I don't usually step out of my comfort zone that often, I tend to be a creature of habit however, when I discover a new 'thing' I usually end up jumping in with both feet and then completely immersing myself in the subject. And this is what has happened with my spinning recently. As you know I generally spin wool, and wool from my own flock at that so I am not entirely sure how firstly, I have missed the flax spinning boat all these years, and secondly how I seemed to have been thrown a buoyancy aid and been given a seat in that boat! I have discovered flax and at this point in time I have both feet dangling in the cool water.
So I found myself ordering some seeds and eagerly prepared my seed bed so that I was sure I would be ready when the weather decided to make up its mind whether it was winter or spring on any given day. Once finally sown I checked daily for new signs of life and determinedly removed any unwelcome pesky weeds that would threaten the stability of my beautiful golden flax, when it has finally grown. And as if by some miracle of nature the little seedlings popped up to say hello. I was so upset when I arrived home one day to find two fat pigeons feasting on my precious seedlings and set to to find any available netting to protect them as they continue to grow. So far they seem to be thriving.
Now of course I have to learn the preparation techniques which I believe uses some rather gruesome looking tools and I wonder if I shall have the strength to bash and break the fibres into submission. I may have to choose a 'bad mood' day to conjure up the appropriate atmosphere!
So while I patiently wait (a trait I do struggle with!) I have sourced some ready-prepared flax to test out on my spinning wheel. I understand that the longest, and best flax can be about 30 inches long and should be spun from a distaff or wrapped in a towel to keep it organised. My supply of flax measures about 12 inches and I am finding spinning from the top, as one would with wool, seems to be working well but it has taken a little bit of getting used to as it is necessary to wet it as one spins to really smooth the fibres to create a gleaming yarn. I would suggest using a bowl of water rather than continually licking your fingers as they can become very sticky due to the gummy coating on the fibre - ask me how I know!
So I am sure you would like to know what all of this has to do with a bride. Well one chance Facebook link introduced me to a group called Berta's Flax which is run by a wonderful Austrian lady called Christiane Seufferleine. And I am hooked. I am not just hooked to the spinning of flax but possibly even more to the stories Christiane shares of the bridal dowries of several older Austrian ladies and it is these stories that intrigue me and remind me of the connection that spinning creates between individuals, groups and nations as the group's 756 followers since March 2021 confirms.
The premise of the group is as follows: (courtesy of Berta's Flax Facebook group).
Berta was a farmers girl from Austria who married in the 1940ies. As it was common, she got a huge trunk full of unspun flax and one full of linen fabric as a dowry. Both trunks were treasured by her till her death but she never used any of it.
Her son wanted the unspun flax to go to a good home and gave it to me. It being way to much to spin myself I found women all over the world to spin it as well. So we are spinning and weaving a net to each other.
Christiane decided to offer some of the flax to anybody who wanted to share in the story for no more than the cost of postage but Berta's flax was soon depleted by popular demand but more and more older ladies and their families are also coming forward and sharing either their stories or their flax or both which is expanding the flax spinning community. She has also been able to share linen items too and I feel a huge sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people none of whom I have ever met. And I believe that is what spinning does. It connects us all for the common bond we have always had of providing for ourselves and our families and a mutual understanding of such crucial crafts.
I had no idea about this tradition and I find it fascinating and feel a strange longing for a world where seemingly simple parts of life are so meaningful and treasured.
I have yet to receive my flax from Christiane and I am eager to know the story of the person who has so kindly donated it for us to share. I shall of course keep you updated on progress but I also want to share that I am in the early stages of hopefully, organising a very special event this summer. Christiane is planning to visit the UK to give talks and demonstrations to share these incredible stories and her experiences in meeting the ladies and their families and I am really hoping to be able to host an event. If this is something that interests you I would be so pleased to hear from you to help in these planning stages.
If you haven't yet joined this fabulous group here is the link to do so:
I hope you feel inspired to give flax a go if you haven't spun it already, or please tell me your experiences of spinning it if you have. As always I would love to hear from you.
Bye for now