Smocking on Baird McNutt Irish Linen

I’ve been enjoying doing a little English smocking on Irish linen. It’s been a while since I’ve had this pleasure, and this is my first try on Irish linen, which is lovely to work with and touch.

A few years ago, I took a correspondence course with the Smocking Arts Guild of America on “Advanced Stitches”, that is stitches that are less often published. This course encouraged the use of stitches that are rarely seen, such as the Cretan, honeycomb, and herringbone stitches and variations of those stitches. It also encouraged the art of creating your own smocking design. I am young in my abilities with this art, but I’m having fun.

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This piece is smocked, but unblocked, and of course, unfinished. It’s a little unnerving for me to post unfinished projects, but a friend recently encouraged that people love to see things in progress, so I am sharing my work in progress.

Often, it is said, a piece should have one distinct focal point. I am still thinking through the English smocking. Should I add a little embroidery or keep it simple, which is my taste? I am a fan of the contrast between blue and white.

This is an over-blouse intended for my nine-year-old daughter. It is the “Ainsley” pattern by Children’s Corner. I have a second front piece pleated. It will have only white on white work with the surface honeycomb stitch, as my daughter needs an all-white blouse for a choir requirement this year. The Baird McNutt Foyle white linen with blue smocking is my diversion from working only black on black or white on white.

Retting the Flax

It’s been a great summer, and I’ve gotten just a little behind on my writing about our flax science project. In July, the flax was hand pulled and put into beets. The beets were left to dry for a few days.

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When the flax was completely dry, we stored the flax beets inside our garden shed until we were ready to begin the retting process. One Sunday afternoon, we worked to remove the flax seeds, which will be a healthy addition to breads.

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After the seeds were removed, the flax beets were placed in a bin of water for about four to five days. (It’s true that the water and the flax become quite fragrant, and it’s not a good fragrance.)

With rubber gloves on, the flax is removed from the water and laid out to dry (holding your nose, of course).

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After a day of good sunshine, dried flax looks like this:

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Once nicely dried, a stalk can be taken in hand and easily bent to expose the lovely long flax fiber that eventually becomes linen.

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Flax Harvesting

It’s been a few weeks now that we’ve enjoyed the little periwinkle flowers on our Marilyn flax crop.

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But, all good things come to an end, and the flowers do not stay forever. They say, when the bottom third turns yellow, the lower leaves start to fall off, and the seed pod is almost ripe, it’s time to harvest flax.

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This morning we decided it was time to pull the flax by hand.

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Here in Minnesota, the morning was cool, but it’s supposed to reach the 80s F today. We went out first thing to handle the task. The kids thought it was great fun.

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We’ve been comparing our flax with how the flax looks on the Irish Flax Farming videos online. Our flax looks just a little more dry and yellow through the length of the stalk than those in Ireland.

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The kids carefully laid the flax stalks in one direction, creating neat bunches or “beets” that would be kept together with ties of a few flax stalks.

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Finally, the bunches were lined up together to form “stooks”.

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Blooming Flax

Earlier this week, I looked out across our back yard and noticed something greyish-blue above the flax. Could it be?


Yes. It bloomed!

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It’s a pretty sight! We’re really not sure how many days the flowers will stay. This is our science project, after all, so we’re counting the days and enjoying it while it lasts.

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It’s a small patch; just about five feet by ten feet, growing next to potatoes and a row of onions. Something we enjoy is the way that the flax “takes over” an area. I read that it was the women and children who had the task of weeding the flax in earlier times; however, there hasn’t been much weeding required in this part of our garden. The flax is just sweet to see.

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Flax is the fiber used to create beautiful linen fabric. It’s a wonderful fiber that has a cooling effect as it absorbs more water than cotton. It feels smooth and cool in a skirt like this.

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(woven by Baird McNutt Irish Linen)

Happy Independence Day!

Summer Sewing

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I’ve had an enjoyable time sewing with my girls lately. Hannah, Rachel and Madeline (left to right above) participated in the 4-H “clothing you make” competition locally this year.

Hannah (left) entered the concert black dress she made during the school year for the purpose of hand bell ringing with the Rochester Area Association of Christian Home Educators. She exchanged the required black waist band for a turquoise silk ribbon and a matching necklace.

Madeline (right) made a princess seam sundress with an all-cotton Hampton 306 blue floral print from Acorn Fabrics in England. She added a coordinating raw silk for the bodice that she found at Ginny’s Fine Fabric in Rochester, Minnesota, along with the blue lace for her shrug. Sewing with lace was a new experience for Maddy.

Rachel made the “Laura” A-line dress from Sew Beautiful magazine #92 in an Italian cotton blue check she found in our stash (a gift from a friend). She also found a machine embroidery piece that she helped to create on a Pfaff Creative machine a few years ago. She added white piping to the neckline, sleeves and the waistband; a challenging new skill for her. She also lined her dress with Swiss broadcloth.

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The girls enjoyed meeting with the judges and learning a few things about how they could improve their sewing skill.

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The greatest thing, however, is the time together…watching their progress…

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And having a good time.

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