On growing linen for the first time!

At the start of this year I decided to try growing my own linen after listening to Rebbecca Burgess’ book Fibreshed while I was working on my patchwork.

Learning about the Fibreshed movement really got me thinking about where fabric comes from and what I could do to learn more and share this with others.

I realised that I could actually grow my own fibre on our allotment!

Which seeds?

I searched online for linen flax seeds and learnt that there are two types of flax. One is better for producing flax seeds (which are used for making linseed oil or for eating) and the other produces a taller plant and makes good fibre. 

I bought some flax seeds from www.wildfibres.

I was very excited when they arrived on 25th January!

When to sow?

I then waited until after the middle of March, prepared a patch on the allotment and sowed the seeds!

Within two weeks they had germinated and by the end of April the little plants were about 3 inches high.

A month later and they were tall, gorgeously lush green plants.

In early June they produced beautiful blue flowers and by the end of June the seed heads were formed.

Harvest time

Linen plants are considered to take around 100 days from sowing to harvesting. In the middle of July I harvested them and tied them up into 4 bundles (apparently these are called ‘beets’).

I leaned them up against the fence to dry. At this point, we had a heatwave so they soon dried out.

I then smashed up the seed heads with a block of wood and captured the seeds in a sheet.

Once all the husks were blown away, I succeeded in harvesting around 200gms of my own seeds!

Then what?

Once the plants are harvested and the seeds gathered, the plant fibres are ‘retted’.

Retting is where you break down the pectin which is glueing the flax fibres together.

There are two ways to do this – water retting and dew retting. 

It was so hot and dry that I wasn’t convinced about dew retting and as I had a tall enough water butt I put all the bundles into the water and covered them with a board.

After about 3 days I returned to the allotment and removed the board to discover the most extraordinary almost sweet smell! Wasps and flies were buzzing around excitedly.

It was quite an event!

I removed the plants from the water and lay them out to dry because I didn’t want to risk retting them too much and actually rotting them. Apparently this can happen!

So this is where I have got to so far.

Next: I must learn to ‘break’ the flax and then spin it…

To be continued!

Published by eturnerlee

I am an artist. I currently work in textiles (quilting) and run inclusive art workshops.

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