For Isobel's Dad's birthday we headed to an all day workshop on Flax at Flaxland run by the wonderful couple Simon and Anne who welcomed us to their home and world of flax. We were so excited to learn more about a beautiful native fibre and all the processed involved in turning the flax you see growing into lovely linen.
They are the most welcoming couple and skilled crafts people and growers. First they showed us the flax growing. It was completely beautiful and it wasn't even in flower. They produce the most lovely little blue or white flowers.
Then we went through the retting which is the process of rotting the fibres to remove the inner stalk so that the just the outer remains. We were then taken into this unassuming barn and inside where so many works of art. Simon is an amazing carpenter and had made all the different village scale wooden machines needed for processing flax once retted, the scutching (removing some of the straw) and then we heckled the fibres - pulled bundles (rovings) through the heckler - which is made up of multiple spikes and acts as comb separating the fibres. Once all the straw has been removed and the fibres feel soft we placed the flax in a fan shape and rolled the cone distaff over it. We then placed our distaffs on the stands and span together. It was was a very special experience, and teaches you the art of patience and a gentle touch. We then went on to twist the spun fibre to make it double ply.
All the while we were surrounded by these incredible coracles and boats that were made of woven flax fibre and look like fibreglass but in fact are made of flax resin. They are so wonderful, translucent yellow with all the weave visible. Anne and Simon love life on the water and take their boats out often. Dreams of a Pico adventure in one of these...
It was astounding the hours of preparation and skill it takes to process this fibre as all fibres but it was clear that if the linen here was being made for commercial use (at a price fair for the hours put in by Simon and Anne) we would be looking at an extremely expensive cloth. Not far from home though over in France and Ireland people are growing flax for fibre production and producing cloth by working in co-operatives and having communal processing plants. It makes you wonder why we stopped..