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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Growing Flax

I recently mentioned that my daughters have a small science project underway here. This year in our garden, we’re trying our hands at growing Marilyn variety flax. This is the variety of flax that can be used to create linen. I purchased the Marilyn flax seed from the brothers at the Hermitage in Pennsylvania. This flax seed originally came from the Netherlands, where I’m told linen is becoming “quite popular among the young people.”

We planted our flax just before we headed to Arkansas for our week-long vacation. After one week, this is how our flax looked:

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A few more weeks have now passed, and it’s continuing to grow very well.

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In my daughter Hannah’s research, she learned that about 3,000 acres of the type of flax used for cloth were planted in the Red River Valley, Marshall County, Minnesota last year. They’re “reflaxing” Minnesota.

Our “reflaxing” initiative is, obviously, a small-scale, hands-on experience for the purpose of learning. We found an interesting book available through the MN library system, They Wrought Amongst the Tow, from County Tyrone, Ireland, that discusses how flax was handled in that area along with some of the history of the people there. My favorite note from the book on retting is that it’s a smelly process, and historically, if a man was planning to get married, he did not participate in this process. Our intention is to take it from seed to spinning.

I’m looking forward to the lovely blue flowers it should produce.

Tea Time with Rachel

Rachel hosted a tea party with her friend, Emma, this afternoon. Hannah made cakes for the affair. Rachel also invited her friend, Ginny at Ginny’s Fine Fabric, but sadly Ginny was out of town. (We’ll try again.)

Rachel decorated the table with the Climatis flowers that recently blossomed in our front yard.

Then they ran and played outside with Rachel’s puppy.

Happy June!

A linen skirt and catching up

It’s been a lovely Spring in Minnesota; a few warm sunny days and then a few cool, rainy days. A nice transition into the Summer. We’ve been as busy as ever, changing gears into the fun of summer and the many kids’ activities available to us. Last week, we had a great time at VBS. The kids are getting ready for the County 4-H Fair. In between those things, we’ve enjoyed planting a garden (that includes a small patch of flax of the variety for cloth–our science project for the summer), mowing the yard and making s’mores (with dark chocolate) over the backyard fire pit. Roasting a marshmallow (or eating a couple straight from the bag) is a brand new thrill for my 2 1/2 year old son, Ben.

My apologies I’ve been a little slow in writing here. Sometimes life is packed with fun, but I have several exciting things to share. It’s true that I’m doing a lot less in the area of little smocked dresses. I find my time being focused more on supervising my kids’ sewing and watching their abilities take off on their own. I no longer sew for my girls (isn’t that sad?!). Instead, I enjoy watching what they learn and do. (And that’s not sad!)

I’ve also been working my way through a new skill; pattern drafting. Several years ago, a friend shared with me the class notes from a college-level class her mother took on pattern drafting. I thought, that is very interesting, and I continued on making smocked yoke dresses for my girls based on existing patterns. With the encouragement from another friend as well as that found at the Cutter and Tailor Forum (thanks, “Mansie Watch”!), I have been giving it a try. I am extremely thrilled to say, it works! In many ways, I am learning there is much that I need to learn. It is a skill and an art to master, and I am a “learner”. My experience is developing a sincere appreciation for those tailors or couturiers who do have this talent. But, so far I have made a skirt for myself using Italian denim and another using Baird McNutt Irish linen. Both are wonderful fabrics, and I’m enjoying my comfortably fitted skirts!

I’ve also been thrilled to experience working with Irish linen, Italian cottons and English cottons. (Another thank-you to Miche├íl MacDonnchadha as well as John Hanna Ltd./Baird McNutt Irish linen.) I wore my blue plaid (on the bias) linen skirt on Sunday. Though some may instantly think “oh no, linen wrinkles”, it’s really not true. My skirt was not all messed up with wrinkles when I returned home. It looked as great as it did in the morning. The beauty of linen is that it breathes and it feels smooth and cool. The Baird McNutt linen is wonderful. It’s what you want to wear when the power company implements that power-saving-program this summer and your A/C is not in use in your home. (Just wait…)

I’ve also recently brought in a few fabrics from Acorn Fabrics in England. These are the fine cotton fabrics that the tailors recommend and David Coffin mentions in his Shirtmaking book. They are beautiful. They are really something to see and touch. My experience ordering from Acorn was also wonderful. We ordered a floral fabric from Acorn on Friday for my third daughters’ 4-H project. It arrived at our home today by express international courier.