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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

flaxination

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After months of bundling up, it's comforting to look ahead to summer when I'll be skipping to the laundry line in loose linen clothes. I know, I know, I've been posting lots of winter praise, but I confess my shoulders ache with tension from bracing for the outdoors. This is my Filene's Basement $7 linen skirt, which I wore hanging laundry last summer for Peter to shoot a laundry line series on my first Holga film roll.

The linen for those summer clothes is made from flax of course. I didn't realize what a labor intensive process flax-to-linen is until I read about pulling, stacking, swingling, rippling, retting, scutching, heckling, spinning and weaving here. It's done mostly by machine now, but you can see Egyptians in these images growing and processing flax for linen. Do you suppose they ironed their linen garments? That would be an interesting frame added to these Egyptian collages.












We will be using another product made from flax when we install old fashioned linoleum squares in our bathroom. What appealed to us about linoleum (unlike vinyl) is that it is made from linseed - flax - and is natural and biodegradable.

Ingesting flax is good for you too. I take flax seed oil supplements for their high levels of lignans (chemicals that act as antioxidants) and Omega 3 fatty acids. There are wide-ranging health benefits against diabetes, heart disease, cancer and maybe Crohn's disease.



I was surprised to read about the "This Way" bike at boingboing. It's made from flax, but it looks like wood. I can just see myself riding this Big Wheel for adults on country roads to work. Nice thought actually.


I am humbled by new technologies as well as ancient processes that I know nothing about from experience. Friends like Gwen have sheered sheep and spun the fleece into wool, then knitted it into garments. She would not surprise me at all if she told me she has processed flax into linen.

Hands, hands, what are you doing? I think I live too much in my head.

58 comments:

Esther Garvi said...

Hi Ruth!
Oh how I read you on that last line there, the things we would like to do! As for rides, my favourite mode of transportation is horseback: going back to the very basics, hey?
Warm greetings from West Africa!
Esther

kanmuri said...

I love flaxseeds! They're so good for you! Plus in smoothies, they're great!

delphine said...

Oh roll on the summer for me -- Winter is beautiful at its whitest, but the damp and the winds and the scratchy winter woolies, not for me. Like Ester I prefer horses to bikes anytime. Flax seeds? I didn't know they existed, so I learn something new each time I visit your lovely site.Ruth, do you know what happened to Charlie he seems to have disappeared?

Ruth said...

Esther, 52 and I have never ridden a horse. I have a nearby opportunity: there is a horse farm across the road which provides therapy for disabled kids. So, that is one thing I need to do outside my head.

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, I haven't had flax seeds yet (only in the gel caps). I've heard they're great for keeping you regular!

Ruth said...

Delphine, you have the most romantic existence - so many chateaux, and now horses.

I don't know what happened to Charlie! I haven't seen him in a while. When he did the alphabet challenge he was threatening to go off-tech, so maybe he made good on that.

Anet said...

Interesting! I eat gluten free Flax waffles. They're yummy!
I love that bike, looks a little bit like Dr. Seuss to me:)
Hang in there Ruth, we'll be hanging laundry in no time!

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, Flax,linen, laundry line, linoleum,the This Way and the stimulus package.O.K.,O.K.,first I have read about the health benefits of flax but must admit I haven't tried it. I can believe that linen is made from this but linoleum? I agree,Gwen is amazing and her house is just as...Which brings us to laundry line, I think I will try this,this summer. I can remember my mom using her laundry line we had one outside and in.The laundry line inside was mainly used as a trapeze for the monkey my sister brought home from vet. school,but that's a whole different story. (my childhood experiences would make a great John Irving story). The This Way bike, wait a minute, it has a windshield,perfect for cruising down the country roads.It's missing that critical third wheel that big wheels have, which would help stablize it for the seniors I invision riding these,myself included. The bike appears to have a handy box on the back,perfect for holding a lunch, or an extra depend. I guess it depends? Finally the stimulus package, maybe we could go back to processing flax by hand,think of the people it would employ. I remember when my parents returned from a trip to Russia, in the early 70's,my father commented that, full employment in Soviet Union,included street sweeping and potato peeling. ( I hope that wasn't offensive).That's sort of a depressing thought to end with so...SPRING,Green, long evenings, gardens, open windows and laundry lines.... thanks for the post,just love to blog with you.

♥ Kathy said...

favorite form of transportation: my feet :D I love to walk everywhere!

Susan said...

I'm going to put linoleum in my kitchen! I've been wanting it for a couple of years. I remember the linoleum we had in ours at the farm. It had big cabbage roses on it. Come to think of it, so did the bedrooms. The stuff lasts for a long, long time and it's much more 'green' than bamboo. Even though bamboo is very renewable, they're cutting down rainforests to plant more bamboo.

Linen is my favorite summer attire. It just feels good.

Love that bicycle! It looks very comfortable and it has a rollover bar. How cool is that?

Genie said...

Tea, please.

Thanks for your kind comments about my photos on Bob's blog!

WOW! I NEVER knew this about linen, I always assumed it was cotton. I also didn't know that linoleum was made from flax and that it was biodegradable--my views on linoleum are now changed forever. I'll never be afraid to consider it in my house again.

ds said...

I'm with Genie--had no idea linoleum was made from flax & I'll bet my grandmother didn't either (we had that thirties stuff with the little confetti squares in the kitchen growing up). Loved all of those beautiful words also; envision a couple of happy hours getting to know them....But the oddest thing is that last night my poetry group ("read-only" & only stuff by well-known 'study-able' poets) discussed Seamus Heaney's "Death of a Naturalist" about, among other things his Ulster-area childhood where apparently flax is a major crop (producing a major head-bang here. Of course, there's Irish linen--famous--but did one connect that to Irish flax? D'oh!)
"Hands, hands, what are you doing?"
There's a poem in there, Ruth...

rauf said...

'Ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies and they all wrote in hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and travelled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere'

the student who wrote that in his exam must be brighter than me Ruth, i have never heard of the word 'flaxination'

i know its cotton and not cotton,
i can't identify any other fabric some times i am in doubt. i have stopped pressing (iorning)my clothes ten years ago Ruth, i wear wrinkled clothes, wrinkles disappear after sometime.

Prabath said...

Nice psot I like it, keep it up.

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California Girl said...

I didn't know linoleum comes from flax. That's fascinating. Also, I love linen but it's expensive to clean. Washing seems to wrinkle and shrink. Any suggestions?

Loring said...

Where I draw the line is flax with couscous. Some dumb natural food company tried it, and it truly fits the line from Jefferson Airplane's "Eat Starch Mom" - "Natural food makes you slow and stupid and it tastes like cabbage." -- At least flax with couscous does!

As for the labor-intensivity, I just read a great overview of the "Fall River Method" vs. "Lowell Method" of automating cotton production in the early 1800s. You can see where the migration to mass-produced clothing came from.

Loring Wirbel said...

Oh, and horses. Just learned to ride around ten years ago, though I worked in horse stables when I was 14. Just took a while

Ruth said...

Anet, dear, you must be very happy when you find a gluten-free food that's yummy.

Yes, a Dr. Seuss bike! Good for the Cat in the Hat or Sam I Am.

Maybe we'll have a sunny day this weekend and I can start the hanging out!

Ruth said...

Hello, Cathy! Please do try flax. The benefits are so broad, there isn't a good reason not to take it. Just google 'flax seed benefits' and you will be astonished.

I think I first googled 'green flooring' a while back, and besides all the sage, forest and spring green carpeting that came up, I found out that linoleum was made from linseed and is super green.

I so agree that there will be surprise benefits of the economic downturn. We will help one another more, and we will learn how to do and make things for ourselves. Lately I've asked myself what I am willing to do if I were to lose my job?

You know now I have a new image to carry to the laundry line with me - a monkey swinging! Who knew laundry could be so rich?

Ruth said...

Oh, and Cathy, I love blogging with you too. :)

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, is anything better than walking? Seriously, if we did it more we would eliminate so many problems.

Ruth said...

Susie Q, oh! I guess I didn't realize bamboo was a flooring, I thought of it as a floor covering, I dunno, like mats.

Hahaha, I hadn't thought of it as a rollover bar. After what Cathy said about it being good for seniors, I guess that is good! Truly low impact, hahaha.

Ruth said...

Oh, Genie, how nice for you to come over from Bob's! Those moon photos were inspiring, truly.

I was like you until very recently about linoleum. I assumed it was one of those bad industrial products, but no! And it goes back to the 1860s. I would like to do a checkerboard pattern, but in subtle neutral shades, like white and tan.

Ruth said...

DS, I'm thinking that we all remember the flooring from when we were kids - we were so close to it.

Aren't those flax-linen words terrific? I was surprised there were so many I hadn't heard of.

Is that the newest Heaney book? The biography? I just saw it somewhere online and knew I wanted to read it, since he spent so much time on a farm growing up. I love how his poems reflect that legacy. I have this gorgeous portrait on a postcard of him by Peter Edwards behind me on my file cabinet, from the National Gallery in London. And true, I hadn't thought about flax being an Irish home grown either! Duh!

Yeah, maybe there is a poem in that line. I'm afraid it might be a very long one at that. (So many things I they're not doing.)

Ruth said...

rauf, no worries, because maybe the student was bright like me because I made up the word 'flaxination' just like the student made up her words, or rather misappointed. Or like Bush might say, misactuated them.

In a hot place like Chennai, I think ironing/pressing is unnecessary. Within minutes of wearing all the wrinkles will fall out.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Prabath, for the encouragement.

Ruth said...

Well, California Girl, I am with you. I would not want to spend $7 to get this $7 skirt dry cleaned. I only buy linen that can be washed, which is more common these days.

Ruth said...

Ha, Loring! That reminds me of the time I was in the checkout line at Meijer, and I happened to have a lot of produce and other healthy stuff in my cart, and the guy behind me who had stood there silently while we waited finally said, "if only it tasted good." I decided just to smile and say, "oh, but it does!"

And I had only ever heard of the cotton gin!

You make me feel more hopeful about riding sometime this lifetime.

Morna said...

The skirt - what a GORGEOUS photo.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Hi Ruth.. I finally can leave a comment....I had a big long comment ready to leave for you at 8:30 this morning .. I was just about to post it and the power went out... then back on.. after much frustration of trying to get the computer back on line... we had to box it up and head to the city...for the computer guys to figure out..

So now I'm back in business..

and I LOVE Linen.. but sadly I have never grown it.. although I have tried a few of the steps necessary to turn it into cloth, when I worked at a pioneer village back in the 90's... When spinning it you need a special attachment for your wheel, a distaff, to hold the combed flax... and you need to keep wetting your fingers when spinning it.. It loves water..and is stronger when wet... I have woven tea-towels with linen but it is not the easiest thread to work with on the loom especially as a warp.... it is quite fussy when it comes to humidity and tension... but the finished cloth is so worth it... it was so stiff when it came off the loom but with frequent washing it became softer and softer...

I like to add flax seeds to my homemade bread and salads... Have you tried that?

I never put 2 + 2 together before to realize that linoleum was made from flax seeds alias linseed oil.. Thanks! learn something new every day.. I always thought they were long wearing and now to think that they are from a natural source.. that's great...

I'm amazed at that bike... it looks fun!!

Take care....

dutchbaby said...

I love this post, how it takes me from the present to the past and then to the future with those bikes. Love that skirt, $7(!), well done!

Ann said...

My kids in school are plaiting witht NZ Flax. According to Maori culture, they have to say a prayer before cutting the flax. The kids are taught not to waste the flax, and any inevitable flax are returned to the plants.

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Deslilas said...

I feel stupid when I notice that linoleum is made out of flax seeds ( may be I knew it but I've forgotten and the answer is in the noun itself !).
Some years ago, I used to make printing with carved linoleum, it was funny.

Barry said...

I ate bread made from flax once, but that's as close as I've come to it.

Peter said...

Nice that linen is back in fashion since a number of years! So nice to wear during summer months! Especially nice as the fashion also allows not have the linen too well ironed!

so NOT cool said...

I'm hooked on crushed (or ground) flax seeds. They are so yummy. I like to put them on top of a piece of toast with peanut butter. Mmmmm.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Morna. This was one of those bargains you pinch yourself and look around to be sure you got it right at the store.

Ruth said...

Ayyyy, computer problems, Gwen! Yuck.

Well, you haven't grown it, but you did process it, you don't disappoint! Everything you wrote I can picture, about processing it. Knowing how it handles in fabric, I can see it being persnickety.

No I have never purchased flax seeds themselves. I will next week when I'm back in town. Maybe Don can add them to the bread he makes too.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, I think we might be heading back to old time practices again. We get away from it, and people crave it after a while. I know I do! Well, at least learning about it. I doubt I'll ever grow or process flax. I'll just eat it, wear it, walk on it and ride it (well I probably won't ride it).

Ruth said...

Ann, plaiting with flax. For decorations?

Ruth said...

Daniel, my uncle carved linoleum blocks for printing too. He made beautiful designs of birds and things. Nice to know it's not toxic to work on.

Ruth said...

Barry, I'm gonna get some flax seeds and ask Don to throw them in his next batch of bread.

Ruth said...

Peter, you should see me when I step out of the driver's seat after the drive to work on a hot day, a wrinkled mess!

Ruth said...

Oh, that sounds nummy, Jodi! But you're buying peanut butter? I am still chicken. I can't believe major brands haven't come out and made a big marketing sweep to ease our minds.

Vinita said...

great stuff. Fascinating to know so many things I hadn't known till now. Must recommend the flax seed oil o my dad who's a diabetic.

Leena said...

You got my all brain cells working and my face smiling, when I tried to run with your thoughts in this post :)
Flax and this oil are very familiar to me, but the way you built this post is so breathtaking and charming too!

I have some towels and tablecloths made from flax, I got them from my mother-in-law.
Flax of them is cultivated by herself She also has weaved them.

Flex clothes are wonderful to wear, if you don`t mind wrinkles :))

Happy springlike weekend to you and Don!

Ruth said...

Hi and welcome, Vinita. I was quite surprised at these things myself. I hope flax seed helps your dad.

Ruth said...

Leena, my dear science teaching friend, I love to hear you say that. :)

When I picture Swedish homespun (I know you are Finnish) I picture cotton, but I wonder if flax was as common as cotton, or maybe it was cotton and I didn't know.

To me, what you have that your mother cultivated and processed and sewed is such treasure! For many reasons. She was your mother, for one. She used her hands to cultivate the ground and grow the plants, then processed them. We are losing these arts I'm afraid, and I hate to see it. I hope many young people will be led into these arts so they don't die away.

Ginnie said...

I haven't read all the comments and replies, Ruth, so maybe you have already answered my question: has Lesley ever made flax???

And I DO love that Big Wheel...if only it were realistic for such a place as Atlanta!

Christina said...

I sprinkle flax seed on everything from, oatmeal to casseroles. : )
xo

CottageGirl said...

Dear Ruth!

You never cease to amaze me!

What a most informative blog you wrote!

Ah linen! Ah warmer weather!

Ruth said...

Dear Boots, no one asked! No, I don't recall that Lesley made flax. Gwen shared here about the process, with water while spinning, etc. It sounds difficult, but I can see you doing something like that.

Yes, I can picture you on the This Way bike! You'd need quiet roads though, huh?

Ruth said...

Christina, it's time, it's time, for me too.

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, I learned a lot writing this post! Thank you.

Anna said...

Hey Ruth I used to live in a place where people harvest linen and sell to the processing plant. In deed it is very intensive work.

And I also consume flax seeds every day, but I buy flax seeds, grind them in the coffee grinder and sprinkle on my breakfast every day.

Excellent post Ruth, something I can relate to very much. Thanks for sharing, btw this is very nice photo of the linen texture.

Anna :)

Ruth said...

That is a good idea, Anna about grinding flax seeds in a coffee grinder. I will try that.

Thank you for telling me about the linen processing and for leaving your kind comment. And thank you, always, for your simple advice on photographing the moon.

Montag said...

Linen is so beautiful! Oh, to be a weaver, a spinner, and a dyer of yarn! Fibers as long as the hair of Mother Gaia!

Ruth said...

Such beauty, Montag - thank you!