Finally, I Just Threw Up My Hands and Said "Flax It All!" - Adventures in Growing Flax


Dear Henry,

Earlier this year, to fill a flower bed, I scattered a couple of packets of a seed mix called "Southern Favorites", because I loved the pictures of the flowers on the packet and was sure that they would work well in the bed.  These seed packets have created quite a gardening adventure.

I've been very surprised by the flowers that have grown, none of them were in the picture on the package and none of the flowers on the package grown and while that may sound disappointing, it hasn't been, it's just been a daily surprise.

One of the best surprises that grew was the scarlet flax and I  fell in love with the flower.  Realizing I was growing flax also re-awoke a latent dream of mine. I have always harbored a secret dream to learn the fiber arts. In the back of my mind, I have wanted a little farm with sheep for their wool, and where I could grow cotton and flax and bamboo and make yarns.  Adding to this list of fiber art dreams, I also want to learn to weave, knit, embroider, and make beautiful lacy things for the home and all of my own sweaters, with the yarns that I have harvested.  

This is an impractical dream, I live in the South, it's much too hot for sheep. But when I was presented with a plethora of scarlet flax plants, it reawoke enough of the desire that I thought I would try to make linen thread.  My plan was to harvest the flax throughout the season, spin it, and then crochet a lace table cloth.

There was quite a bit of time spent researching the process and really, it's a 3000-year-old process, it's not incredibly hard.  First, after you harvest the flax, you "rett" it, or soak the stalks in water until the woody part of the stem softens and starts to rot.  I found some great plans on the internet about making retting tubes with PVC pipes.  After about a week, the stalks soften, you let them dry, then comb the stalks, separating the fibers. From there, you spin them into linen.  I was planning on using a drop spindle rather than a spinning wheel because I suspected early on that this wouldn't be a large scale hobby.

As the summer progressed and the flax grew and faded in the flower bed, it became apparent that learning the fiber arts isn't a priority. I never harvested a single plant, much less built the nifty retting tubes out of PVC pipe, nor ordered a drop spindle kit. In short, I didn't do a single thing but photograph the flowers.

My "yarn farm" plans are now shelved alongside my miniature-cow-and-goat-dairy-farm-and-cheese-factory and near the plans for my apple orchard and hard cider craft brewery. I just don't want to spend the time on them.

And that's ok.

I think we don't admit that often enough. Most of our dreams die not because we "can't" accomplish them, but because we choose to spend time focusing on something else and that it's ok that our priorities shift. I have, especially for the last couple of years, been devoting a lot of time to my photography, cyanotype, and my writing that I have found myself to reluctant to spend time away from those projects. To create a handcrafted lace table cloth made from linen that I processed from flax I grew would take too much time, even though the project sounded like such fun.

Although I don't ever plan on harvesting it, I will be growing flax again.  The flowers are beautiful and make great photography subjects.

xoxo a.d.