Our first international shipment of fibre flax seed arrived from the Netherlands a couple weeks ago and our second annual flax seeding is now completed! It was a late and wet start to spring but things have swung the other way over the last month. This week's much needed rain has resulted in a sheen of green little flaxlings covering the field planted a few weeks ago.
We have sown an acre of flax using a combination of Melina, the seed from the Netherlands (label to the left) and seed we saved from last year's harvest. Saving and using our own seed is one of the pieces in the bigger picture of creating a local textile. The seeds we save, over time, will favor characteristics that make it suitable for growing in the Maritimes. In addition, localizing the flax/linen supply chain builds on the capacity of this region.
On the processing front, we've hired Mike, the engineer. He is busy designing and will be building the equipment that will mechanize the processing line that separates the flax plant fibres. We've identified this as a critical next step in order to efficiently produce small scale, quality, linen fibre. As the growing season progresses we'll continue to keep you updated on the development of this year's crop and the realization of the TapRoot Fibre Lab.
Over the next few weeks the flax will shoot up and start to produce those characteristic small blue flowers. We'll be using a variety of techniques for weed control and assessing our efforts at sowing the seeds close but not too close.
Stay tuned for July's update and more pictures as the crop progresses!
Spring has arrived and we are deep into watching the forecast, and clutching handfuls of soil checking to see if its dry enough yet. A wet and cool month has meant that we're a few weeks behind, but today's sun shine promises that we'll soon be all caught up on transplanting and field work.
The latest on the flax front is that we've had some great coverage from the Chronicle Herald, a newspaper with provincial circulation. There's some really nice pics! Check out the link to read the story. We were really pleased to be approached to be part of this story which shows the history of flax growing and linen processing in Nova Scotia and its potential as a sustainable industry here.
This news piece has been nicely timed with our initiative to build up a network of other interested individuals, artisans, farmers and textile industry folk. If you'd like to be kept in the loop with our monthly newsletters, follow this link. Our hope is that The TapRoot Fibre Lab can flourish with the support and engagement of others that are passionate about natural fibres and sustainable value added products.
Down in the flax fields we are madly (the excited kind of madly) waiting the arrival of our seed from the Netherlands. It has been a long road of paperwork and we can't wait to see little green flax seedlings germinating in our field.
Seeds. It's a hot topic these days on the farm. We talk about varieties, sowing dates, germination rates, seeds per cell-block in the tray. Underlying all of our practical day-to-day concerns is the reality that most of the seeds we use to grow the tons of veggies in your food boxes comes from companies and farms spread all over North America, and even the world. When I stop to think about it it's a pretty wild concept, that little bag of seeds has grown and been cleaned and analyzed and travelled so far before reaching us. The history of its genetics and breeding is yet another journey, but on the inside.
The TapRoot Fibre Lab – the name we've given our linen project – is buying seeds from Europe this year. The breeding of high-quality flax fibre has a long history in the northern European countries – France, Belgium, the Netherlands and so we've gone to the source. Bringing seed from Europe on a commercial scale to Canada is a complex bureaucracy of paper shuffling, the seed analysis examines germination rates and weed seed content and it seems that Canadian standards are pretty demanding. This morning I found out that the cost of the documents we need will be double if not triple the shipping and purchasing cost. Once I found an authorized importer my worries about timing the paperwork and permissions were assuaged.
Flax growing and processing, like most textiles, is now pretty much all happening in China, 50% of global fibre flax farming happens in China and almost 100% of the processing is being done there as well. Breeding programs that individual companies were conducting are also being sent there because the Great Linen Brain is now in China. The seeds we are buying are part of older seed stock that was grown in Europe however the trend to outsourcing breeding programs has touched our seed dealer as well.
Facts like this remind me that despite our work to build and invest in a local food economy, we nonetheless exist within a very globalized and sophisticated machine supplying some of the fundamentals to this farm situated on a peninsula at the edge of a continent.
I started the morning with this chat about seeds with our flax seed dealer and Teri pointed out that these decisions and realities are worth sharing to our members. It's easy to forget the big picture in the day-to-day, but the reason we participate and invest in TapRoot is because business-as-usual can be pretty darn wacky and farms like TapRoot shine a light on paths to health and sustainability.
This morning we decided to start trouble shooting what it would be like to spin flax with wool. Many yarn products marketed as linen are in fact blended with a high percentage of wool, a product that is much easier to incorporate into wool spinning systems than straight linen.
A much-loved local weaver and spinner, Pia Skaarer worked with Justine and I, taking us through the ropes (so to speak) of different wool/linen blends.
The wool we used is Justine’s Icelandic sheep wool, a breed favored for its versatile fleece -- a long topcoat and a very fine undercoat. Here is a pic of one of her beautiful female yearlings in the barn this morning.
The process today involved blending the fibers by hand, with a carder and then finally by spinning.You can see Pia working the wheel to twist the loose fiber into a yarn.
In the end we wound (haha) up with a handful of skeins of different blends, using industrially processed flax as a comparison product to our evolving flax fibre.
You can see the greeny plantiness of this batch of our flax, twisted throughout the base wool.
One take-away from today's process was to try pre-boiling the unspun fibre in order to degum it, making it smoother to handle and see what effect it has on the color.
Stay connected as we continue to untangle the mysteries of flax and linen production.
This alliteration grabbed my attention – yes I cannot claim credit -- I found it buried in a paragraph at the bottom of a story in the New York Times about an Italian textile company working with unusual plants and non-synthetic materials to make fabric.
The company is working with small batches of these materials to make fabrics for fine apparel. What grabbed me was that the words evoke both everyday things, corn on the cob, but also what the gold and emerald of corn from Nebraska is like to wear.
What aromas does a shirt from broom (a short bushy plant) from coastal Spain emit?…salts, and sandy soil, the particular perfume of the Mediterranean in July 2012.
Terroir describes the relationship of climate, soil type and geology on plants and their fruit. Popularized by the Slow Food movement, it is a term that evolved over time by French winemakers studying the spectrum of flavours that a variety can exhibit; the flavour fingerprint of a particular season in a particular place.
Terroir – le terre.
Translating the term to textiles is an even newer conversation about localism. Shift from food choices to what we put on our bodies and in our homes. What would a linen shirt, from flax grown beside the Minas Basin in the summer of 2013 wear like? Would it start as your outdoor workshirt and then soften its way to your favorite after-bath wear? Would the dryness of that summer translate into a heavier weave? Would the variety of labourers processing the fibre show up in an irregular warp, recognizable because of its particular story?
When we have infinite choices as consumers, what becomes precious is story. Volume makes us lose focus, and we search for connection, we search for ourselves. Do I know farmers in Kings County? Have I ever hiked Blomidon and seen the farms that hug the shoreline? The summer of 2013 was dry, I remember I couldn’t find a decent head of lettuce for weeks.
The flax we are growing and the linen we are working towards will be wearable and functional and it will also be a celebration of the unique people, the place we inhabit, and the growing season that unfolds. When you wear it you will know you are wearing a piece of this place.