If you have seen pictures of our linen products and are eager to try them, you are in luck! We recently launched our website, www.taprootfibrelab.ca, which includes online shopping capability. Our linen products are all produced from flax grown here on the farm, and any blended products are combined with local sheep’s wool.
In preparation for our website launching, we have been working on developing our logo and product labels. Our first batch of labels arrived from the printer mid-June and they look spectacular on the packaging.
A few weeks ago we met with Frances, a professor from the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, to plan the exciting dye tests. Our goal is to use plants/plant material that is available locally, ideally on the farm, to create the dyes for the fibre. The idea is to have no adverse impact on the ecosystem and keep things as natural as possible. Synthetic dyes in the conventional textile industry are some of the worst water polluters in the world.
Our flax field is growing beautifully. Our five-acre field has bloomed and is in the final stages of developing seed pods. The flax is not as tall as we were anticipating due to all the dry weather at the beginning of summer, however we are hopeful for a few more centimetres before we harvest in August. We are in the midst of planning a harvest festival on August 14th complete with music and maybe even food trucks, so stay tuned for more details!
Work continues with optimising our machines for the breaking and scutching process. Part of our long line flax processing challenge is designing a transferring system to move the fibre through each machine. We have been testing our fibre transfer system on the scutching machine and working to integrate the design of the hackling machine. The hackling machine construction has been on hold due to long wait times for some of our critical parts. These parts are now here, and the hackling machine construction has started again. The design stage has begun on our fifth machine which will take the hackled fibre and draw it out to create sliver. Things are moving along!
Spring has sprung and we are all excited for what the season has in store for us.
Patricia met up with Suszanne Schwal back in 2015 to talk about their adventures in linen. A year later, Suszanne popped by to check in on where we are at with things at TapRoot Fibre. She wrote a lovely blog post on her website about TapRoot Fibre Lab.
Our seeds for this upcoming growing season arrived from Belgium. This year we planted five acres of Melina on April 29th, 2016. Patricia is working on securing a second-hand grubber/puller for harvesting this year so we are not trying to harvest five acres by hand.
I (Rhea) attended the Saltscapes Expo on Friday, April 22nd, the biggest consumer expo east of Montreal that celebrates everything in Atlantic Canada. I presentated on our machinery and linen product line. I have been going to the Saltscapes Expo as a participant for several years now and it was interesting to be on the other side of things. (put the link to saltscapes here)
I (Rhea) have been working each day at getting linen processed so we will have product available for sale. I have been prototyping our long line linen equipment. I take the ‘waste’ from the scutching machine and process it into roving using the Belfast Mini Mill equipment. Legacy Lane, a fibre Mill in New Brunswick are willing to try our short line linen roving through their spinning machine. We are excited to see their results and look forward to hearing from them.
Our immediate need is to launch an online shop for sales of the linen and the machines.
Mike, our engineer, plus people from Timberttec are working on installing an integrated transfer system. This system will help move the flax between each machine. Testing continues we are working on improvements for the breaker, testing rollers and on the scutcher - the turbine blade bluntness. We are awaiting the hackles for our hackling machine as they make their way from India. The hacking machine will comb the linen fibres to remove any remaining shive, any knots and short line linen (tow) fibres.
Things at the farm are starting to pick up speed in preparation for the coming growing season.
As mentioned in January’s blog, we will be growing five acres of the Melina variety of flax this year along with small test plots of newer types. Denise has been busy figuring out the correct way to bring our seeds into the country. We will be ordering our seeds through a certified seed importer.
Since we are increasing our production levels, we are going to invest in a second-hand grubber. A grubber is a machine that will pull the flax plant out of the ground and place it, in an organised manner, on the ground. Denise is researching the necessary procedure to ship a piece of equipment to Canada from the European Union.
We have been working with Belfast Mini Mills, a manufacturer of processing equipment for animal fibres, to see if their equipment can process our short line linen fibres. Testing has yielded positive results! This past week, Jeff and Peter, from Belfast Mini Mills, delivered a separator and carder. Justine and I are working on developing a product from our short line linen. This will enable us to use all of the “waste” fibre from the long line processing we do.We are excited to be getting close to have product available for sale.
Our flax processing room has been set up and now contains three pieces of equipment. We have begun testing on our scutching machine with positive results. Construction on our fourth piece of equipment, the hackler, continues. The scutching machine will remove the shive from the fibres while the hackler will combine the linen fibres, and remove any knots and short line linen fibres.
Patricia’s knitting machine is now operational. I am learning how to use the machine to knit dishcloths. It was recommended to me by several machine knitters that I start with wool and then move on to linen.
We have been working with a local graphic designer to develop product labels.
We are excited to announce that we are continuing to work with Shannon at Trusted Clothes. We will be publishing a monthly guest blog to provide an update of life on the farm and where we are at with developing our equipment line.
Finally, we have been working with a group of local wool growers to start a cooperative fibre mill in the Annapolis Valley. Exciting times!
Since the new year, we have been busy planning for the year ahead.
Denise has been researching different seed trials carried out in Belgium and France for varieties that will grow well in our Maritime climate. Because of our shorter growing season, we are looking at seed varieties with good youth growth. We are planning to grow five acres of flax this year, with the majority of the fields being planted with the Melina variety. We have planted Melina before with good success. We will also plant some small test plots with a range of newer varieties.
As we increase the amount of flax we are growing, we have to solve the harvesting issue. Last year, our one-acre plot of flax was harvested manually over several weeks. This harvesting method is clearly not a viable option with our production increasing to five acres. The team has been working on finding a solution to our harvesting needs.
We have decided to include roving on our list of products. I have been carrying out research to determine a fair price for this product.
On January 15th, a group of farmers, weavers, spinners, and other interested folks started an exciting discussion about forming a collective fibershed here in Nova Scotia. We will be continuing the conversation on February 12th, at 1 pm at Bishop Hall. If you are interested in joining the conversation, or interested in learning more, please join us on the 12th.
Last year, we were contacted by a flax and linen study group in New England about a symposium they are hosting in August of this year. We are happy to announce that Patricia and Mike (our engineer) will not only be attending the event, but will be presenting. And, we are looking into the possibility of taking our equipment with us. I have been conducting some research into the necessary paperwork we need to have in place to cross the border with our machinery.
Back in December, we were asked to write some content for TrustedClothes.com and the first two blog posts have been published. It was nice to work with Shannon at Trusted Clothes and we are looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for this organization.
Patricia brought in her mother's knitting machine and I am working on getting the machine into operational condition. Once operating, I will learn how to knit dishcloths on the machine using our linen yarn. In addition to this, we are working with Jonathan McClelland at Western Valley Agri to develop a firelog using our flax shives.
Our second piece of equipment, the breaker, was brought to the farm last week. After some tweaking, I will be able to start breaking mechanically. I am super excited as this means no more tired shoulder!
We are in the process of setting up the flax processing room on the farm. We have started testing our third piece of equipment, the scutcher--this machine will remove the shive from the linen fibres--and construction of our fourth piece of equipment, the hackling machine, has started. This piece of equipment will remove any knots and shorter linen fibres and leave you with long line linen fibres that are ready for the intersector.
I hope you had a lovely holiday spent with family and friends. Even though we slowed down over the holiday, a lot happened over the month of December, and I am excited to share it with you.
I contacted a local spinner who was keen to try his hand at spinning linen, so I sent him a sample of our long line flax fibres and some short line flax roving. (Roving is made from the short fibres (2-4") that remain in the hackles after processing the long line fibres. It is easy to spin and commonly used in knitting and weaving.) When he was finished spinning the sample fibres, I met with him to discuss how the fibres were to work with. (Good!) It is exciting to see interest in linen fibres growing.
We have heard back from several businesses and organizations that we contacted in the fall about the TapRoot Fibre Lab. The folks who responded were excited to hear from us and to learn what we are working toward. Also in December, we were contacted by Trusted Clothes--a group of volunteers who are linking people, organizations, and brands who are ethically and environmentally friendly. They have asked us to guest write a series of blogs for their website. We will write three blogs for them, discussing our ongoing process of designing and biulding our machinery, why we have chosen to work with flax and linen, and where we want to see the TapRoot Fibre Lab in the future. We're really looking forward working with an organization like Trusted Clothes. Check them out: http://www.trustedclothes.com/
We are making good progress on the machinery. Testing of the breaking machine continues and the results are looking promising. Mike anticipates that the scutching machine prototype will be ready for testing by the middle of this month. The design is complete for the fourth machine--the hackler. This machine will remove any last bits of straw remaining and comb the scutched flax into long, clean fibres that are ready to spin. I took some of the flax straw that Mike put through the breaker to the lab and I finished processing the fibres by hand. (These were the samples that we sent to our spinner.) It is a little chilly in the lab right now! Luckily, we have a space heater to keep things warm.
From the whole TapRoot Fibre Lab team, we wish you all the best in 2016