Rodent Apocalypse

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while because the events I’m about to relate are extremely regrettable and sad. Well, to me anyway. I cried a lot. However, it was also an opportunity to learn about the perils of seed saving first hand, so I am now ready to reluctantly admit that it was a learning experience.

Back in July I was very busy. I was in a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute for K-12 teachers at UMass on the history of Native Americans in New England. We met from 9-4 each day, and at night I worked on the reading, homework, and culminating project. It was an excellent program and I was very grateful for the opportunity to learn from fantastic, creative scholars and activists. However, it also meant that I didn’t have time for other things, including flax. I’d been checking on the flax periodically, but didn’t devote as much attention to it as I would have liked. So, I was very excited when the institute was over and I could re-prioritize my flax experiment. Continue reading “Rodent Apocalypse”

Flax Pollination and Isolation Part Two

After deciding that I would use a physical barrier to keep the flax varieties isolated, the next step was to design and build the isolation tents. I wanted to use supplies that could be re-used for other purposes in the future, which ruled out building cages with hammer and nails. Instead I bought 108 4-foot wooden stakes from Amherst Farmers Supply (four stakes for every little bed). To me this is a lot of stakes, and I thought I might have to place a special order, but no! They have literally thousands in stock, so I was able to pick them up the very same day I went in. Continue reading “Flax Pollination and Isolation Part Two”

Flax Pollination and Isolation Part One

I am so far behind on writing about my flax project that it’s hard to know where to start. If you and I have spoken in person since last Friday, you already know about my rodent apocalypse. However, rather than skipping too far ahead in the story here on my blog, I will try to reconstruct events chronologically in the next few posts. Continue reading “Flax Pollination and Isolation Part One”

Another Flax Update

Here’s another post about my excellent flax project. Last time I wrote, I posted some images of the little test beds at our community garden plot at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area. This time, I will talk about the beds at Amethyst Farm. The reason both sites have the word “Amethyst” in them is that they are both named after Amethyst Brook, a stream which runs along the valley bottom in our neighborhood. It is a tributary of the Fort River, which in turn is a tributary of the Connecticut River. Continue reading “Another Flax Update”

Exciting Flax Project!

I have been meaning to write about my absolutely fabulous, spectacularly exciting flax project for weeks now, but life has been busy. The more excited I am about something, the less succinct I am capable of being. This will be a long story, so sit back, and welcome to the first post about it!

As you may know, I am in a flax and linen study group, which started meeting a little over three years ago. I love this group of folks–amazing, passionate people–and I love being part of it. Recently, we donned the official name “New England Flax and Linen Study Group” in preparation for an event we are planning for August 20-21, 2016. We are organizing a symposium entitled “Flax and Linen: Following the Thread from Past to Present” which will be co-sponsored with and hosted by Historic Deerfield. In the coming days, weeks, and months I will post much more information about it, but meanwhile put it on your calendar! Continue reading “Exciting Flax Project!”

Flax Springs Eternal

Last week, April 20-24, was April vacation week for those of us who are K-12 teachers or students here in Western Massachusetts. I am in the former category. My flax aspirations for the week were astronomically high. I am happy to say that I came very close to meeting my aspirations, and it was utterly thrilling. I did research and learned a lot of new things (which I will write about later). I dug in the soil with a pitchfork, used a rake, a shovel, and a hoe. I planted and watered seeds. These are many of my favorite things, so it was pretty much a perfect week.

Flax is best planted as early as the soil can be worked in the spring, which is typically mid-April around here. Ideally I aim to plant flax during April vacation. Well, technically I might be able to plant earlier, but during April vacation I have time to dig beds, pull out grass roots, purchase and haul soil amendments, etc., so the timing is good. Continue reading “Flax Springs Eternal”

Handspun Louet Flax Top

Thanks to more snow days than usual this winter, I have finally finished spinning up a fiber preparation I bought years ago, 8 ounces of Louet bleached flax top. I have not spent much time on spinning in recent years, hence the delay. My plan was to experiment with wet-spinning and dry-spinning the fiber, to see if it made a significant difference in the yarn. I think it did. Continue reading “Handspun Louet Flax Top”

Fun at the Faire

Last weekend I went to the Colonial Faire & Muster of Fyfe and Drums in Sudbury at the Wayside Tavern. Alas, the event is no longer posted on their website but I gather it is an annual event hosted by these folks. I’m not a guns-n-war sort of person, no matter what era, but I went because some friends of mine were demonstrating the flax to cloth process in their period costumes with their antique tools. Continue reading “Fun at the Faire”

Flax Dressing Photos

After I wrote about our gloriously low-humidity weather, which provided the perfect climate for dressing flax, I realized I had not included any photos. Here are some illustrations of my modified “hardware store tools” technique, including a new innovation since last time I posted about using this method.

The hardware store tools that I use are a paintbrush cleaning tool, a 3-inch-wide joint compound knife, a wooden cutting board, and a flick carder designed for wool. And a dust mask. And gloves. The gloves are new, but my hands have been a lot more sensitive this summer.

I’ve been dressing largely under-retted flax which has already been broken with a flax brake. The bundles I made to dry and ret the flax are too large to handle all at once using this method, so I separate them into thirds or even fourths. The reason I think the flax is under-retted is that the cuticle, or skin, of the stalk is really hard to get off, and the fibers stick together in ribbons. The lighter colored, papery-looking pieces below are the cuticle.

cuticle closeup Continue reading “Flax Dressing Photos”