Aberthau project complete…Next?

EartHand Gleaners’ first project was  both a great success and a huge learning opportunity.

The final  step of processing the flax into linen for spinning really drove home two main points.

1.the  vast difference in quality one can expect in the fibre depending on the soil where the crop was grown. Best case scenario, a finer plant crop, closely spaced (not so close or fine though as to  want to lodge in a strong wind!) provides a softer, more delicate hair like thread  after processing. This results in a softer, finer linen. Aberthau provided our best of the 3 crops grown this season, the soil was quite sandy, good drainage and low in organic mineral content we figure.

2. Seed Saving! Heirloom Seeds! I hear this conversation constantly as it relates to  food production; seed saving is all the rage and at the forefront of everyone’s mind if they are paying attention at all to where their food is coming from.

But  seed saving for our clothing?

I haven’t heard that one yet- but suddenly I am thinking it is going to be the conversation  we all have 10 -20 years from now when the clothing industry  catches up  to the foodies’ re-think of  our massive scale industrialization.

on left, vintage flax, on right, aberthau flax

Seed saving came up for me this summer when we were given  some locally grown flax by a weaver who grew it 20 years ago, then put it in storage as the  retting and processing phase overwhelmed her. I was thinking it would provide a “trial crop” for us to learn the processing methods on, but it actually was like learning to drive in a Cadillac, only to then be handed the keys to a Honda civic. I am not  a car person- but I  bet you get the idea.

We had the civic; it became quickly apparent that whatever seeds the “vintage” flax had been were a completely different variety- much better suited to our hand processing methods- the product being both softer and giving a higher yield with less waste in the process.

In the picture above, we started processing each bundle with the same amount of stocks- and you can clearly see the difference in fibre length as well as quantity!  Remember- the retting process will have played a part in this too… but still!

Now as we take what we have learned to the next step for 2014, we are looking for seeds in Canada that would be classed as heirloom seeds, or seeds that are not a strain specifically for  industrialized processing- and they are impossible to find.

Marylin is the variety we want- and what the Victoria flax to linen folk have been growing- and those seeds have to come from Holland, via a  seed shop in the States. So that is what we will be ordering for next year, and then- let the seed saving begin!

Our final programmed events at Aberthau went very well,  we had a great time at the sit and spin socialwith a few people out who had never spun before who did amazingly well on borrowed drop spindles. Caitlin and I at the end of the night looked at each other in shock, saying; ”  I can’t believe it- we planted those seeds in June and here we are spinning fibre from them in November! Every step of the project felt like both alchemical magic and freedom from the consumer rat-race. Another step  towards cutting out the middle man- not having to worry about what the factory conditions are for the workers who made  my clothing, but a step towards self-sufficiency, even if it is going to be another 2 years before I have enough time to finish processing, spinning and then knitting a garment- it is a start down a road I want to travel on. #slowclothingrevolution.

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We put the garden bed down for the season in fine style, as a no-waste performative action. Mirae Rosner lead the group in a movement excercise, Brian Jones invited other musicians to come and  play for us, and we dug down our green waste, then dug channels and pathways as a maze through the garden bed that became our dance pathway for our contemporary spin on the tradition of harvest dances. It was a great improv afternoon with sunny weather on our side.

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Next year at  Aberthau Sharon will collaborate with Brian Jones, the wheat weaver- we are going to grow a variety of wheat for weaving and eating, flax for fibre and  surround the bed with marigolds for dye.

Our flax research from this project will also  feed into  other fibre crop beds; growing flax at Hastings Urban Farm and Trillium North Park as a part of the Terroir: Urban Cloth Project. Happening    in 2014 in partnership  with Environmental Youth Alliance and the Means of Production Artists Raw Resource Collective, artists Sharon Kallis and Tracy Williams will investigate local plants both native and invasive species; for possible fibre blendings with  local linen. Mirae Rosner joins the project to  study  the movement attached to our  core labour with community participation. A final woven cloth will be danced upon the landscape from the fibres we collectively sow/forage/harvest and spin.

various linen crop stricks and spinning in progress


  1. Margaret says:

    Just so you know, Kwantlen University has a seed library at their Langley campus; you can take seeds you need – all they ask is that you donate some after harvest. Here is more information: http://libguides.kwantlen.ca/content.php?pid=293725&sid=3638283

    1. sharonkallis says:

      great to know Margaret, thanks for that! certainly worth donating some of our seeds next year to them if they don’t already have heirloom fibre flax. thanks for the tip!

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