FIBERuary Day 3
Today, Michelle Parrish grower of flax here in Western Massachusetts and dyer and weaver is writing about her adventures.
Michelle Parrish is a weaver, natural dyer, and spinner, who has been growing flax for over ten years. She is a member of the New England Flax and Linen Study Group, and an organizer of the upcoming symposium Flax and Linen: Following the Thread From Past to Present.
On February 28th at Sheep and Shawl in Deerfield from 1-3, she will explain the steps involved in growing and processing flax, and share some of her research into different varieties of fiber flax.
Planting Flax In Western Massachusetts
Flax is the plant that linen comes from. The Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, tells you it’s the “most useful” plant, and highlights how important flax has been for thousands of years as a source of fiber. The fiber has been used for yarn, thread, rope, fine and rough cloth, sails, and a multitude of other purposes.
Flax is a bast fiber, meaning that the fibers are found in the stalk of the plant. Growing flax isn’t too tricky, but getting the fiber out of the stalks is a long and complicated process. In agricultural communities before the Industrial Revolution, the knowledge of how to grow and process flax was commonplace. However, since this crop is no longer widely grown, knowledge is harder to come by.
I’ve been learning to grow and process flax for over ten years. I’m still learning, and every season brings as many questions as answers. Learning by trial and error is slow, so a few years ago I was thrilled to meet up with some other flax and linen enthusiasts, and form the New England Flax and Linen Study Group. I learned so much from the enthusiasm and support of this group. In our quest to learn more, we hatched the plan to organize a symposium, where we hoped to bring together as many knowledgeable people as possible to share experience and advice. The symposium will be Saturday and Sunday August 20-21, 2016 at Historic Deerfield, and is organized in collaboration with Historic Deerfield. We’re proud to say that registration is now open for this symposium! You can learn more about the symposium on our website (http://newenglandflaxandlinen.org/) and can register on Historic Deerfield’s website (http://www.historic-deerfield.org/event/seminars/flax-and-linen-following-thread-past-present/).
On this FIBERuary blog, I’d like to share some of the steps involved in growing and processing flax. Step one is getting seeds. If you want to plant flax this season, you should order your seed now. Flax is typically planted early in the spring, as soon as the ground has thawed but while it’s still wet. Usually around here you can plant in April, though this winter has been so mild we may be set for an earlier planting date this season. If you are growing flax for the fiber, rather than for edible seed, make sure you have bought a fiber flax variety such as Marilyn, Evelin, Viking, or Ariane. Two reliable sources for fiber flax seed are The Hermitage in Pennsylvania (http://flaxforsale.com/) and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum’s Heirloom Seed Project (http://www.landisvalleymuseum.org/index.php/programs/heirloom-seed-project/).