A Tale of Small-Scale, Home-Grown, Hand-Spun Craft Linen

5 September 2023

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Six years ago, I launched my deep dive into growing flax and transforming it into linen cloth. Does that sound like magic? It sure does to me.

My journey began when I inherited a spinning wheel and grotty wool fleece from my mother-in-law, Katie. To honour that inheritance, I learned to scour, comb, spin, and knit up the fleece, using the same wheel that, in a previous life, created countless miles of woollen-spun yarn. What transpired next wasn’t on my radar, but Katie would have approved.

After a few introductory spinning lessons on my Ashford Traditional, I took a class with Dianna Twiss who mentioned in passing that she grew flax in her back yard and processed the fibre. That was all it took for me to fall deep into a flaxen abyss! Luckily for me, Ply Magazine’s 2018 spring edition featured stories on all aspects of growing and processing flax. I found it fascinating, inspiring and entirely possible.

The personal experience of discovery that ensued is much the same as that of others who, in our industrial times, have no direct connection to the hand labours of linen production; I felt I was on a lonely path with no access to living memory and knowledge of the skills involved. But I pressed on because, although I lacked fundamental skills and equipment, I have an abundance of complementary abilities, and I had access to resources. Not to mention, I have formal education and years of practical experience in growing field crops.

Copyright © Karla Sandwith except as indicated.
image description: a portrait of a white woman; she wears glasses and her greying hair is pulled up into a bun; she is holding strands of straw-coloured fibre

About Karla Sandwith

Karla’s knowledge of plant science and her deep appreciation of the crafts of hand spinning and weaving have led her on a fascinating fibre journey. She is especially captivated by the ancient human endeavour of growing flax, extracting the fibres and turning them into linen cloth. Or, as the fairy tales would have us believe, turning straw into gold. She believes the biological processes involved are magical, the technical details are intricate, and the influence on humanity is epic. The historical socio-economic importance of flax is undeniable, but is it relevant and affordable in our contemporary world? That is a question worth considering, and one which Karla stays awake pondering.

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