever straightforward with this work! Perhaps a bit like teaching?

In a few weeks, the outdoor installation will be re-installed indoors in the teacher education building's basement student lounge. The contrasts between a garden and a window-less room room could not be more dramatic, and this very juxtaposition creates an interesting dynamic for the work. Throughout the three weeks of the indoor installation (tent. Nov 12-Nov 30), I will invite anyone interested to join me in creating linen thread, talking about the project, and imagining the spring "giving" installation that will return the flax/linen to the garden. Your presence and thoughts are always welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Was great meeting you. I was amazed you hauled those bundles on the ferry & the bus with you. Good job on getting your project done and demonstrated. Think I still have a bit of your flax in the garage. We're just both to busy to deal with it - not to worry.