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?

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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.