Saturday, April 27, 2013

New flax, old flax

The weather has been perfect for flax planting!

McLean Park, Means of Production garden, my plot and I hope the other grow-alongs are all now planted, the Aberthau flax will be sown in May. I have 7sq m of flax sown. Not enough for a shirt, but I'm hoping for a furoshiki and a vest.

While building a living willow sculpture of a spinning wheel as a memorial for a friend* (more on this later), one of the group of friends weaving told us she had a lot of 20 year old dried flax plants that she had grown herself, in her basement. She is happy to donate them to the Urban Weaver and we are delighted to have them.

This means we will be able to start doing some retting experiments to see what works best, in advance of our own crop being ready. I expect the bath in the field house will be the first place we'll try. Expect more posts on what we find out!

* The willow spinning wheel

A very good friend of mine - spinner, weaver, dyer (all that good stuff!), died this year. Neither Sharon (Kallis) or I can work out which of us had the idea for a willow sculpture memorial, but her husband invited 5 of her close friends and with Sharon's expert design and leadership we wove a willow spinning wheel together.

The wheel is made if living willow, so new growth will need to be woven in, or clipped. This shouldn't be a problem, as the area of stones you can see on the left of the picture is the site of the new 84sq m flax and dye bed that will be built next week at Aberthau. That means there will always be someone around tending to the flax or the dye plants.

Here's what a friend who lives abroad (another willow weaver/spinner/dyer) wrote about the memorial:

Masami's Wheel is a lovely willow sculpture and a very fine memorial. It is fine tribute to Masami and a credit to all of the folks who made it.

If the sculpture develops into a group of young willow trees, it will become less of a sculpture, but a more lasting memorial.

If the remnants of the sculpture are allowed to develop into mature trees, they will be a feature in the landscape for decades.  

If these trees are periodically pollarded, they could become "veteran trees" and might survive for centuries

I love the idea of a "floating" memorial.  Will it last until next month/year/decade/century?  Who knows? That is the beauty of it!

Myself, I love the idea that her wheel, and eventually the willows that it generates, will stand watch over the flax and dye bed for us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Time to sow your flax!

Well folks, the time is here according to the long range forecast.

There's no frost forecast in the next couple of weeks, and the temperatures after Monday seem to be rising nicely, so the soil will have a chance to dry out and warm up.

Based on this information, I would say that sowing your flax sometime next week, towards the middle or end of the week. However, do check back at the forecast and make sure that there isn't any frost forecast. Sunny days mean no cloud cover at night so it can get cold enough for an overnight frost.

How to sow

You'll need to do a last weeding on your plot, then hoe the soil and rake it to a fine tilth, break down any small and large clods and remove stones.

For those of you with larger plots.

I recommend roughly dividing your seed in half and broadcasting it to get an even coverage. Start in one corner just throw the seed out in front of you in a sweeping motion. Walk forward a couple of step - repeat. Go to the opposite corner and broadcast the remaining seed in the same way. Now rake 1cm of soil over the seeds, and either walk evenly over the whole plot or firm the seeds in by tamping down with the flat head of the rake.

For those with small plots.

When your plot is weeded and raked, spread your seed evenly over the whole plot. Rake 1cm of soil over the seeds and tamp the soil down either by walking evenly over it, or tamping down with the flat head of the rake.

Don't feed the birds!

You'll need to protect your seed from birds, so I suggest some netting over the plot or string black thread across it for a week until the seedlings emerge.

And don't forget to water the seeds (if it isn't about to rain in the next few hours).

Please email and  let myself, Sharon or Caitlin (or the UW address) know what date you planted your flax. We'd like to know which dates turned out to be the most successful in producing a good crop, so we can be equally successful in the years to come!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Flax planting may be on for the last week of April - weather forecast

The 14 day weather forecast shows the daily high crawling up slowly towards the end of the month, and no sign of frost.

However, as we can all feel, it's still pretty cold and the soil is even colder (and wet!) - go put your hands in some out there and you'll see what I mean. Seed sowed into that will just rot before germinating.

We'll need a good few warm and sunny days to heat the soil and dry it out some, but of course with the clearer weather comes clear nights and a high risk of overnight frost.

So I'll keep you posted, but I personally won't be planting any flax before the the last few days of the month based on this forecast.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

A lesson on being a peasant (and growing more flax)

Today I visited the back yard of a rental property that I've been guerilla gardening for more than three years. The soil was manured, top dressed with bone meal, weeded, raked and ready to plant potatoes today. In my cold frame are climbing zucchini growing, ready to plant there in June.

I started this garden to use as a way to show young renters how their food is grown. One of them became a keen gardener and researched and traded recipes with me to use what was growing. At his behest, I planted the herb garden there.

The rhubarb I planted almost four years ago was sprouting last week, and the herb bed, currant bushes, raspberries and strawberries were looking good. I weeded the flower bed  I established for the residents (lysimachia was up, as was the montbretia), talked with one of them about when they'd be able to help themselves to potatoes this year and went home.

When I arrived this week, I found a builder had dumped sewage contaminated soil and rubble all over the garden, killing the strawberries, several herb plants and burying the rhubarb and flower bed. He said he 'didn't see' anything growing there That means the residents (and myself) won't be able to have any vegetables this year and the fruit on the bushes will be too risky to eat.

So to rescue a bad situation, I'm going to put the whole area down to flax. That's about 5 times the amount I had intended to grow, but I can't see a better alternative. More linen for me this year!

It occurs to me that this is the type of situation that landless peasants face regularly. Random acts by landlords, willfull or ignorant destruction, our increasing number of extreme weather events caused by climate change, can mean they totally lose their food supply.

Luckily, I have a vegetable garden of my own at home and though the loss of all my hard work made me sit down amid the builder's rubble and cry, I shall continue to eat very well.  Meanwile rich countries are buying up land in Third World countries and turfing off the traditional farmers

Please read the link. Canada is in the top 10 list of countries displacing peasant farmers to get ownership of foreign land This is being done by our government with our complicity. Let's not say we 'didn't see' what was going on.


Flax, terroir, homogeneity and globalisation

Someone who visited the Urban Weaver one evening, described a locally sourced fibre and dye sweater as having 'terroir'.

'Terroir', roughly translated and taken away from its use in describing wine, means 'of the place' or 'of the land'. She explained that she meant the mixture of localy sourced fibres, dyed using plants from Stanley Park made the garment uniquely 'of the land' where it came from and was being worn.

The availability of cheap oil and its evil spawn, globalisation, has meant the regionality that used to define our communities and places, no longer exists. It has made available to us the riches and rarities of the world's far flung places that were once only the priviledge of the wealthiest. How many suits did your great grandfather own? Unless he was rich, probably only one or two, because sourcing the fibre/fabric/labour to make them was expensive. Now we buy and throw away cheap cashmere sweaters with abandon, in willful ignorance of hard work and raw conditions it takes to raise, process and make that luxury fibre.

Now that we can have the things that were once only for the rich (*alert: We are the rich. According to the UN we are the 12th richest country out of 193 of the world. The country producing cashmere is 163rd, and the one processing it is 93rd) nothing is special anymore. We rich countries can source anything we want. Result? We all dress in the same stuff, and find ourselves very boring to look at.

We must find ourselves boring to look at because we waste even more oil travelling to poor countries to look at their regional dress. They take pride in wearing clothes that distinguish them from other countries, even from other villages. We on this continent just wear the same stuff that we all source from a handful of big box retailers. We  have no regional dress, no regional pride in our clothing. Our clothing has no terroir. We look uniformly boring.

You can reclaim that regionality and produce unique clothing by growing and processing local flax. The Urban Weaver has everything you need to do that for free. We have seed for you, will soon have the equipment for you to process it into flax, and will teach you to spin, weave and dye it. The oil use will be tiny, the carbon footprint (unless you drive to the field house) small, and no one will have been exploited in the production of your clothing.

There's still a few weeks to join in. Why not exert your uniqueness and regional pride - your terroir?


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Free ebook about growing, preparing and spinning flax

This came today from my 'Spinning Daily' newsletter

A love letter to linen

Spinning flax into linen isn't something that I do very often—but I've often dreamed of the things I could make with this age-old fiber. I love the qualities of linen. I love that it starts as a spindly, delicate flower that is stronger than it looks; I love that it is stronger when it is wet; I love that it gets softer as it ages; I love that it has hydroscopic qualities (meaning that it absorbs water quickly—keeping you cool in the summer), as well as being hygienic (it resists bacteria—that's why it was used for medical bandages until disposable bandages became the norm). My wardrobe is populated by linen—I love my linen pants, dresses, skirts, and shirts—not yet handspun by me (but a few I've sewn). Perhaps someday my spinning will be that ambitious—it is good to dream.

However, I think this summer I'm going to try to fulfill a dream that started when my Aunt Deb (who nurtured my love of textiles when I was a child), went to Sweden and brought me back the most humble and yet beautiful linen washcloth. I dream about spinning and weaving more of them—eventually having a whole closet full of handspun linens.

For our new free eBook A Guide to Spinning Flax: Linen Spun from Flax Fibers, we've collected some articles from past issues of Spin-Off to share with you. In rereading them, my love of flax and linen is revitalized. I'm ready to sow seeds in my garden, to set up a distaff, and to spin a useful and enduring yarn that will delight me for ages. Maybe my Swedish-inspired washcloths will be woven with handspun flax from my own garden.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Drug dealers help out the flax project

The flax seed has been weighed out for all the various plots that will be growing around the city.

Sounds like and easy thing to do, but at a sowing rate of 12-14g per sq. m., weighing out 13g packets of seed for the smaller plots was hard. None of us had a kitchen scale that could accurately measure such small amounts, and the consequences of being 5g out in the weighing would mean a 1 sq.m. plot that was either 50% too dense (so the flax grows too tall and falls over) or 50% too sparse (so the flax grows side branches and the fibre is no good).

I won't tell you who among us went to a marijuana supplier to borrow their very accurate scale for a few hours, but it was perfect for the job.

FYI, the following places will be growing flax this year:

Science World
Means of Production Garden
Capillano College
McLean Park
Aberthau Community Centre

and 6 local gardeners.

The Aberthau plot is the largest at 84 sq.m, but only a third of that will be flax this year. The other two-thirds will be down to dye plants or vegetables that produce dye as part of a 4 year crop rotation. The smallest plot, about 0.5sq.m.) will be on Pender St, near International Village.


PS Sowing won't happen for a few more weeks yet as there's still a high risk of frost and the soil isn't warm enough yet.