Flax Shirt Update — 2 Hours for Plant and Harvest

Three months ago, I introduced my shirt-making project in a blog post. I had just planted 1/2 lb of Avian flax seeds in a field (it covered 200 ft², at 24 seeds/ft in 7-in rows) at that time. This last weekend I harvest the flax and thought it would be a good point to update those of you waiting on the edge of your seat for news.

Sewing and Growing

The flax was easy to grow. As soon as the soil could be worked in the spring (mid-April, about two or three weeks before last frost), I broke up any emerging weeds and raked the top of the soil to make it ready for planting. I used a walk-behind seeder. I don’t remember exactly what seed distribution disk I used, but it dropped about 24 flax seeds for every foot of row. The flax emerged fairly quickly and took over the plot, smothering out weeds with its quick, thick growth.

Over the next three months, the flax grew to about waist high. Two months in, the corn-blue flowers emerged. By month three, almost all the flowers were gone and about a quarter of the seed heads were brown. The bottom third of the plant had turned yellow and leaves had started to shed. This is the time to harvest.

I’m using a few resources to figure out how to do this. One of them is the Book of the Farm, published in 1844 as a guide for English farmers (pt. 2, pg. 554–55; pt 3, pg. 1035–37).


Pulling, Binding, and Drying

On Friday, I took a bit over an hour to harvest these 200 ft² of flax. Bending over carefully, I would wrap my arm around a handful of flax and give a swift tug, from one end of the held stems to the other. I then would move on to the next segment and repeat. Once I had so much that I couldn’t get my fingers to touch when holding it with two hands, I’d straighten the whole bundle and lay it on the ground. When I got two bundles, I’d grab six to eight stalks, pop them in my mouth, lift the two bundles (now one) between my legs, and bind the bundle with a slipped overhand or slipped square knot. Each bundle is now called a sheaf. They are then leaned together to stand up and dry in what is called a shock. After a week begins the next steps, but that’s for a later post.

Or, you can see some of the harvest in a quick video.

For more information, you might check out the video series from the Hermitage over on YouTube.

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