Monthly Archives: August 2013

Rippling the Flax

We’ve had a stunning summer for the most part. Lots of sun and just the right amount of heat. In the last couple of weeks though, we’ve had a bit of rain here and there. Good for the corn and the hay, but not for flax that you’re drying.

The harvested flax from the bed #1 and #2 were mostly dried and I finished it off by keeping it under cover. I was getting pretty tired of moving the stuff around, onto the lawn when the sun was out, back on the porch for overnight or if a rain cloud came by. When it was finally dried I decided it was time to ripple it. Rippling flax is the process you us to remove the seed pods.

Last year when I did this I was so excited and learning as I went along. This time, I knew what I was in for. It’s a dusty, dry job and very messy with all the seed pods flying everywhere. So I did my best to minimize that. I swept the back porch carefully.Then I put a white sheet over the work area, the railing and let it hang onto the floor. The plan was to catch as many seed pods as possible.

Then I set up the rippling contraption that I bought in the spring from a local antique/junk shop. Right next to it I set up the Russian paddle comb that I used last year for rippling. I wasn’t sure how the green thing would perform and I knew the paddle comb worked.

Here I am about half way through the process. This is the dried flax with the seed pods and dried leaves still on them. The variety of flax that I grew this year is the true Linum usitatissiumum linen variety. It’s nearly twice as long as the flax seed variety that I grew last year. Not only is it twice as long, the stalks are larger and tougher.

Here’s a small bundle of it going through the rippling tool. This one worked well for the first passes and then I used the Russian paddle comb to finish up. Used together I was able to clean up all the seed pods and dried leaves.

After a bundle was cleaned up, I tossed it to the side and then grabbed another bundle. Here’s what a cleaned up couple of bundles looks like.

And here’s the whole lot of it from bed #1 and #2, rippled and waiting to be retted. Retting is the process of rotting the outer layer of pectin to release the linen fibres from the straw. I can dew ret which is to let the morning dew and rains melt it away. Or I can wet ret it by putting it a shallow pool of water and try to replicate an eddy next to a slow moving stream. I prefer the lighter colour you get from wet retting so I’m going to toss this into a kiddie pool. Right now it’s carefully wrapped up and under cover of the shed.

I have two more beds to harvest, will probably do that over the weekend as we are expecting sun and heat. That will give the flax a good start on drying. Then another rippling marathon and then. . . . . what on earth am I going to do with all this flax?

Adventures with flax to linen continued.

More flax harvested – field #1

On Thursday this week, in the late afternoon, I harvested the first field of flax. It’s growing in our south garden. It was the first plot planted this season and I expected it to be ready first. But this garden gets quite a bit of shade throughout the day, so it slowed things down a bit. Here it is in tidy bundles (something I didn’t do on the first harvest) leaning against the fence.

And here’s what’s left growing. It was planted much later than the other two beds. And it was only really planted to hold the spots and keep the weeds at bay. I never imagined it would grow this quickly. I am sure it will bloom in the next week or so, and then I’ll have even more to manage.

Now that’s a problem I don’t mind having.

Harvesting flax field #2

I currently have four wee plots (I call them fields) of flax growing. They were not all planted at the same time. Field one (south garden) was planted in the second week of May. Field two (north west garden) planted three weeks later. And fields three and four (north east garden) were planted four weeks after that.

After about seven weeks of growing, flax starts to bloom. Flax blooms in the morning and it’s a lovely sight. The flowers are tiny, plentiful, and a beautiful periwinkle blue. I have enjoyed watching the first two fields bloom. So little effort on my part, and so much beauty.

Last weekend I looked out of my studio window and noticed that the flax field in the north west garden had stopped blooming.The flax in the south garden was planted a full three weeks earlier and I was fully expecting it to be ready before the flax in this, the north garden. But that’s the power of sunshine for you.

Ever since the oak tree came down, the north west and east gardens get sunshine from sunrise until sunset. The south garden, bordered by a large cotton-wood tree, sits in full shade from 2 – 6pm every day. So this field was ready for harvest while the south garden, planted a full three weeks earlier was still blooming.

And so, on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to harvest the flax. Harvesting flax is quite straightforward. Grab a large handful of flax and pull, roots and all. Like below. Knock dirt off roots, place in wheelbarrow. Repeat and repeat and repeat.

Here’s the full harvest from flax field #2. This “Evelin” variety of flax is a true linen variety. Compared to the flax I grew last year, which was more of a flax seed variety, this one is much longer, easily twice the height, and the stalks are much more substantial.

And here it is, leaned up against the fence for drying.

This weekend coming up, I plan to harvest the flax from the south garden and then I’ll be up to my eyeballs in the stuff. (I still have the two other wee flax fields, but they haven’t even started blooming so I’m safe.)

Because I kind of know what I’m doing this year, and have better equipment (I’m on the lookout for a kiddie pool for the retting stage), I am really excited about the flax this year. This past year I even learned how to dress a distaff and spin flax, so there may actually be more yarn produced this year than last year.

But I won’t get ahead of myself. There are many stages to go through before this stuff is ready for weaving. I’ll keep you posted.