Transition Victoria

Flax to Linen


To view the Linen Project photo album, click here

To view the 2012 Flax field, click here


Started: April 2010 with the planting of Linum usitatissimum, var. Marilyn fibre flax seed obtained from Heirloom Seed Project,  Lancaster Pennsylvania.  Seeded two garden beds with an approximate total area of 120 sq. feet and a small field of 1/10 of an acre  

Public launch: Transition Towns information table and Linen Project displays at Victoria Fibre Festival June 2010 and Transition Victoria’s Picnic in the Park August 2010. 

Description:  Collecting a group of allies to experiment with growing good quality fibre flax; learning the processes for producing fibre flax; obtaining/building the hand tools and developing the skills to produce linen by hand in the Victoria region.  Potentially a long term project which may evolve into larger scale production, mechanization (Billy’s brain plus human, horse, donkey and green energy?) and the provision of  livelihoods - who knows?

Inspiration: –  Rob Hopkins and The Transition Handbook, the idea of reskilling and skilling-up now so that future beings might meet their basic needs

Vandana Shiva and her four f’s - Food, Fodder, Fuel and Fibre - from Monocultures of the Mind

Linda Heinrich and her book The Magic of Linen 1992 (Linen: From flax seed to woven cloth 2010 edition).  Linda first grew fibre flax and produced fine linen here in Victoria and wrote her marvelous book based on this experience - so I knew it could be done.  It was a surprise to find we have the climate for it - hadn’t thought about it before.

Billy Metcalfe and his vision of producing linen locally to clothe us sustainably.  See Billy’s “Let us take heart” below.

Mahatma Ghandi

Outcomes so far: 

- Mailing list of 50 both local and BC - friends, family, Transition Victoria members, neighbours, hand spinners and weavers, fibre artists.  Roughly 25 people have taken part in one or more of the work parties or retting or both - ages ranging from 13 years to a lot older

- regular bulletins to the email list and postings on the Reskilling page of Transition Victoria

- bulk of harvested crop in storage with a smaller portion of the crop at various processing stages

- information tables (including Transition and Reskilling info.) at 2 fibre festivals (2010, 2011) SASH heritage Fair (2011), Earth Day 2011, Transition Victoria events

- collected most of the tools needed for hand processing

- 4 work parties to demonstrate and practice the processes using the hand tools

- taken a small amount of the crop from straw to fibre ready for spinning

- classes arranged with Knotty by Nature to learn how to spin our own fibre using a drop spindle

- buckets of, perhaps immature seed and bags of tow

- mature seed saved for the next planting

- a public record of the project maintained as a photo album with commentary  see below

Unexpected outcomes Billy planting a whole field of the stuff having (mis)understood that I would provide the labour by enlisting others, was the first surprise! 

finding some of the tools we needed in friends’ basements and on kitchen shelves

the pleasure and satisfaction to be found in working together on the processing tasks from pulling the flax in the field to (attempting) to spin the fibre

the beauty of the plant and the wonder of its fibre qualities hidden in a piece of straw

the joy of introducing others to the wonders of fibre flax

Obstacles and how we overcame them

This is a long term project and I have begun it in total ignorance so in one sense everything is unexpected but by reading Linda Heinrich’s book I was prepared for this to be a gradual learning curve as we have to work with the seasons and cannot rush things.  It took Mavis Atton (Flax Culture: from flower to fabric) ten years of successes and disappoinments to produce a fine lustrous fabric from her own flax grown on the shores of Georgian Bay.  The climate here is more conducive to flax growing so perhaps we can cut a year or two off Mavis’s record. 

tools - begged, borrowed and built hand tools - still short a couple of grades of hackle needed for the final combing out of the fibres to ready them for spinning

land - Obtained in exchange for labour (Billy’s) and by chatting up a friend willing to try something different in her large Saanich food garden.  Where we will plant our next crop remains a question at the time of writing.

retting - Not having one large space for dew retting all the crop at once or access to a suitable stream or pond for water retting.  Retting can be a smelly process. So tried dew retting small quantities in backyards - 16 people volunteered to experiment with a few bundles each.  More small retting sites will be needed in September if no one large site can be found.

muscle power/labour - work parties, encouraging young folks to get involved

lack of skills and knowledge - books and online research, workshop with Pat Davidson on Salt Spring,   looking upon the project as an experiment and learning tool, expect to improve our product over time

dust from processing can result in breathing problems for those with sensitivity - doing some of the dustiest work outside can help

funding - e.g Pat Davidson’s travel expenses, fresh seed, materials for building tools - have started to put out the donation jar at work parties

in our ignorance and lack of expertise we are producing a large amount of “waste” - brainstorming ideas for how the waste might be used

Lessons learned

every step from preparing the ground and planting the seed to spinning the fibre is crucial e.g. sow more densely to grow finer quality fibre; keep the root ends even and bundle straw of the same length at all stages and store bundles with roots aligned to reduce waste

manual labour is best done in company with song and dance and food

don’t assume everyone will be enthusiastic about your crazy project idea, but there’s likely to be a few


# involved: work parties and retting - about 25 participants, facilitator:  Denise, close allies: Syd and Billy

50 person email list

Groups or partners: Knotty by Nature Fibre Arts, other fibre flax growers 

Contacts: Ken Dunn




Docs – sites – photos attached or linked

The Linen Project - Transition Victoria




Let Us Take Heart - Transition Victoria



Leaflet/handout (three to a page) is in the works, or should I say, it’s in my head!



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Comment by Barb Rimmer on October 8, 2012 at 7:24pm

Hello everyone - rain is coming and we really really need some help to try and get this flax field pulled before that happens.  Ken is going to be there all day for the rest of this week, I'll be there most of tomorrow and Wednesday & Thursday mornings and most of Friday.
We so appreciate all of those who have helped us so far - we sure wouldn't have gotten this far without you.  The job was just overwhelming, but looks like it's getting close to being done so that's really encouraging.
Hope you can spend just a bit more time and once it's all in the barn we can plan a harvest party. Yaaaay!
I'm sending this to everyone so please don't reply to it.  Send a new message or phone me - 250-592-2164 or just turn up - thanks


Comment by Georgina Kirkman on August 22, 2012 at 6:48pm

It was my pleasure to meet Beatrice, Ken, Nancy and see you (again!) on Sunday at the wonderful event, and see how much interest there is in Flax, Linen.  I plan to follow up with the banner idea - tomorrow looks promising for that.  

Comment by Barb Rimmer on August 22, 2012 at 8:24am

It was nice to see you at Fibrations Gena, sorry I sort of left you to find your way about but you did remarkable well and came up with some really neat ideas about getting a banner. my thanks

Comment by Georgina Kirkman on August 19, 2012 at 9:00am

Going to Fibrations today at St. Ann's Academy grouds

Comment by Barb Rimmer on August 2, 2012 at 8:44am

I have been posting all my comments under our groups - my main groups are the Linen group and the Reskilling group. That is where everything is happening.

Comment by Shylene Schlackl on March 2, 2012 at 5:13pm 


looking forward to our little flax on hillside project .. coming this spring ... 

looking and learning today .. (and always) .. so much information on line..

trying to figure out what is needed for the soil..  etc ..  so much to learn ..

let the research continue :)

Comment by Shylene Schlackl on February 22, 2012 at 11:54am 

a way to keep sharing in TV.. not sure how to post this event to the whole of TV??? 

Comment by Shylene Schlackl on February 13, 2012 at 11:43am

like to share my little front yard garden to grow some flax.. even if its to raise awareness about this project.. the process and the needs to keep it going ..

I hope someone can take over where Denise left offf...   I look forward to hearing more and joining the team in some way!

blessings, love, light and continued growth!


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