TapRoot Fibre Lab owner Patricia Bishop said the community flax harvest party held at TapRoot Farm on Canard Street on Aug. 8 was their second annual. Approximately 50 people took part.
Literally starting from seed, Bishop said they’re “building the capacity and the infrastructure” to grow fibre, spin yarn and produce textiles.
“The adventure that we’re on with regard to the flax is all about growing our own clothes and really having a more local option for textiles for us,” Bishop said.
She said it’s important to have the community engaged in the process. Similar to the buy-local movement that helps bolster food security, the idea is that, within communities, we have to be able to access what we need for our survival and comfort.
Bishop said it’s great to have community members involved in the paradigm shift and actively participating in the experience.
“We want to be able to really honour and value all of the skills that are involved in making those products,” Bishop said.
She said the inspiration for growing flax to produce textiles came one day when she was thinking about what she could do with nettle fibres. They’re now at the point that they’re spinning yarn and the next step will be weaving and producing clothing.
Since Aug. 8 was a holiday for many, people had free time to take part. Harvesting conditions were great, as rain a day earlier softened the ground, making it easier to pull the flax out by the roots.
Bishop said they’re growing flax for long-line linen, so they want to make sure that they have the full length of the stalk. The flax is laid flat on the ground, keeping the stalks parallel so it’s easier to pick up and put into the machine to process.
They leave it on the ground for four to six weeks, depending on the weather. The plants break down, making it easier to extract the fibre from the straw.
TapRoot Fibre Lab mill operator Rhea Hamlin of Kentville was among those helping to harvest the crop. She’s been involved with the project for two and a half years, taking part in virtually every stage of growing, harvesting and processing flax.
She has enjoyed watching it evolve from the idea stage to the point where they’re producing a tangible local product. Hamlin said it was “heart warming” to see so many people helping to pull the flax.
“I remember my first summer spending weeks out in the field, sometimes by myself, so it’s nice to see interest in it,” she said.
Hamlin said she was a hobby knitter who was starting to learn about the use of natural fibres before getting involved in the project.
“My scope was just protein fibres, so sheep’s wool, alpaca, and I never really thought about plant fibres until I got hired on,” she said.
This led to a “light bulb moment” for Hamlin, widening her viewpoint on the spectrum of sustainable fibre.
Jennifer Green, textiles professor from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, gave a demonstration as part of the event, using a spinning wheel to produce yarn from last year’s flax crop. There was also a corn boil for the community volunteers.