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May the Flax be With You


I'm on the track of some more wonderful flax.  A group of our friends trekked to Sweden last month for a fabulous weaver's vacation.  They drove all over Sweden and visited all sorts of companies that we buy yarn and tools from as well as local industries that they happened upon in their travels.  They stopped at the Holma-Helsinglands factory that makes the Bockens cottolin we use for our kitchen towels.  They toured the Glimakra factory in Mora, Sweden that has been making weaving looms and tools for nearly 90 years.  They happened upon the Vaxbo Linen Company and toured the factory and the company store next door.  Tracy, our weaving yarn supplier and most expert weaver, said it was like a candy store in linen.  Whew!  I wish I had been there.  Connie, the best spinner I know, brought back some flax from Vaxbo.  It is amazingly wonderful and not expensive.  Of course, Connie did have to get herself to central Sweden but that was the fun of it all.

I have been corresponding with Vaxbo over the last several days.  Connie brought home some examples of their weaving products along with the flax so I'm trying to buy some things from them.  They have re-sellers here in the US but none of those re-sellers carry all their weaving products so it's taking some work to find what I want.  Some of what I want includes Christmas presents so I won't go into the details but if they will sell me some flax it is all for me.  I love spinning it and for some strange reason, Peggy isn't interested in it.

I find most everything about flax of interest.  I had decided early on that I would grow it - not regularly since it saps the nutrients from the soil and takes a huge amount of manual labor - but once just to say I had done it.  The balance of rainfall and temperature is critical to getting high quality flax and that is not to be found here in Texas so I have decided to continue to buy my flax from those places that grow it well.  Because of the high expense of cultivating excellent flax it is becoming harder and harder to find.  Hence my ever increasing stash.

I love dressing the distaff with my newly hackled flax.  I love spinning it into yarn and I love using it in my weaving.  But part of the multistep process to get it ready to use is retting it.  This involves pulling the flax plants when they are ripe and soaking them in water to rot away all the non-flax parts of the plants.  It's a stinky process and one I'm glad not to have to do.  Here is an interesting description by Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1995.

LINT WATER

The flax was pulled by hand once it ripened,
Bound into tall green pillars with rush bands
And buried under water, roots upwards.
When the dam was full they loaded stones and sods
On top, then left the whole thing for three weeks
To rot, to stink: a pit of rotten eggs
Could not have generated such a fug
As flax decaying, steaming like a bog,
Wafting its heavy, nauseating fall-out...

by Sheamus Heaney

Mr Heaney goes on to describe the death of fish downstream from this bog of rotting flax plants but I haven't included all of that here.  Obviously, it's a nasty business that isn't done this way these days.